skip to main content

Ripeness Theory


“Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.”

Max Lucado

Conflict resolution seems to be a lost art today.

When problems arise, as they always do, they seem to linger interminably.  But, unfortunately, as seen in the news about our government, boardrooms, and living rooms, when problems arise, more energy is spent on complaining and appearing to be the victim than is used on resolving the issue.

One interesting thought on conflict resolution is Ripeness Theory.

Ripeness Theory

The original core theory, first devised by I. William Zartman, asserts that the conjunction of just two conditions—a mutual hurting stalemate and a perceived way out—is necessary, though not sufficient, for conflict to move into negotiation.

Put in simpler terms, a conflict becomes ripe for resolution when two parties realize that the status quo — no negotiation — is a lose-lose situation (because they cannot win), not a zero-sum (win-lose) situation.  Thus to avoid mutual loss, they must consider negotiation.


This theory was based on case studies of conflicts between ethnopolitical groups – predominantly nation-states at war or potentially going to war.

Zartman emphasizes that there is a correct timing to resolve a conflict—think of a low-hanging fruit that can only be picked when it is ripe.  With this in mind, Zartman stated that two factors must be present in conflict for the situation to be ripe; a mutual stalemate and a way out.

Business Application

It is inevitable that the path of any business, irrespective of size, will experience conflict along the way.  Be it business to business or internally within the workplace, companies simply cannot get away from conflict.

Whenever you get people with their own ambitions, opinions, status, relationships, roles, and motivations, you will get conflict; and that is never more apparent than within a business organization.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to see how the Ripeness Theory can be applied to their businesses and workplaces.  In all conflicts, there comes a time when the participants must realize that their best strategy is to negotiate a resolution.

Resolving Disputes

The best method of resolving business disputes is to have an effective strategy for avoiding them altogether.

However, when they arise, here is a process for resolving business disputes.

  1. Understand the conflict – Before you begin communicating with the other party, fully understand your position in the conflict and the other party’s position.
  2. Explore alternatives – Think about at what point you will walk away from the conflict and what you will do if you can’t reach an agreement. Then when you’re brainstorming possible resolutions to the conflict, you can compare that with each of the newly suggested solutions.
  3. Find a private, neutral place – The goal, ultimately, is to eliminate tension, so a quiet location is essential.
  4. Communicate both sides
  • Be an active listener.
  • Let everyone participate.
  • Avoid forming assumptions.
  • Remain calm.
  1. Be aware of body language
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Be conscious of your expression
  • Using a neutral tone with a moderate speed and volume
  • Avoiding the use of words that imply an absolute such as “always” or “never.”
  1. Identify a common goal

Once everyone has moved past the root cause of the problem, it is often discovered that they are working towards the same goal.  This is the perfect beginning to a resolution

  1. Use a third-party mediator

Do not be afraid to call on a neutral third party whom everyone trusts to be fair.

The Bible

The Bible is full of wisdom about how believers should handle conflict.

Yet, far too many Christians end up handing their disputes over to the secular court to decide their fate – an outcome that will be determined by worldly statutes, rules, and regulations that may or may not align with Biblical wisdom.

Matthew 5:23-24 says,

 “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  “

2 Corinthians 13:11 says,

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.”

When individuals have a dispute they cannot resolve, legal options are often explored and often pursued.   As a result of the legal process, the nature of a relationship can devolve from a simple difference of opposing interests to one of pure adversarial contempt for one another.

In most instances, this is the worst possible outcome.

Business leaders need to strive to resolve conflicts amicably as mandated by Scripture.

Ripeness Theory gives us the concept that there is an opportunity to resolve all disputes and conflicts.  When the time is “ripe,” it is advantageous for business leaders to settle their accounts and go back to work.