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  • February 27, 2024 10:27 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    By Dan Simon

    Della Noce, et al, articulated five strategies that are consistent with transformative mediators’ intention to support parties in their efforts to shift toward greater strength and responsiveness 1. These strategies usually don’t come up in basic transformative mediation trainings. Learning transformative theory and practicing the skills provide sufficient material to fill most trainings. Many transformative mediators only become explicitly aware of the five strategies when they seek certification. ISCT is now giving mediators the chance to learn about the five strategies outside of the certification process. See more about that course here.

    Meanwhile, here’s a brief description of the strategies and how they fit into transformative mediation practice.

    Orienting the Parties to a Constructive Conversation: When the mediator discusses the process with the parties, they describe it as a conversation, as opposed to a hearing, a negotiation, or a debate. The term “conversation” communicates that the process is something familiar, that they’ve likely participated in countless times. “Conversation” also suggests that the parties will get to make many choices about how it goes and will have opportunities to understand each other better.

    Orienting the Parties to Their Own Agency: The mediator acknowledges the choices the choices parties make, by reflecting them using the second person, and by faithfully following the content of the parties’ statements. “You’d like Jane to speak first, because she’s the one who suggested mediation. . . “ And the mediator lets the parties take the lead in the conversation, as opposed to the mediator directing it. The mediator genuinely supports the parties in being in control of the process. Throughout the mediation, the mediator acts consistently with the idea that the process is about the parties and not the mediator.

    Orienting the Parties to Each Other: The mediator acts consistently with their assumption that the parties are in this conflict and this process together. (“This is your  (plural) conversation.” The mediator also summarizes the conversation, including what each participant has said and acknowledging how the parties’ perspectives relate. The mediator also supports parties as they talk about each other, including when they characterize other parties’ perspectives. The mediator assumes that the interaction between the parties is central to the process. So for example, the transformative mediator does not advise parties to “focus on the problem, not the people.”

    Supporting the Parties’ Conflict Talk: The mediator “follows the heat”, expecting that intense differences and even hostility may be a natural part of the process. The mediator intentionally allows space for the intensity and supports it by including it in summaries and reflections.

    Supporting the Parties’ Decision-making Process: The mediator calls the parties’ attention to opportunities to make decisions about both process and content. At every possible opportunity, the mediator allows the parties to make decisions and, when appropriate, points out such opportunities.

    Studying and practicing these strategies enhances mediators’ ability to support empowerment and recognition shifts, whether you are planning to become certified or simply want to further develop your practice. Register for the ISCT course here.

     1. Identifying Practice Competence in Transformative Mediators: An Interactive Rating Scale Assessment Model, by Dorothy J. Della Noce, James R. Antes, and Judith A. Saul, Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 19:3 2004, pp. 1005-1058

  • February 08, 2024 9:18 PM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    By Janet Mueller

    I became a parent in the age of “helicopter parenting” – where the parents are overly focused on their children and try to control or manage everything for them, especially to prevent failure or discomfort. As a parent, it is easy to get sucked into this hovering way of being. There are times I can barely resist jumping in and doing things for them. I initiate conversations between them and their friends when they aren’t getting along, I encourage caution when they are climbing high in a tree. I pack their lunches and tie their shoes so they are on time for school. Because I want to keep them safe and happy. I want to help them.  

    And in the moment it can seem like this helicoptering is help, but is it really? I know that when I do for someone else, especially someone growing and learning, they miss out on that growing and learning themselves. How are they going to navigate their own relationships if I am always jumping in? How are they going to learn what risks are ok with someone constantly putting doubts in them? How are they going to be responsible for themselves without trying and maybe even failing? The instant gratification of this kind of helps blurs my ability to see the long term impact.  

    So I am working on keeping the big picture in mind as I parent. One of the tricks I am using is what I call “parenting by looking away.” My kids are both reasonable risk takers. They calculate and use judgement. So when they climb trees or get into arguments with their besties, I don’t put myself in the middle, do it for them, or tell them to be careful. Instead, I deliberately turn around and look away (often literally but figuratively too).  

    “Parenting by looking away” isn’t ignoring children or abandoning them. By taking a moment to look away, I give my kids some space to try on their own. It is a tangible reminder to me to keep the long play in mind. I want to stop making this about me and let go of my desire to control and overprotect. I want to trust my kids, I want to believe in them, and I want to give them space to learn and grow. If they do come to me, I will listen to them. I will find other ways to support them instead of doing things for them.  

    I think sometimes as mediators, we are like helicopter parents. We want to help, we want to fix things, and frankly, we want to be in control. But is that way of helping what mediation is all about? Now, I’m not advocating mediating “by looking away” per se but the underlying philosophy applies in mediation. Parenting by looking away is about not making myself the center of it all. It’s about not assuming my take on things is the only way to see it. It’s about giving people space. It’s about seeing people’s potential.    

    When parties are the center of the process, when we trust the parties’ decision-making, and when we are optimistic about their capabilities, they take more responsibility. As a mediator, I don’t look away from the parties, but I do let go of trying to fix their situation. I know they have to do it themselves, and that only by doing it themselves, will the fixes be meaningful. Just as my kids need to learn to make their own decisions and relate to their friends, mediation parties need to make their own shifts to a better place.

  • December 14, 2023 2:09 PM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    ISCT Enters its 25th Year Strong and Responsive

    By Dan Simon

    The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation started in 1999 with the burst of energy that accompanied the 1998 rollout of the US Postal Service REDRESS Program. Founders, Robert A. Baruch Bush, Joseph Folger, Sally Ganong Pope, and the late Dorothy Della Noce created the ISCT with the intention to foster continued development of the transformative approach to conflict. Bush and Folger had articulated the transformative framework in the first edition of The Promise of Mediation in 1994. Della Noce and Pope, both established family mediators, embraced the approach and joined the authors in the mission of researching, writing about and teaching the framework. Of the founders, Bush remains active in the organization, serving on the board, teaching and speaking.

    With the help of many others, including academics, community mediation center directors, and private practitioners, the organization has hosted symposia and conferences from 1999 to the present, and has published many books, articles, and training videos that clarified and elaborated on various aspects of the framework. Most recently, in November of 2023, the ISCT held a conference in Brno, Czech Republic, which celebrated the 5-year anniversary of the Brno Mediation Center, and its achievement of becoming fully funded by the city after its initial two years of support from the European Union.  The conference drew over 100 participants, from North America, Europe and Kenya.

    The organization continues to thrive, with the help of Coordinator Janet Mueller and Assistant Coordinator Lydia VanderKaay, who are located in Dayton Ohio and connected to the Dayton Mediation Center.  Others who contribute to the organization are its 11 board members, its 19 fellows and its 172 members.

    The ISCT’s focus includes mediation, but has also progressed to transformative dialogue (the application of the transformative approach to large groups) and conflict coaching. The ISCT continues to provide virtual training, virtual practice groups, certification of mediators, group discussions, and other opportunities to connect with those interested in transformative interventions in conflict.  Members of the ISCT receive access to activities for free or at discounted rates.  And if you aren’t a member yet, we would love to have you join us! In the coming year, look for even more opportunities to grow in your practice and connection with other transformative practitioners.

    We look forward to learning, connecting and growing with you in 2024!

  • September 12, 2023 1:49 PM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    International Conference on Transformative Practice Coming to Czech Republic

    By Dan Simon

    Brno, Czech Republic will host the latest conference on Transformative Mediation, Coaching and Dialogue in November. Conflict transformation enthusiasts will gather to discuss the new developments in the field. Anyone interested in conflict intervention (including mediators, conflict coaches, educators, researchers, facilitators, and more) is invited to attend (and can do so for the incredibly low fee of $60). Register here. The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation (ISCT) has hosted international conferences periodically since early 2000’s. Those conferences took place in Rome, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and Santa Barbara; and affiliated organizations have held similar gatherings in Slovena, The Netherlands and elsewhere.

    “Current Directions in Transformative Practice: Mediation, Coaching, Dialogue” will be held on November 2ndand 3rd, 2023. It’s being organized by Czech transformative mediators, Martina Cirbusová and Robin Brzobohaty, with the support  of the board, fellows and staff of the ISCT.  A pre-conference training in transformative mediation will take place on October 29 – 31 in Brno, to be taught by Cirbusová and Dan Simon. You can register for the pre-conference training here.

    The City of Brno, lead by the mayor, Dr. Markéta Vanková, is sponsoring the event. Presenters will include Anja Bekink (ISCT President), Cribusová, Janet Mueller, Judy Saul, Carol Bloom, Erik Cleven, Dan Simon, Brzobohaty, Kees van Eijk, Peter Miller, Cherise Hairston, Mia Bowers, Vesna Matovic, Olivier Chambert-Loir, Basia Solarz, Christian Hartwig, Jakub Rubeš, Lukasz Kwiatkowski, Alžbeta Kubišová, Carlo Mosca, Lenka Poláková, Sharon Press, Kristine Paranica, Lydia VanderKaay, and Robert A. Baruch Bush. The program is available here.

    Conference workshops will focus on mediation, coaching and dialogue, which are distinct but related ways to apply the transformative approach to conflict. The program also allows for plenty of time to socialize and network with kindred spirits from around the world.


  • December 06, 2022 11:41 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    Communicating from Compassion and Strength

    by Janet Mueller

    As a transformative mediator, I see and experience the relational worldview in action every time I mediate.  I see how people move between weakness and strength, and self-absorbed and compassionate. Yet my own experience of this still confuses me.  Sometimes, it is so easy for me to be compassionate.  I give people a pass for “not so great behavior.” (My compassion is so big, I can’t even call it bad behavior!) I understand their circumstances or I know they mean well.  But other times and with other people, I immediately jump to frustration and criticism – giving no passes whatsoever.  And what about considering myself? Often I let that go, setting aside my own needs and wants, for the other. 

    Why am I so compassionate sometimes and other times completely impatient and intolerant (aka self-absorbed)? Why do I stand up for myself sometimes and other times acquiesce?  

    As a practitioner in the ADR field, I want to do conflict well.  I want to understand my own experiences of conflict, grow and get better.  But answering these questions for myself is no easy task.

    I tried to tease out when and where each of these were true- when I put myself first, when I put others first and when I could truly consider both.  I was looking for patterns.  This helped some as I did find that I am often the most self-absorbed and least considerate in my closest relationship and when I am more removed from the conflict, my compassion flows more easily. 

    I was surprised by this and felt there must be more. As I dug deeper I found other things that impact my compassion and strength.  I found layers upon layers of cultural expectations that I have absorbed, implicit biases that I work to be aware of, and my basic needs like food and sleep that factor in too.

    Reflecting on a recent experience working with a group, I remembered that conflict is hard. (As if that weren’t completely obvious!)  I felt pushed and pulled in this meeting.  In the moment, I was able to acknowledge what I was experiencing to myself.  And that awareness helped me to find support, to ask for time to process, and to begin to see the other. 

    It is humbling to be a professional conflict practitioner and still struggle with my own conflicts.  Yet, these challenges help me continue to grow and learn so I can make different choices in the future.

    If you are curious about your own experience of conflict and how it could be different, I encourage you join me for a *workshop on December 15th!

    *Workshop description and registration

  • September 29, 2022 11:32 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)
    This guest blog post by Tara West was originally posted to this site on January 29, 2020. Tara West is the author of The Mediator's Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict (2021) and co-author of Self-Determination in Mediation: The Art and Science of Mirrors and Lights 

    (2022). She is a certified transformative mediator and conflict coach who has also been trained in facilitative, evaluative, and understanding-based approaches to mediation. Tara earned her PhD in Social and Health Psychology from Stony Brook University and her JD from the New York University School of Law.

    Tara will be giving a workshop on her book, The Mediator's Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict, on October 6. Register here.


    “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” - Ben Franklin

    Political debates have long raged about the role of the state, and the correct balance to be struck in its duty to guard both the liberty and safety of its citizens. People tend to view both as desirable, but assume that each comes at a cost to the other. Debates generally revolve around which of the two values to prioritize, and what costs to tolerate.

    Similarly, mediators speak of the duties to honor party self-determination and to offer protection. As with the role of the state, many assume that there is a balance to be struck between the two, and tradeoffs to be made.

    In this post, I’d like to explore the question of whether a mediator’s protective interventions are actually likely to achieve their intended effects. In other words, what benefits are being secured by these protections? Might prioritizing party self-determination[i] provide greater benefits, with fewer costs?

    Protective interventions[ii] tend to go something like this: When a mediator believes the parties are heading toward an unsound decision, she will ask them a series of questions designed to help them see the flaws in their plan, often in the form of hypothetical scenarios (known as “reality testing”). If that fails, she may recommend that the parties seek the advice of an expert (e.g., a child psychologist, consulting attorney, or financial advisor). If the mediator believes she has the relevant expertise, she may share her own perspective on the decision. If the parties are determined to move forward with a decision that the mediator is troubled by, depending on how troubled she is, she may withdraw from the case. So, the general idea is that the mediator flags what she views as a flawed decision, and then, in some fashion, attempts to direct the parties away from that decision.

    Undoubtedly, in many of these cases, the parties do end up changing course and making a decision that the mediator feels better about, and perhaps one that the parties also feel better about. At other times, the parties may not change course, but the mediator may continue to work with them anyway; in that case, she may decide that she did what she could by raising her concerns, but that these are ultimately the parties’ decisions. In other cases, the parties may not change course, and the mediator may be so concerned that she withdraws from the case. In this situation, she may decide that she does not want mediation (or herself) to be used in the service of a bad outcome.

    While arguments in favor of protection of the parties, a third party, or even the mediation process are not without merit, there are a few assumptions underlying these attempts at protection that are worth exploring. The first assumption is that the mediator is in a better position than the parties to know what decisions they should make, and what information they need to make their decisions. While the mediator will (hopefully) have had mediation training, and may have subject matter expertise, she will never be an expert on these particular parties, including their values, preferences, limitations, and capacities; nor will she be an expert on their particular situation, including the realistic options they have, and how each option would work for them in practice. Therefore, there’s at least some reason to question whether the mediator’s concerns are (or should be) relevant to the parties’ decision-making process.

    The second assumption is that these protective interventions are more likely to lead the parties to a good decision (even if only in the mediator’s eyes) than are practices that do not have protection as a goal. That is, there is an assumption that the parties would not eventually ask their own questions, raise their own concerns, or seek expert advice without being prodded to do so by the mediator. This also assumes that the protective interventions are not having the opposite of the intended effect, and that the parties would not, in fact, be more likely to change course without the mediator’s nudging. Given that autonomy is a basic psychological need (Ryan & Deci, 2017), it’s worth considering the possibility that applying subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure to the parties may actually lead to resistance. The parties may then be more likely to dig in their heels and commit to a decision that they would have moved away from, for their own reasons, had the mediator given them the space and support to do so.

    A third assumption is that all decisions made in mediation, especially those included in a formal agreement, will be given full effect by the parties going forward. Although the written agreement certainly matters, what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do are often two different things. Even decisions ordered by a judge may be ignored or challenged, formally or informally, jointly or unilaterally. This can be for the better or for the worse. That ideal decision that looked lovely on paper? It may exist solely on paper. Same goes for the not-so-ideal decision. Therefore, protective interventions that successfully get parties to a “good” decision in the short run may actually backfire in the long run - either because the decision did not work for the parties, or because they are still psychologically resisting the pressure that led to it. In contrast, decisions made freely by the parties, but that turn out to be mistakes, may be more easily corrected in the future.

    Despite these doubts and concerns, protective interventions may be necessary in the context of an approach where the mediator directs the parties’ conversation and guides them through a series of steps, thereby giving them the expectation that the mediator is providing protection (see Bush, 2019). Relatedly, these doubts would not suggest that mediators take a hands-off approach, and offer no active support, or brush the parties’ disagreements, concerns, or hesitations under the rug.

    Instead, these doubts and concerns about protective interventions suggest that if the mediator actively supports and reflects the parties’ choices without judgment, including their own efforts to gain clarity, the parties may be in the best position to understand their situation and make their own thoughtful decisions, without a need for the mediator’s protective interventions.

    Of course, mediators who refrain from using protective interventions, and instead support the parties’ decisions, every step of the way, can also offer no guarantees about the quality of decisions the parties make. However, by supporting the parties as they make their own choices, whatever they may be, the mediator at least knows that he’s not bringing his own biases, misinformation, and pressure into the parties’ lives (including the pressure to reach an agreement[iii]). By treating the parties as if they are capable of making their own decisions, he may find (as would be predicted by the self-fulfilling prophecy) that this is indeed the case.

    Although protective interventions are certainly well intentioned, perhaps we can best protect those we serve by protecting them from our own good intentions.

    References

     

    Bush, R. A. B. (2019). A pluralistic approach to mediation ethics: Delivering on mediation’s different promises. Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, 34(3), 459-535. 

    Ryan, R. M, & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

     ____________________________________________________________________________________

    [i] The definition of “self-determination” is also a subject of debate. Although there is much to be said on this topic, for the purposes of this post I’m referring to the parties’ freedom to make choices about both outcome and process, with the mediator actively supporting these choices rather than attempting to steer them toward or away from any particular decision.

    [ii] Protective interventions may take other forms in different situations (e.g., when the mediator suspects party incapacity or domestic violence), which are beyond the scope of this blog post, although the same principles may apply.

    [iii] My suspicion is that these protective interventions arose in response to the tendency for mediators to prioritize reaching an agreement - any agreement - without regard for the quality of the agreement (nor for the quality of the parties’ decision-making process). That is, if the mediator is taking responsibility for getting the parties to an agreement, even if he is only nudging them in that direction, then perhaps he should take some responsibility for the quality of the agreement.

  • September 14, 2022 2:45 PM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)
    The institute is excited to present a new training this fall,Transformative Dialogue: Co-creating and Facilitating Conversations in Organizations and Communities.                           

    Please take a moment to read more about this training, as described by two of the practitioners who developed it, Judy Saul and Erik Cleven. 

    The training consists of 16 hours of live contact with participants over 8 sessions and aims to prepare people to be more prepared to facilitate group conversations from a transformative perspective. The asynchronous content is delivered through videos and reading assignments in the training manual. One of the most exciting things about the course is that participants will see a wide diversity of presenters, working in a variety of contexts. In addition to presenting the material, participants will hear numerous first person examples illustrating the diversity of dialogue work. This course is equally suited for folks who have training in transformative mediation or for people who are new to the model.

    The live sessions will all be interactive and will focus on skills training, thinking about the application of the material and in discussion with others.

    The first training in transformative dialogue was offered in Nairobi, Kenya in 2012 by Judy Saul and Erik Cleven. Since then the training has evolved as transformative dialogue work has evolved. This training includes many new features including a focus on dealing with issues of race and racism, implicit bias, power and culture, and also introduces participants to a set of expanded premises about identity and people in groups.  

    Many people have been involved in developing this training. In May 2022, Erik Cleven convened a workshop to develop the training which included Cherise Hairston, Susan Jordan, and Judy Saul. Erik also traveled to New York, New Jersey and Maryland to record video content with Baruch Bush, Joe Folger, Sheri Tardio and Mia Bowers. In addition to this, many practitioners sent in videos recorded on their cell phones. One of the goals for this training was to provide high quality video content that was not recorded on zoom.

    The institute hopes that this training will be the start of a developing network of dialogue practitioners around the world. This online training, which currently has registrants from 7 different countries, is a first step.

    Read more and register here: https://www.transformativemediation.org/event-4874048

  • September 08, 2022 9:43 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    A post by guest blogger and ISCT Fellow, Tom Wahlrab

    The mission of Welcoming America, and now Welcoming International, is working with communities to prepare for and help to integrate refugees and other immigrants. “Where We Belong” is Welcoming America’s theme for the 10-year anniversary of welcoming week. The ISCT has become one of the many official sponsors of Welcoming America’s “Welcoming Week.” 

    The members of the ISCT are in a unique position to respond when unwelcoming overcomes welcoming. As human migration continues to accelerate, stressful human interactions are often a result. Some of our members, while not necessarily formally associated with welcoming, are responding to individual and community needs, concerns and even conflicts associated with receiving newcomers. 

    As transformative practitioners, scholars and students, our members are rooted in the premises of a relational worldview. Our members offer mediation, dialogue facilitation, coaching, and personal response to conflict training. Our members strive to support people in regaining their personal strength and constructive responsiveness to others, so they can change and manage the quality of their interactions.

    The number of people migrating from their communities and countries is historically unprecedented. Evidence of conflict, or strained interactions between new-comers and receiving communities are inevitable. How people respond though can be positive and constructive. 

    The ISCT is glad to support Welcoming America and Welcoming International and we’ve asked our members to introduce themselves or their service organizations to their local welcoming initiatives.

    If you haven’t yet done so, introduce yourself and your Transformative practitioner services to the welcoming initiatives in your community. Making your services known to the welcoming initiatives in your community is why we are sponsors of Welcoming Week.

  • April 12, 2022 10:40 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    A Mediator's Reaction to the Invasion of Ukraine

    Guest blogger, Carlo Mosca is an Italian lawyer specializing in cross-border / cross-cultural business... and relevant disputes, of course. He is also a mediator, and the true culprit in popularizing the transformative approach in his country. It is from this dual perspective that he offered this contribution, in the wake of the recent facts affecting Ukraine. The focus is on the mediator third-party nature. 

    More could be said about this kind of high-intensity conflicts: their ineluctability, complexity, and even intractability. This will possibly be the subject of further inquiry. 


    The recent events in Ukraine made me think about mediation in high-level conflicts, and ask myself whether I could maintain equidistance in a case of armed conflict (the exercise is utterly theoretical, though, since independent mediators are very rarely asked to intervene in these situations – most often vested-interest mediators, or world renowned personalities not acting as field professionals are the ones who intervene). The point is that, from the information I've got, I see the Ukraine events as a brutal unjustified invasion carried on by the Russian army, and I'd be heartily pleased to see Putin and his acolytes eventually indicted as war criminals. These are gut feelings, though; since only investigations and historical analysis could tell us, perhaps, one day, how things went.

    Like most professional mediators, I'm 'obviously' neutral-minded when practicing as a mediator. This means that I've been trained in, and more or less successfully have been managing so far to remain impartial and equidistant from all the parties involved – i.e. basically treating all conflicting actors on equal footing. Most notably – no matter how disgraceful a party's position may appear to me. This is particularly important for those who, like me, believe in the regenerating power of dialogue, and the effectiveness of a non-directive, non-judgemental third-party intervention. So, my basic aim is to support (not to push) my 'clients' in their efforts to make decisions, and find their way in the midst of a conflict.

    Under normal circumstances, the worst that occurs is that I feel more commonalities with one party, and less sympathy for others. In principle, this may affect equidistance; in practice, though, nothing terrible happens – especially thanks to the non-directive general attitude I mentioned above.  High-level conflicts, however, may pose more serious problems, since they often involve some amount of violence. As a consequence somebody feels, or actually is. physically or psychologically harmed – and the mediator may experience sympathy, and antipathy at alarming levels. A war is certainly a high-level conflict, in the sense that security of persons and chattels are put at peril; and every person involved is under severe stress, as are a conspicuous number of indirectly involved spectators. So, a second issue – How to contain violence? – arises, in addition to the equidistance one.

    To be honest, in every mediated conflict, episodes of violence may occur. Any confrontation, indeed, appears to include an amount of violence. It can take the form of a simple verbal attack, or transcend into something more physically or psychologically aggressive. What should a mediator do, in this respect? 

    Mediation, as we practice it, certainly entails interventions that are peaceful by definition. So direct violence containment by employing coercive means seems out of question. However, mediation seems also 'naturally' based on the assumption that certain limits cannot be exceeded. I would say that each party assumes that his/her opponent/s, at the very least cannot employ means that may cause physical, or severe psychological harms. Once those limits are crossed (wherever their acceptable level might be set), there's simply no place for mediation. It becomes a police business. High-intensity international conflicts seem not to differ, in their basic dynamics, from any other conflicts – the point is that we regretfully lack a supranational police to resort to. Actually, the UN could play this role – but we all know how terribly difficult it would be).

    I've hinted to the fact that conflict dynamics are more or less the same, irrespective of the magnitude of the conflict itself. Let me explain in more detail how I see it.

    We can view conflict as an interaction (either verbal or not) where each subject positions himself according to the other's positioning, and in a way that is consistent with his narrative. (A narrative being the subjective reality that person is able to construct over any available data, including in particular her past experiences, her present physiological state, and her taken-for-granted cultural assumptions). Positioning is basically a communication event (we'd better talk of events, indeed, since positioning is always changing – so creating a series of communication fragments); and conflict interaction takes the form of a discourse (where various communication acts take place – you might see it as moves and countermoves, if you like, at the most elementary level). Particularly important is, in a conflict interaction, the 'perlocutionary' force of a communication act, i.e. its capability to determine effects onto the 'listener'. This drives his re-positioning, and in turn this latter asks for a 'speaker's new positioning. (I'm talking of speaker and listener in a figurative way, of course – so, bombing a target is a communication act, from this perspective, as is the relevant defensive or counteroffensive move). And all this is irrespective of ethical, or legalistic views.

    The interactive patterns of interpersonal conflict dynamics may be observed, and are often identical (net of the increased intra-subject complexity) also in inter-group, inter-community, and even inter-nation conflict encounters. With a major difference, though – the multiplication of subjects involved may accelerate the course, and magnify the dimensions of violent episodes. Like a nuclear uncontrolled reaction, violence in these circumstances often becomes so not just a police, rather a crowd control business. Eventually, that thing called war. All this is undeniable, and it also seems unavoidable, considering how despicable we all can be, as humans. 

    We know that a third party mediator may intervene in a conflict, either by invitation, or acceptance by the parties involved. What a mediator is expected to do is a matter of large debate: most hope for a change of status to be achieved (end of hostilities, reconciliation, settlement agreements signed, peace treaty made, ...); others are happy with something different (a better mutual understanding, a clearer view of the situation that may lead to more appropriate decisions, ...). In general, one might say that the mediation raison d'etre consists in providing some help, somehow, to parties otherwise facing each other directly.

    I, like many others operating as professional mediators, usually deal with conflicts involving other people by staying in the conflict, being part of it (although from a privileged not directly affected position). What I feel reflects an obvious truth – that even a mediator becomes a subject participating to the conflict dialogue (in the sense seen above). In more abstract terms, one might say that mediation becomes a component of the conflict. So, no wonder conversations can overlap with hostile actions, peace talks may occur in between armed attacks. An utterance at a negotiation table equals a commando raid, or stone-walling between a divorcing couple, to stay on safer terms. Being that conflict is not a status, but rather a process liquidly changing moment by moment, there is of course space for mediation even when bombs are dropped. In other words, as long as the interested parties require, or accept the intervention of a neutral, a neutral may help them dealing with their problems, and confronting each other.

    So, coming to the initial point – is there any factor urging a mediator to move from his neutral stance, when things get particularly obnoxious? We are human. I am human. And I'm wondering how my precious equidistance may maintain when its foundations are shaken at the base, by one party exerting an intolerable amount of violence over the other. That is what I'm experiencing these days, while I watch on TV children crying and mothers and elders fleeing under armed attacks. In the end, it's humanity under attack. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable that, if asked to mediate, I will be able to set aside any judgemental attitude. The fact is that I am aware I know very little of humans and their motivations, and that each party involved may really need a helping hand. Why not give it to her? Moreover, we should never forget that complex organizations (States included) are just conceptual constructions. A conflict dialogue is inevitably carried out by physical persons, each with their own unique characteristics.

    As for containment of violence, I fear a mediator can do nothing, apart from withdrawing from his office, or continuing to work in spite of all. It's simply not his business, and he has no resources to act as a policeman. (This of course applies to professional independent mediators. Others may do better – UN envoys, first of all. Also vested-interest mediators may well represent powerful principals that possess sufficient means to prevent, or stop violence – but this is another story).

  • March 14, 2022 9:46 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    Book Review by Dan Simon 

    Tara West has studied all of the approaches to mediation. Her experience with five of them has led to the best available resource for anyone who wants to compare approaches. And it’s a pleasure to read. It’s called The Mediator’s Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict. She describes evaluative, facilitative, transformative, understanding-based, and narrative mediation.  The extra “half” in the title refers to West’s observation that the evaluative approach is inconsistently defined, and has at least two different meanings.


    Part of what makes this book especially notable is how it describes transformative mediation. Accurately. Speaking of which, I should disclose that West is a close friend of mine, took my transformative mediation training, and just finished co-authoring another book, with me. And she understands the transformative approach.

     
    Among the insightful statements she makes about the transformative approach are “Of [evaluative, facilitative and transformative], only the transformative approach is a mediation model, meaning there is a foundational text that clearly spells out the theory, goals, values, and practices of the approach.” And West goes on to articulate those theory, goals, values and practices in an entire chapter devoted to the transformative approach. She devotes a chapter to each of the other four approaches, as well.


    The book conveys West’s love for mediation and encourages readers to find their own path to the approach they prefer. While West prefers to practice transformative mediation, her descriptions of the other approaches are fair, clear and accurate, as well. Anyone who wants a broad understanding of the different approaches to mediation will enjoy this book.

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