Mediating Complex Disputes

The Dynamic Mediation™ Model

Collective Learning

Build Awareness

Conflict is a discomforting difference and therefore has this tendency to provoke emotions (figure below) and manipulate feelings (Saunders, Lin, Milyavskaya, & Inzlicht, 2017, pp. 31-40). It also branches out and propagates; conflict begets conflict (Sharvit, 2014, pp. 252-261).

Cybernetic control loop - Conflict and Emotions
Cybernetic control loop - Conflict and Emotions

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It is natural for people in conflict situations to experience distressing feelings and sweltering negative emotions. If unchecked, these sentiments will find their way out, permeating into conversations between parties, fanning the flames, and aggravating the conflict between them.

As the mediator is asking the above questions and probing for individuals’ preferred future (i.e., what they want to see), they facilitate the communication flow to shift from negative talk to more positive and constructive discussions, instead of blaming and censuring and trying to find the “responsible one,” parties will be more focused on the desired state they want to see.

This shift in tone, from negative to positive, happens within the mediation session, in front of the other party, and they will be listening, observing, and taking in what is being said. They will find the other party is not blaming them or pointing a finger towards them as someone who is responsible for their problems, so they will be more focused on their side of the story and what they want in life.

Many times, what different individuals want in life has astonishingly great overlaps with that of others: If person A wants to be respected, it might be reasonable to expect that person B may also want the same. In fact, it might not be at all out of the bounds of reality to expect, if probed deep enough, people involved in a conflict to have many similar needs. However, regardless of how probably true this statement is, the mediator cannot rely on disputants reaching very similar preferred futures.

What the mediator wants to achieve is to build and increase awareness amongst all disputing parties about what each one of them sees as their preferred future, without blaming others.

Our cybernetic control loops are evolved to help us maintain our equilibrium; they are basically focused inwards; they are by definition “selfish.” It naturally follows that in conflict situations, people will perceive the discomforting emotions that “they” have because “they” have been pushed out of “their” equilibrium, and the further away from the equilibrium they have been pushed, the stronger the force they will experience urging them back towards equilibrium. This is why the deeper the conflict goes between parties and the longer it lasts, the more self-focused the parties will become.

Building and increasing awareness amongst parties will reduce the pressure their respective control mechanisms are exerting because the increased awareness will remove the perception of threats from the other party and help parties not to think of others as enemies. This will gradually calm down the excitement, unwind the tangled emotions, and relax parties into a relatively safer environment. The solid, immovable state of affairs is now malleable and flexible, and parties are ready to learn more and move towards their equilibriums.

Co-Creating Pathways Forward, Collective Learning

Although we talk about three phases of change (unfreeze, move, freeze) as separate steps of the process, in real life, things happen simultaneously. When the change process begins, at the same time that the unfreezing happens, moving will follow. Unfreezing means the individual’s mind is ready to receive new information, ready to open up, and ready to accept the possibility of learning a new thing, and as soon as learning happens, the individual has already moved.

While the first questions are geared towards discovering and bringing out the preferred future, the next set of questions will be focused on co-creating pathways forward: solutions that would help parties achieve their respective equilibriums.

References

The Dynamic Mediation Model™

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