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Mediating Complex Disputes

The Dynamic Mediation™ Model

Solution Building

Shift Out of the Problem, Focus on Change

Identifying a conflict and being moved out of equilibrium, our cybernetic control loops will take over to push us back towards the initial equilibrium or search for a new one; and while the conflict is still there, the control mechanisms will continue pushing for an equilibrium. Therefore, it is perfectly natural for the disputing parties to be focused on their own problems; and the longer it takes for them to resolve their disputes, the deeper these emotions will grow and fester; and the more intensified the focus is on problems, the further away the parties will get from thinking about their preferred future: they may barely think about what they want to replace the problem with, they just want it to go away, this well may be their main focus and the only thing they are after.

The parties’ initial focus on their problems makes it inevitable for them to begin their mediation discussions with some sort of explanation and demonstration of their problems and frustrations.

Dynamic Mediation encourages the mediator to move away from problem talk, not inviting parties to talk about their problems, rather focus on finding out what changes they want to see instead.

Therefore, instead of questions inviting parties to explain their pain points and problems, the mediator uses the language of hope and change, such as the ones in Table below:

Problem Seeking vs. Hope Generating Language

Problem SeekingHope Generating
What brought you to this mediation?What are your best hopes from this session?
What prompted you to seek mediation now?What do you hope to accomplish in your life?
What do you feel is wrong in your life?What changes would you like to see in your life as a result of these sessions?
What is it like working in this company?What is it that you saw in this company that led you to choose to work there?
What is it like growing up in your family?What did each of you do to grow the relationship?
How do you see/define the problem?What positive changes would you like to see happening?
How would you best describe your relationship with …?What made you try to find a solution instead of giving up on the relationship?
How did that action make you feel?What positive outcome do you hope to see as a result of this conversation?
What is the problem from your point of view?What are you hoping for from deciding to participate in this conversation?
Could you explain why you are not happy with …?What difference would you like this conversation to make for you?

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that this encouragement is categorically NOT about stopping parties from talking about their problems and preventing them from discussing their negative emotions, rather it involves helping them move away from problem talk and to think more about what they want to see happening. This means in response to any “not to be” answers (e.g., I don’t like to be pushed around, I don’t want to be stressed out, I don’t like his tone of voice), the mediator needs to follow-up with more questions to probe deeper and inspire them to think, discover, and clarify what they want there “to be” instead:

This clarity of vision­—of what is desirable—might not occur right at the beginning for all parties; people might change their vision (i.e., what they want, their desired future, their equilibrium) as they learn more about each other and know more about the possibilities. Moreover, some parties in conflict might not even believe they have the option, or even the authority, to form a desired future, even if only in their imaginations—even as a fantasy: Power imbalance and past oppression play a significant role for those who, voluntarily or by force, have adopted a more helpless and incapacitated state of mind.

The mediator needs to facilitate the envisioning process, allowing the light to be seen and to highlight and encourage hope for all parties.

Those who believe all is lost will seem as if they have stopped reaching out, and when confronted with the task of picturing their desired future, they may freeze with indecision. However, the sheer presence of parties and their continued efforts to find a way to resolve their dispute are, in fact, clear signs for the mediator that they are still reaching out. They (the parties) also need to see and understand this. Regardless of the burning thirst and raging heat, they need to look around and see they are still walking, hoping to find an oasis.

Co-creating Solutions

A problem-solving (or a problem-focused) approach will focus on exploring and probing for problems, pain points, challenges, and issues between parties, trying to pinpoint the root causes, devising a plan of action to address problems and overcome challenges.

The mediator needs to resist the urge for problem-solving and instead should focus on facilitating a process for the parties to discover their own resources and strengths, identifying times when they experienced a more satisfying relationship or times when they were able to overcome a challenge, and thereby highlighting their resources and success stories.

The solution will emerge out of those success stories, since those are the ones that have already worked; they make sense; they are not prescribed external advice. It is highly probable for each individual to find a time in which the problem they are experiencing now had not been present:

The mediator facilitates and helps the parties to reflect, remember, and recognize their own success stories, resources, strengths, and support systems. They will then need to leverage these resources to co-construct a pathway (i.e., solution) bridging their current situation to their desired future, making their vision a reality.

The closest approach to this idea is the Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), in which the focus is on how clients change, rather than on diagnosing and treating problems, and therefore, the practitioner uses a language of change (Franklin, Trepper, McCollum, & Gingerich, 2011).

As McGee argues, “[a]sking about success can create conversational space for an account filled with positive and helpful details while asking about failings will probably lead [to] a very different perspective of the same life.” (McGee, Del Vento, & Bavelas, 2005, p. 371).

The Dynamic Mediation Approach encourages mediators to identify and highlight unnoticed little sparks of progress and hidden signs of solutions, unmask them for the parties to see, accentuate the possibility of success, and reinforce a message of hope.

References

The Dynamic Mediation Model™

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