John G Bell & Robin Fenske


Spring '03 - Hill

“What people often mean by getting rid of conflicts is getting rid of diversity... It is of the utmost importance that these should not be considered the same. We may wish to abolish conflict, but we cannot get rid of diversity. We may face life as it is and understand that diversity is its most essential feature... Fear of difference is dread of life itself.

It is possible to conceive of conflict as not necessarily a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process by which socially valued differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned.”


A response and reflection on the mediation training, the DRC training manual and the book “Narrative Mediation”

Narrative Mediation is to Facilitative Mediation as dialogue is to discussion. These styles of mediation are different but they collaborate in the development of a similar future world-view. In this paper, we suggest that this shared world view would be aided by a systemic awareness of a holistic model of satisfaction.

  1. Continuum of Conflict

The Dispute Resolution Center [DRC] of Thurston County's Mediation Training Manual introduces a continuum of conflict [DRC p9] which is characterized as moving from interest-based conflict to a polar opposite of power-based conflict through a rights-based middle. This continuum leads from reconciliation at the interest pole through mediation then litigation and to annihilation at the opposite.

Another way of characterizing this continuum is the willingness and good faith of the participants. In this way, the least willing participant determines the least amount of coercion necessary to engage, force the unwilling participant to the table.

In both El Dorado & In Timber Country, the amount of coercion necessary to get the loggers and environmentalists to the table was determined by their unwillingness to engage on each other's core, authentic issues. They had to force a level of engagement with each other that was less interest-based and more focused on the rights and power necessary to reach a place where they could talk. The corollary here is that the more force is necessary to coerce participants to the table, the less they will be able to speak about core, authentic interests.

A further corollary is that as coercion becomes less necessary to maintain engagement, the more likely participants will be able to address the other's authentic interests. When participants start the journey of conflict resolution, they may only be willing and able to respond to the needs of their own intramural group, but they learn to be more willing and able to meet other interests outside their previous areas of comfort. Further, as they learn to be more willing and able, they also become more aware and competent to address structural conflict.

During the training we learned about the DRC intake process. People that are willing resolve a conflict but do not have the ability to overcome what could be either structural conflict or a lack of willingness of the other disputant might seek the assistance of the DRC. The DRC intake process checks to see if these barriers can be overcome. If the barriers are not too great then the conflict can be mediated by facilitators that provide the ability that willing disputants might not have.

Because of this intake process, mediation does not deal will conflicts where one disputant is unwilling enough to require further coercion nor with conflicts that have large structural elements. In some sense the mediation intake process is self-selecting for successful mediation by eliminating specific case which appear prima fasciae unmediable. [DRC p68] Although the intake process can develop into motivation for the participants to become more engaged in mediation, [NM p210] it cannot change the fact that there is a threshold of willingness and good faith necessary.

Mediation does not help disputants to be more willing to attempt conflict resolution, but does help provide disputants with more skill and ability to mediate their current and future conflicts. However, if the participants are willing enough to enter into mediation, then they have the opportunity to listen and be listened to which can lead to being more willing to engage in the process.

  1. Goals of mediation – satisfaction models

Mediation training introduces the concept of levels of satisfaction. [DRC p7,10,15] These levels are outlined as procedural, substantive and psychological. This model is introduced to illustrate that traditional adversarial conflict resolution does not provide as much satisfaction, or a holistic satisfaction.

The suggestion is that adversarial conflict has a satisfaction model that ignores the psychological element. If one combines the idea of the continuum of conflict with the two models of satisfaction for adversarial and mediated conflicts there's a pattern.

This pattern suggests that the farther toward power and coercive conflict, the fewer elements of satisfaction are available. So, in the case of war, one might suggest there's only substantive satisfaction that's being met. This is the idea that war is all about what one can get, what substantive gains can be made by the willing participant at the expense of the coerced other.

If one were to take this pattern and extend it in the opposite direction on the continuum of conflict, the suggestion is that the further one moves toward interest-based conflict, the more complete the model of satisfaction. Moving from war to adversarial conflict adds procedural to substantive. Moving from adversarial conflict to mediation adds psychological to procedural and substantive. Extending this model further toward interest-based conflict like reconciliation, the pattern would suggest there's additional forms of satisfaction that might be added to the previous three. One kind of satisfaction that hasn't been mentioned is the satisfaction of creativity. Conflict that's very grounded in the interests of the participants like reconciliation and dialogue has a very creative element. This might mean that further along the continuum of conflict toward interest-based conflict adds creative satisfaction to psychological, procedural and substantive.

This model suggests that the less the conflict is based on the interests of the participants, the less holistic the models of satisfaction. Unfortunately, this is ignores the fact that power-based conflict does in fact seem to be very satisfying to some participants. This is the point raised in the article Why We Love War. There is a level of satisfaction that meets the needs of the participants, however the article The Moral Equivalent of War suggests that this model is not as socially acceptable. The unacceptable nature of the satisfaction from power-based conflict seems to make it easier to ignore the validity of a holistic satisfaction model for that kind of conflict. The idea in Why We Love War is that this kind of conflict does in fact meet psychological needs for the participants and for the community of participants. While it's a less desirable kind of conflict, we have to recognize that this kind of conflict does have a full range of creative, psychological, procedural and substantive satisfaction. To be intellectually honest, we must see that it's not that the model of satisfaction is incomplete, but that the conflict model itself is less desirable.

It seems that humans tend to ignore the ways in which less desirable modes of conflict are satisfying. This is like how the primary privilege of privilege is not having to talk about privilege. The primary power of power-based conflict is the limited way it needs to be justified. It's more possible to avoid surfacing all the ways that power-based conflict is satisfying. Thus, it's an imperative, perhaps even categorical, that these additional methods of satisfaction be surfaced. If one accepts that even power-based conflict provides a holistic satisfaction model, then these perviously hidden modes of satisfaction can be seen as interests instead of structural barriers. These interests can then be addressed and there's an opportunity to meet those modes of satisfaction in different and more acceptable ways.

For example, the psychological satisfaction of killing another human could be about a need for power and individual recognition. If it is recognized that there is a psychological mode of satisfaction that's attached to an authentic interest, that authentic interest could be met in another way.

This holistic model of satisfaction is also a system that unrecognized can determine behaviour. An example of this is Eugene de Kock in the book A Human Being Died That Night where de Kock was attempting to achieve satisfaction, but was ultimately unsuccessful. In meetings with the author, it was made clear that de Kock's role in a larger system determined his behaviour. There was an unsurfaced model of satisfaction. What that means is that his ultimate level of satisfaction and means to meet those needs were ultimately out of his control.

The point here is not that a holistic model of satisfaction provides satisfaction, but that it is a framework for attempting to gain satisfaction. The question of whether a Truth & Reconciliation Commission would be satisfying in the context of the US is not whether it provides psychological satisfaction or not, but rather whether the way it provides psychological satisfaction meets the needs of the participants. In the status quo US model of satisfaction, the psychological element is provided in the adversarial, judicial conflict model by a sense of winning over another person. In the TRC model, psychological satisfaction is imbued with the idea of “ubuntu” and sense of community. These are two different models of meeting the psychological needs of the participants and may or may not be satisfying in different contexts.

Each point of leverage can be impacted by different strategies, and, taken together, this becomes a holistic system of satisfaction. Interchangeable strategies can be used to apply force to these points of leverage. Interchangeable strategies becomes mental models of satisfaction which may be more effective at achieving alignment than another. Changing a specific strategy is a form of leverage in the system. Changing specific strategies in order to achieve greater systemic satisfaction is a form of alignment. The effectiveness of the system at providing satisfaction can be affected by the participants use of leverage. The effectiveness of changes at any leverage point within the system is helped by surfacing as many strategies of satisfaction as possible and recognizing there is an ecology between all the levels of satisfaction that determine the state of the system as a whole.

By not recognizing other strategies in use, it will be less possible to appreciate why some people chose a given model. Further, it will be harder to appreciate why some people refuse to move to a new or different model when the fact that they do find satisfaction in their current model is left unrecognized or unheard. An example of this is how the rival racial factions in American History X battled out their differences and respective self-worth on the basketball court. The skinheads in the film were victorious in the game and this provided them with a definite and clear sense of satisfaction. This scene of the movie would be impossible to understand if the existence of a functioning satisfaction model is left unrecognized. In a dialogue, understanding another person is impossible if one can't recognize that other person's satisfaction as valid.

Another reason why surfacing the interests which comprise the state of the system of conflict is so important is that with diversity conflict becomes inevitable. [NM p41] Further, diversity itself is inevitable because “people are connected, often simultaneously, to a number of different discourses ...” [NM p46] When conflict is inevitable due to inevitable diversity, effectively and meaningfully addressing the authentic surfaced issues and interests of the participants is “an opportunity for participants to reconstruct their interpretation of the history of a dispute in the light of some alternative discursive position.” [NM p 46] In other words, in the face of inevitable diversity and conflict, the willingness and ability to surface a system of conflict, crossing the threshold into a co-created narrative, makes it possible to detect, and determine the effectiveness of, possible points of leverage.

  1. The role of the 3rd party mediator

The role of the 3rd party mediator in the short-term to help the participants achieve resolution in their conflict by advocating the process and providing the willing participants with the ability to mediate. This is a process of helping the participants surface a hidden system of conflict that is determining their behaviour and then to identify an agenda which outlines possible points of leverage toward conflict resolution. The short-term goal is conflict resolution.

The long-term goal of the 3rd party is to help the participants develop the skills and ability to recognize systems on their own. This is training the participants to conform to a world-view of mediation [DRC p54] and systems perspective. This is itself an unsurfaced agenda in the mediation process. The participants are not informed that there is a world-view behind the process of mediation and that they are being assimilated. The implications of this metanoia are meant to address issues small and large, from disputant skills [DRC p25] to disparate power dynamics. [DRC p57]

These personal journeys are being taken and facilitated with a societal level change in mind. The most profound example of this idea is when Judy explained her view that “mediation is a spiritual practice.”

The short-term is the landscape of action, the long-term the landscape of meaning. [NM p52] The toolbox of the social reformer contains the tools of short-term intervention with the purpose of crafting long-term projects. These mirror the dichotomy between issues and interests. [DRC p30] In the language of Narrative Mediation, “however, by carefully weaving back and forth between and emphasis on the landscape of action and an emphasis on the landscape of meaning, a story of some substance, and hopefully therefore of some viability, is being opened up.” [NM p165] This is another way of talking about creative tension. [Senge]

  1. Conflict styles

The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument [DRC p14] outlines 5 conflict management styles. In mediation “there is a bias toward getting disputants to use a more collaborative style of conflict ...” [DRC p14] During the training debriefing, the mediator using a collaborative mode took parts from the other modes as necessary to create “position calls” [NM p120] for the purpose of bringing the participants toward collaboration also. This suggests that, unlike the DRC graph [DRC p21] which shows collaboration as an extreme style, the collaborative mode exists in a kind of equilibrium between the other four modes of conflict behaviour.

Collaboration is not a way of temporarily becoming another mode, but takes part in the behaviours of the other modes when necessary to create the opportunity for position calls. This collaboration is not a style which runs from one extreme to another, but rather attempts to bring the participants together as a collaborative group.

  1. Diversity determines thought

Narrative Mediation states that “words are not simply vehicles (or neutral tools) we use to represent an event or reality. As Wittgenstein argues, words construct the event.” [NM p39] In this way, we must be aware of our narratives as we are “always in the process of creating” [DRC p41] the world around us using language. The opportunity of conflict is that of meeting conflicting discourse which allows us to learn of and from new perspectives. [NM 47] In the process of meeting conflicting narratives, we are able to hear and listen to “position calls” with which we invite each other into new modes of language and world-views. [NM p74] Learning a process of examining, evaluating and exchanging world-views, narratives or mental models allows us to develop more satisfying stories that are relational and contextual. [NM p250] These more satisfying stories can develop into a relational, contextual culture which embraces conflict from diversity as a way to reach holistic satisfaction.

Bell & Fenske