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7 Steps to Collaboration in Conflict Mediation

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I am having a wonderful time digging into conflict theory during my sabbatical. Just now, I am reading an article on models of mediation.  The authors explore different types of perspective-taking, including:

  • Egocentric.  This is where the self is so at the centre of one’s reality that the other is more or less an “object” and not a person with whom one might wrestle.  The needs of the self are paramount such that the needs of the other are hardly recognized.
  • Unilateral.  Here the other is perceived as having interests but the relation of the self to the other is one of obeying or commanding the other person.  In other words, the conflict is perceived through the lens of an inherent power imbalance that must be satisfied.
  • Reciprocal.  Here the self has made space for the other but still through a type of hierarchy.  The other is seen as having interests, but these interests are perceived as having value only after the interests of the self are satisfied.
  • Mutual.  At this level, both the self and the other are seen as having interests; both sets of interests are valued and possibly even connected.  Here one sees various forms of collaboration aimed at satisfying goals for both sides simultaneously.

Research has shown that the mutual stance typically produces better outcomes for those involved in conflict.  It has also shown that while some people espouse one stance, in reality they take on the behaviours of another stance when in conflict. I have worked with many conflict situations where those in conflict can articulate wonderful values that they cannot or do not in fact actualize.  This is especially true in the church context.  Most people of faith know the language of mutuality but many have not learned the norms and the skills to accompany this mutuality.

What behaviours accompany a mutuality stance?  I can provide a list but… for the moment, I won’t.  ☺  Why?  To actualize the mutuality stance involves really inhabiting that space in order to commit oneself to these behaviours.  In other words, we need to “own” the mutuality stance for ourselves.

To get there I propose the following exercise:

  1. Identify all the norms of behaviour you would expect from a mutuality stance.  Be both exhaustive and specific.
  2. Imagine you will talk with the other person about your conflict and imagine all the curve balls that could come your way in the context of this conversation.  For each curve ball moment, imagine a mutuality-oriented way of thinking about the situation as well as a mutuality-oriented response.
  3. Test your list and your mutuality-oriented responses with someone skilled enough in dealing with conflict to act as your conflict coach.
  4. Plan to meet with the other party.
  5. At the start of your conversation, share with the other party your commitment to a mutuality-oriented conversation.  Stating this out loud strengthens your capacity to stay with this type of orientation.  Ask the other party to speak about their hopes for the conversation.  Note:  In an ideal world, both parties would come to the conversation able to take a mutuality stance.  In reality, we cannot always count on this.  That said, my experience has been that when even only one person takes this stance, it shapes the conversation accordingly.  Of course, there are situations where the other party will seek to dominate from an egocentric approach.  In these cases, the mutuality-oriented conflict participant may or may not succeed in shifting the conversation.  It may even be that the conversation must be closed for reasons of safety.  Regardless, the mutuality-oriented individual will be able to walk away from their conversation with integrity intact – this is no small thing in tough conflict situations.
  6. Seek to govern the conversation from the mutuality orientation.
  7. Celebrate your successes with respect to a mutuality orientation.  ☺
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Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change.   Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.

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