Nuances of mediating conflict

March 6, 2018

What does it mean to mediate?


My clients usually think mediation means winning or losing, or that everyone is going to be a little unhappy at the end because that's what compromise is.


I'd like to reframe the discussion and the mindset, if you please.


The truth of mediation is that it has the power to bridge understanding--of yourself, of the Other party, of the situation, of your own belief system--if you let it.


The actuality of mediation is often that people are raw and want to be RIGHT or want to be DONE, especially in intimate partnerships. It is certainly a different conversation to be had when arguing a division of assets in a divorce than arguing who needs to move a fence in a property line dispute--or is it?


We may have more history and daily interaction with that spouse now asking exactly how much is in that retirement account, but whatever buttons he or she is pushing about your money issues are likely the sam buttons the neighbor is pushing about that fence--and those buttons are within, wholly controllable when they are acknowledged, accessed, and understood.


The same coping mechanisms people learn early in life often come to the fore in mediation, so being open to exploring those root strategies and accepting them as intrinsic to the schema you have built can create a space for softening. Understanding that the schema itself is a structure that is externally influenced but built by the psyche to protect and project allows space for softening. Understanding that whatever external forces helped drive the mechanisms for the schema have their own set of triggers for you can help create a space for softening, especially if you begin to understand a) when you are triggered and b) how to notice and not react. This creates a space for softening.


Even in wanting to be "right," "vindicated," or "avenged" are mindsets, ways of being, strategies for coping and proving worth, but they don't really ever "prove" anything.

Healthy discourse, even in conflicted relationships with a presenting issue, can be cathartic and personally transforming. They can create an opening, some personal insight, a capacity for empathy. And the presenting issue is usually just metaphor for what is really going on for each party under the surface--there is most often a deeper unrecognized need in the want of a presenting issue.


Conflict for conflict's sake, or conflict for Honor's sake, has a tendency to be corrosive--to Self, to Other, and across the board in a variety of relationships and interactions. It is linked to higher stress, which in turn is linked to higher morbidity and lower life span. Conflict creates tension and strife, often unnecessarily.


Conversations--healthy, interactive, facilitated dialogue--relieve that pressure and create space to contain the "issue" while broadening each party's capacity to grow.



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