July 19, 2018

Mediation: Mutual Problem Solving

By: Abby Rosmarin


Conflicts have meanings that are shaped by our personal narratives. Stories—particularly those of disagreement and strife—are often presented out of chaotic experience, and don't always abide by chronological order or offer information in an organized fashion. When people are in conflict, their understanding of the problem and choice of possible solutions is framed by how the narrative is articulated and their capacity to manage emotional reactions. People may turn to an adversarial forum because they lose hope that they are able to cooperate with the other to solve problems.

When adversaries are shown they have a meaningful chance to create a mutually satisfactory solution, they are able to change their perception of what is in fact the problem and how it can be solved. As this shift occurs, emotions are regulated, behavior and language changes, and the foundation for constructive conversation is established.

Mediation is a voluntary, structured, process that focuses on problem solving. The intent is not to treat or change individual tendencies, but to harness one’s most effective skills to make sense of a dispute with another. Family mediation in particular often involves people who would like to continue in a relationship. Problems may include those with legal ramifications, such as divorce or the breakup of a family-owned business, but can also include strictly relational disputes, such as a parenting issue or issues around elder care. There are many styles of mediation, including one where a mediator acts as a neutral facilitator. This is particularly effective in family mediations because when people craft their own solutions they are more apt to stick to the agreement.

In addition, family mediation, when it initially focuses on interests and values (what someone cares about -- their wants, needs, concerns, and hopes) before addressing options and solutions, encourages a way to evaluate the circumstances that includes consideration of another’s thoughts or beliefs. Participants can experience increased empathy and a capacity to adjust to the change in circumstances. Through the process, a new narrative emerges that incorporates order to a once chaotic experience and cooperative strategies for conflict resolution.

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