I have studied Narrative Mediation, at the University of Waikato as part of my Masters of Counselling Degree, under John Winslade who is arguably one of the worlds leading authorities on the Narrative approach to managing conflict and dispute resolution conflicts. John Winslade is currently Coordinator of Educational Counseling Program Dept of Educational Psychology and Counseling, California State University San Bernardino and returns to New Zealand periodically to teach post modern ideology and practice.
The Narrative Mediation approach is organized around the narrative metaphor- the notion that how we talk about ourselves and our conflicts shape how we perceive and react to these conflicts- and is premised on the idea that language plays a central role in constructing who we are or how we engage or behave with others.
What makes Narrative Mediation so effective and refreshing is that it questions the commonly held assumption that our interests are “natural” or are predetermined before entering the conflict, and offers instead an approach that locates these deeply held values, interests and desires in a social and cultural context that prioritizes certain values and goals over those with which they compete.
One of the books John Winslade has co written with Gerald Monk, is called Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution. Narrative Mediation is a new approach to more traditional methods used in dispute mediation practice. It is unique because it breaks with interest-based mediation by questioning the assumptions that humans are motivated to further their own self-interest and that conflict is best resolved by finding a set of underlying interests that can be bridged through collaboration or compromise. The authors argue that many mediation approaches assume that individuals come to the bargaining table with a sense of ownership or entitlement, and respond in ways that assumes that they are entitled to certain outcomes of the mediation process. People feel threatened when entitlements are encroached upon. Anger, blame, rigidity, abuse, and violence are used to protect these entitlements.
How Narrative Mediation Works
The Narrative Mediation approach, in particular, holds a relational framework of trust, reflexivity, curiosity, and respect that complement this postmodern approach to mediation practice. This framework allows both the mediator and disputants the opportunity to create a safe space for telling their personal stories of and relationships to the conflict.
Once this space is opened up, the mediator works to deconstruct how each party is approaching and conceptualizing the conflict. By breaking down the conflict into its component parts and stories, the mediator is able to uncover the assumptions that each party brings to the conflict.
Once these assumptions are uncovered, the mediator then moves the parties to explore their commitments to alternative relational patterns by opening a space where alternative approaches are considered by the conflict parties. By creating new options and alternatives, the mediator along with the conflict parties create the motivation and momentum to author a new set of stories about their conflict.
When a new set of stories enter the world-views of the disputants, the contour and context of the conflict changes, and well as the relationship of the disputants to the conflict itself. By telling a new set of stories about the conflict and one’s relationship to the conflict, the narrative mediation approach can help disputants move beyond violent, difficult, or seemingly intractable conflict situations.
Moving past the conflict situation or getting “unstuck” is made possible by creating and making use of forms of documentation of the new story, one that is built on stories of understanding, respect, and collaboration instead of individualism, disrespect, and closed-mindedness.
By examining the discourses surrounding the conflict situation, both mediators and disputants will emerge from the resolution process with a greater understanding of the biases and assumptions they hold in regards to the conflict itself and that is what makes Narrative Mediation so effective, refreshing and hope orientated.
Through a process of uncovering and questioning these biases and assumptions, it is expected that participants will emerge with a renewed sense of the origins of the conflict. Along with this it is also hoped that participants will emerge with a renewed sense of alternatives or solutions to the conflict in a manner that transforms notions of personal blame and suspicion into a collaborative understanding of each others position and it is from this position that new possibilities are created and explored.
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“At the heart of every conflict or disagreement is a broken promise or an expectation that hasn’t been lived up to. The problem is many of these expectations are unspoken.”