There is a need for a metatheoretical framework that can help mediators to assess and react to situations in the moment with some sense of a reliable result due to precedence and academic research (pp. 26-27). Relationship and communication provide a context with which we can begin to analyze conflict and the effectiveness (efficacy) of mediation in practice (p. 28). “Relationship is the keystone of conflict” and a relationship that has a life impact for participants has the greatest potential for massive conflict (p. 28). Relational Salience is the degree to which the relationship impacts life experience (p. 28). Mediation can be far more effective in conflicts between highly interdependent disputants because it pays far more attention to relational aspects more closely that legal or adjudicated methodologies (p. 29).
Communication is also key to both conflict and relationship. Communication and active listening are more likely in a relational mediation setting than in a courtroom setting because courts tend to reduce statements to unadulterated facts, witnessed events, etc., whereas relational (transformative) mediation emphasizes disputants’ emotional context, point of view, and story (p. 33).
Communication Study in Mediation shows that allowing disputants to talk for themselves, protecting their own voice, makes it more likely for mediation to succeed (p. 35).
Phase models of negotiation can be noted as successful when there is movement from “differentiation to integration” and “antagonism to coordination” (p. 36). Jones notes four phases in a variable progression for many successful mediation sessions: Agenda, Information Exchange, Negotiation, and Resolution.
in cases where the agenda phase is omitted or quickly run over, and in cases where the information exchange phase is stagnated and elongated where parties engage in disputing details, mediation tends to fail (p. 37).
The dialectical Model allows for an idea, a counter idea, and a sensemaking of the two (p. 38-39). The dialectical principle of unity is that a contradiction exists whenever two forces are interdependent (pp. 38-39). Interactional conflict is between these forces and contextual conflict is socio-cultural in nature. An example of mediation contradiction is the openness/closedness, in which vulnerability plays a role in keeping disputants from opening up, when opening up is essential to the process (p. 40-41).
Aside from contradiction, the dialectical model is concerned with process, or the idea that mediation is systemic and nonlinear in nature, and may need to shift in direction, dimension, and focus in order to be effective. The dialectical process may separate contradictions in order to more effectively address issues. Cyclic Alternation and topical segmentation allow for this. In cyclic alternation, there may be an emphasis of one contradictory pole vs. another over time. Mediators might also choose to neutralize contradictions in order to reduce tensions while still focusing on issues. Mediators might also do reframing in which differently stated stories that describe some commonality are restated in order to emphasize that commonality and to bridge disputant views (pp. 44-45).
Mediators should try to avoid boilerplate solutions, as part of the great potential power of mediation is in its relative flexibility comparative to other resolution methodologies.
Jones, T. S. (1994). A Dialectical Reframing of the Mediation Process. In J. P. Folger & T. S. Jones (Eds.), New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives (pp. 26-47). Sage Publications, Inc.
In my one and only session so far as a mediator in role play, I found Jones’ progression (agenda, info exchange, negotiation, resolution) kind of difficult to find the edges of. I found myself getting through the introduction and agenda fairly easily, and the information exchange part was somewhat straightforward, in the sense that the mediator simply assures each disputant that they have an equal voice, but negotiation, resolution, and more information exchange quickly began to overlap thereafter.
Also, some of my feedback in that session was that I was clearly biased towards one of the disputant’s views, which I truly had no idea I was doing. As soon as it was mentioned though, I realized it was true. I had a similar experience to the character in roleplay, and quickly took up the character’s conflict as though it were my own. As mediators, we definitely have to turn off our own assessment of the situation, so that disputants can tell their own story in a more pure way, controlled only in the structure of delivery, but not in such a way that it shapes content.