This chapter talks about the realities that mediators and disputants bring with them into mediation, and how those realities, if not noted, can create misunderstandings in the way that the mediation progress, or lack thereof, is interpreted.
The bulk of the chapter is devoted to explaining the Interpretive Model, in which Littlejohn, Shailor, and Pearce found in their research that one’s sense of reality as it relates to conflict can be classified in many ways, but can be generally classified starting with three main groups of differences:
Moral reality, in which one’s general sense of right and wrong are defined. This can be further classified into groups such as authoritarian, republican, utilitarian and expressivist. These are more or less individualist vs. relational views, and rely more or less on liberty and freedom vs. predetermined rules and ‘scripture’.
Conflict Reality, or the ways in which one reacts and works with (or avoids) conflict. One may be more likely to see conflict as either opportunity or war, and will react to that feeling appropriately. People may also feel more or less comfortable with dealing with conflict themselves vs. having the conflict resolved for them. We can see how mediation favors and benefits those who see conflict as opportunity and resist adjudicated solutions, preferring a more relational approach.
Justice Reality, in which one’s understanding of the ways in which balance is achieved between conflicted parties. One may see justice as being served more by punishment, while another may see justice being served more by distribution of benefits, while someone else may see justice best served when ‘the whole’ is most rewarded.
The benefits of these analysis models are that we can either predict or review problems in mediation processes where unexpected results are encountered. If two disputants seem poised to find resolution, but suddenly drop backwards in progress over key statements, those statements could be investigated as different representations of reality, which could then possibly be brought more into alignment by way of reframing, restating, or other exercises in bringing about commonality between parties’ realities.
Littlejohn, S. W., Shailor, J., & Pearce, W. B. (1994). The Deep Structure of Reality in Mediation. In J. P. Folger & T. S. Jones (Eds.), New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives (pp. 67-83). Sage Publications, Inc.
Personal experiential influence:
I chose to focus on the Interpretive Model for my discussion presentation because it seemed interesting to me that we could specify some key ways in which we differ that might affect our handling of conflict. I think I have felt that conflict is generally inevitable and that if we care about something that we are in conflict about we have to work through the conflict in order to achieve our goals. When something is less important, we simply keep our mouths closed in order to avoid the conflict. That in fact, is my conflict reality pretty well defined. I have a personal conflict engagement continuum where I assess the level of importance of the goal, and assign to it my own level of willingness to participate in conflict about it. I had no idea anyone ever considered conflict any differently. I think myself I tend towards a conflict management perspective, in general, and would like to think that I prefer the consensus sub model, in which conflict exists as “a difference of opinion on alternate solutions, which is settled by discussion and creative problem solving” (Littlejohn, Shailor, and Pearce, 1994, p. 71). The issue that I encountered here explains quite a bit – when I ran into a conflict with someone and the outcome was very important to me, I ran towards it, and though i perceived the issue to be of great importance to the other party, they sometimes decided to simply let things be rather than to engage in the conflict in order to come to a better solution that just the status quo. The Interpretive Model explains that in our Conflict Reality, as well as possibly with other realities, we were mismatched as disputants. Perhaps they preferred a libertarian or conflict avoidance Conflict reality, and we would have to work on the conditions of the stage of the conflict before we would be able to engage it, if at all.