According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of entrench is:
a: to place within or surround with a trench especially for defense
b: to place (oneself) in a strong defensive position
c: to establish solidly
The word calls to mind war zones with soldiers dug into trenches to protect themselves and still be able to fire upon the enemy. The primary role of a trench is to protect the person from injury. The deeper the trench, the less attacks can affect you. Unfortunately, while protecting from attacks is a positive, being in a trench also makes it difficult to escape. Many times, conflicts in a non-war environment take on similar aspects.
Digging oneself into a point of view (your trench) is a way of protecting yourself from opinions, ideas and realities that may cause you pain and discomfort. The walls of the trench are the beliefs you have about a subject — true or false. When confronted with information that challenges beliefs, you have the choice to engage openly or dig deeper into your trench to protect yourself from challenge.
This happens in both personal and professional relationships. People who are unwilling to engage with conflicting information will often find ways to deflect and attack the individual or groups challenging their beliefs. When working to resolve conflicts, it is a mistake to get distracted by these attacks. The primary obstacle holding people back from engaging in open discussion becomes the trench itself. Those beliefs that are reinforced and made strong without the benefit of external information can become a type of prison.
The tricky part is that both sides can become entrenched in their beliefs, unwilling to change their point of view or accept the others' information for analysis. Entrenchment requires a high degree of emotion to maintain — and conflicts often get very messy!
Shifting the viewpoint
This is where mediation comes in. A skilled mediator will work with both sides to reduce the emotional attachment to the viewpoints of each party. This allows each one to poke their heads out of their entrenched viewpoints and be willing to stop attacking and start listening to the other.
Using the Socratic Method of questioning (see here) the mediator engages with each party to help them analyze their own position, and why they feel so strongly about it. Hearing the other parties' reasoning explained to the mediator gives insight about the others' stance that may not have been considered. New information processed with less emotion can shift perspectives — weakening the trench.
As viewpoints are explained the mediator helps restate and reframe for clarification and to remove some of the emotion. When a mediation works well, eventually the parties begin talking and listening to each other. These back and forth conversations can be the start of a developing communication framework that allows the parties to leave the safety of their entrenched positions to analyze and incorporate new information.
Ultimately, the goal of mediation is not necessarily to change beliefs, but to create a greater understanding about why someone else believes something different. Using the war analogy again, the goal is to have both parties leave the safety of their entrenched positions for the uncertainty of open discussion, and hopefully new understandings.