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The Force Present in a Truly Transformative Mediation

by Charlie Young
February 2018 Charlie Young

An unforgettable experience that facilitative mediators encounter is the experience of being part of a truly transformative mediation.  It’s a dramatic change in the participants’ approach to reaching a resolution.  A value enters into the equation that supersedes the normal quid pro quo.  The reaching of a resolution based solely on the facts becomes less important than some interior value.  My fellow mediators have all experienced this.  Its force remains a mystery.  The mediators, with whom I’ve talked, agree that once the process of transformation was underway they basically stepped aside and let it happen.   The transformative process is like a metamorphosis.  Mediators realize the butterfly will arrive, but are wise enough to observe in awe.

My contention is that this force is always present to some extent in inclusive communication*, but in certain cases it becomes a dominant factor and a transformation takes place.  The question remains. What is the motivating force?

We’re talking about something definitely abstract.  You can’t see it, touch it or feel it, but you certainly can see its results.   It’s something like whiteness.  We see the results of whiteness, but how do you define white in a way that it is comprehensible?    

I use the word force in lieu of a spiritual term to avoid religious implications.   We can observe its results.  But what causes these results?

By reviewing the common threads of this transformation, we may be able to identify the force creating the threads.

Some common threads are:

  • An acceptance of the need of a relationship, a connection. It appears that the participants accept that they are not an island unto themselves.  An analogy might be the joy one experiences when found after being lost several days in the forest.  I’m connected again and not estranged.  
  • The participants seem to draw on a framework of values that motivates them.
  • Being a person of integrity and avoiding the hurt of a divided heart might be part of the framework.
  • The mediators basically become observers rather than mentors. This might indicate the Acceptance by the participants of personal responsibility and the need to resolve the situation in a mature way.
  • The force is within each participant.
  • There seems to be a recognition that life itself outweighs the accessories of life.
  • The time needed to view things objectively becomes relative. Time passes as if it isn’t time.
  • A relaxation and openness becomes present that allows a shift from the intellectual to the creative.
  • Following the transformation the participants act positively toward each other.
  • The positivity doesn’t change the need to resolve the situation. It simply creates a new creative and respective setting for a resolution which adheres to the values of each participant.

To help identify the force we might best look around us for examples outside of mediation.   I’m thinking of the soldier who dies in order to save his fellow soldiers, the nurse who goes the extra step to serve a patient, a spouse who is faithful to the covenant despite the health of the other spouse or the mother who gives her all for her child. 

Responding to the force takes people above and beyond their normal reactions.  They accept on faith that there is something more important than just themselves.   The force creates another level of reality for wellbeing which may cost them their lives.  The force is real and important.

This force seems to be part of every belief system.   Christians call the force love because for them God is love. 

So where does this leave the mediator?  We can’t bring the force into the mediation.  We can’t create it.  But we can make the ground fertile for its growth. 

So how do we do this?  We basically mirror the catalyst of transformation by being a force for understanding, empathy and objectivity.  We emulate values we can’t comprehend.   With the mirroring we may help un-cloud the framework that empowers higher choices. We can’t do it perfectly, but we can mediate in a way that models the force within us.  It’s a humbling experience.  We simply clean the windows so that their framework of values becomes clearer to them.

Any input from mediators to enlighten my understanding of this force is welcome. 

*I use the term inclusive mediation in my book “Constructive Communication with a Path for Challenging Situations”.  It basically consists of active listening skills that include the essentials of concepts, emotions, interests and humanness – courteous curiosity.  For me all four elements need to be present to have inclusive communication.


Charlie Young was raised and educated in MA, and was ordained a priest for the Baker City Oregon Diocese.  Charlie served as a priest in the Baker diocese from 1958 to 1977 and was an assistant pastor and pastor and the Director of the Office of Religious Education from 1971-77.  He left the diocese in 1977 and after a year of discernment, asked to become a lay person.

Since then Charlie has been a flight instructor, corporate pilot and served as a Human Resources Director for several large firms.  In his last position, he was the Head Trainer for a Total Quality Management program.  The goal was to establish the company as a leading electrical contractor in Oregon.   The owners believed that they achieved their goal.

Since retirement in 1997, Charlie has been active as a mediator in the judicial system and the Community Dispute Resolution program, Community Solutions (CS) of Deschutes County.  He has participated in 1,400+ mediations in the last 18 years and has assisted in several basic mediator training programs and has conducted advanced mediation skills seminars.  He is a facilitative mediator who leans toward being a transformative mediator. 


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