Comments on Spirituality in Mediation

My last post on spirituality in mediation attracted 3 great comments from leaders of our mediation community’s online discussion deserving their own post.

First read my last post and Colin Rule’s post to which I link, then these comments will make more sense. Its the kind of conversation YOU need to participate in;

Michael said…
There are two concepts people confuse, including most game theorists:

1. Coordination, a conflict which require only that some people coordinate their activities, but not that they care about promoting each other’s utility.
2. Cooperation, a conflict which requires more than coordination. We have to actively care about each other’s utility and promote it.

There are a lot more of the first type of conflicts than the second. Arguably no fuzzy warm feelings are needed to solve the first class of problems.

Dina Lynch, said…
Geoff, it’s not just you. I feel it, too.

When I talk about bringing business systems and standards to mediation to drive profit, the reactions I receive range from polite disdain to outright hostility. And, this from folks who swear they are committed to open communication and hearing all perspectives. Is being practical wrong?

We cannot expect mediation to evolve into a viable, sustainable profession for the many unless a few of us begin to cooperate and coordinate our work and practices–riffing on the ideas Colin and Michael started. It seems to me that we squander our time and energy, which can be better spent, when we fight amongst ourselves over how we approach our talents.

Needs more thought…thanks for calling me and others to awareness about it.

Diane Levin said…
Geoff, you’ve put your finger on one of those denominational differences (if I may use a word in keeping with a discussion on spirituality’s role in mediation practice) that divides the mediation community.

As an atheist, I personally have little use for or interest in getting in touch with the so-called spiritual aspect of conflict. In the article you cite, Eileen Barker tries to make the case that spirituality is critical to our effectiveness as practitioners.

She begins by raising an important question:”In commercial mediations, for example, parties frequently achieve settlement of the lawsuit, but leave the mediation with lasting enmity toward the opposing party and often, considerable hostility toward the legal system as well.

Is this the best we can do? Sometimes it is.

However, we owe it to our profession, our clients and ourselves, to be willing at least to grapple with the harder issues and, when possible, provide options for better outcomes.” She’s absolutely right. We can undoubtedly do better. When key interests are left unresolved and value remains behind on the mediation table, or parties have been bullied by mediators into accepting a resolution that meets no one’s best interests–we can most certainly do much, much better.

So far so good. Barker has more to say:”As conflict resolution professionals, we are uniquely required to engage with parties and attorneys on multiple levels, including the intellectual, psychological, and emotional. We often encounter intense states of defensiveness, posturing, denial, confusion, anger, fear, frustration, disappointment and on and on. Our effectiveness depends, in large measure, on our ability to understand and navigate the human psyche, in all of its realms. Along the way, we learn to bring our hearts into our work, not just our heads.” Again, she’s right here, although I’m not sure I’d say that it’s my heart that I’m using. I’d use a different anatomical metaphor–I’d be inclined to say it’s my gut instincts as a professional–which I view as very much a part of the workings of my mind–the locus of which is indeed my head.

Personally speaking, I need and my clients want real-world tools for practice that will enable disputants to address core interests and create realistic, workable solutions. The sciences–sociology, psychology, and other fields–hold answers for understanding and explaining human behavior in conflict and negotiation. There’s plenty in the earthly toolbox that mediators like me can utilize.

But then Barker says this:”Beyond this, lies the next frontier, the spiritual aspect of conflict and conflict resolution. When we speak of the potential for true resolution of conflict and making peace, we are called upon to move to a level of awareness that transcends the intellect, the psyche, and even the emotions.” Now she’s lost me–and I my patience. It’s at this point that I say, “Says who?” Why does it logically follow that spirituality constitutes the “next frontier”? One could just as easily–and more credibly–make the case that the next frontier in conflict resolution should be cognitive psychology.

This reminds me of the argument that I’ve heard conservatives make that belief in God is essential to being a moral person. Does the fact that a spiritual element is missing from my own practice make me less effective as a mediator?

Thanks for thinking out loud about this, Geoff. Like Colin I too want to remain open to these conversations, but they leave me feeling isolated within my own community.

Great post.


Geoff Sharp

Geoff Sharp is a Commercial Mediator from Wellington, New Zealand. Geoff works in the Asia Pacific region, including New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Pacific Islands. He is a mediator resolving business problems. He is a fellow of the International Academy of Mediators and mediates complex and hotly debated litigation covering… MORE >

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