A void exists in our social skill set that leaves us incapable of successfully resolving the conflicts we face in our personal and professional lives. Conflict and dispute resolution is a skill we all must learn. Practitioners need to assist clients to reach beyond just settling their current conflict. We should include the skill building, coaching and support necessary for disputants to make the paradigm shift from disputing parties to conflict resolution advocates with a positive perspective on conflict and its resolution.
Let’s face it … clients who are highly skilled in conflict resolution seldom visit our offices. This means that we should be prepared to provide our clients with conflict resolution coaching and support through their conflict situation, and encourage them to learn conflict resolution skills to resolve future conflicts they may encounter.
As we gain a better understanding of the conflict progression process, our awareness level and skills improve, and our abilities to coach disputing parties through the maze of confusion that conflict creates in their lives also improves. Five years ago, I developed the Pre-mediation model to assist practitioners of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) who wanted to provide their clients with more than a settlement for their dispute.
The pre-mediation model is multifaceted and includes the following components:
The underlying assumption of Pre-mediation suggests that not all our disputing clients are mentally, or emotionally prepared to proceed with mediation. It espouses that some may be timid, shy, upset, angry, hurt, disgusted, in denial, or unwilling to sit across from the other person deemed responsible for the most painful conflict they have experienced in their life.
The pre-mediation model is patterned on the conflict progression theory I constructed to help parties assess the progression of their conflict. The theory suggests that conflict in its various phases requires different levels of awareness for conflict management to occur and for sustainable resolution to be attained. The theory presents awareness of emotions and the corresponding responses as the key to altering perceptions about the issues of a conflict. This simple and basic element is crucial to sustainable resolutions.
For example, during an initial pre-consultation, I had established that the parties were far too conflictual to come together. Their issues needed a forum for venting, and they needed the space to recover their dignity before they met. This was especially important since they hadn’t spoken to each other for over two years. During individual pre-mediation sessions, I was able to help the parties identify their conflict progression phase.
Through coaching, support and skill building, the parties were able to control their negative feelings in order to continue to work together. Further assessment revealed that there was a history of several years of grievances against each other for which they had lacked a venue to address. This was now being manifested in their current conflict. In these sessions I was able to gain each party’s commitment to continue discussing ways to manage their own responses to the conflict as we worked to establish a foundation for resolution that would lead to reconciliation. Not surprisingly, this was their reason for attempting mediation.
The model suggests that every case should be pre-assessed and oriented through a formal convening process that fully outlines the goals, needs and expectation of each client. This should include the mediator’s role, the benefits of the ADR process being embarked on, and all matters of relevance to the parties. These aspects are often overlooked because of assumptions that clients who come to mediation are both knowledgeable and adequately informed about the process in which they are embarking.
My past several years of studying and working in this field have made me cognizant that most clients, even those who choose ADR as a cost saving measure, do benefit greatly from the pre-mediation sessions. I have observed close to a 90% success rate for parties who embark on the pre-mediation sessions, far exceeding the success of those who went directly into the mediation process. It has become increasingly obvious that individuals in conflict need to receive support, conflict resolution coaching and skill building to enhance their conflict resolution success for more than just their current conflict or mediation.
More often than not individuals in the workplace who embark on conflict resolution admit that they would like to learn skills to effectively resolve conflict on their own. Divorcing parties and individuals engaged in community conflicts present similar needs, as they too, need to maintain a parenting or social relationship that is void of open hostility.
Preparing individuals through a pre-mediation process will ensure their successful participation in ADR processes, in addition to improving their ability to resolve future disputes on their own. This is a fundamental value of pre-mediation.
I believe that successful conflict resolution is attainable and that it is the responsibility of the ADR practitioner to use every viable means to aid clients in achieving greater success in conflict resolution.