The Solution-Focused ‘Language Game’ in Mediation

The meaning of words is determined by how they are used by various participants within a specific context. One way of conceptualizing and describing the system involved in mediation is to use a framework developed by Wittgenstein (1958) and to look at doing mediation as an example of an activity involving a set of related, but distinct ‘language games’. This term is meant to  bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity or of a form of life. A language game is seen as a language complete in itself, a complete system of human communication, where there is no need to look behind or beneath since everything is readily available and open to view, and nothing is hidden.

The working relationship in mediation is a negotiated, consensual, and cooperative endeavor in which the solution-focused mediator and clients jointly produce verious language games focused on a. exceptions, b. goals, and c. solutions (De Shazer, 1985, 1988). In doing so, mediators and clients assign meaning to aspects of clients’ lives and justify actions intended to develop a solution to their problem.

Exceptions are those behaviors, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that contrast with the conflict and have the potential of leading to a solution if amplified by the mediator and/or increased by the cliënt.

Without clear, concise ways to know whether mediation has either failed or succeeded, mediation can go on endlessly. Therefore, early in their conversations, mediators and clients address the question: “How do we know when to stop meeting like this?” Workable goals are depictions of what will be present, what will be different in the clients’ lives when the conflict is absent, when the pain that brought them to mediation is absent and they therefore no longer depict life in problematic terms.

In solution-focused mediation the clients’ goal achievement signals to clients and mediator alike that a solution is developing of has developed. The majority of a solution-focused conversation in mediation is spent in language games focused on three interrelated activities:

  1. Producing exceptions and/or prototypes (examples of the goal(s) in clients’ lives that point to desired changes);
  2. Imagining and describing new lives for clients, and
  3. Confirming that change is occurring, that clients’ new lives have indeed started.

More information about solution-focused mediation can be found at:

Bannink, F.P. (2010). Handbook of solution-focused conflict management. Cambrigde MA; Hogrefe Publishing.

References

De Shazer (1985). Keys to solution in brief therapy. New York: Norton.

De Shazer (1988). Clues: investigating solutions in brief therapy. New York: Norton.

Wittgenstein, L. (1958). The blue and brown books. New York: Harper & Row.

                        author

Fredrike P. Bannink

  Drs. F.P. Bannink MDR Master of Dispute Resolution (University of Amsterdam) Mediator for the Amsterdam District Court. Past Chair of the Foundation for Professional Neighbour Mediation Amsterdam Clinical psychologist (University of Amsterdam) Graduate study programme lecturer and in-company trainer in solution focused brief therapy and positive psychology Trainer in… MORE >

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