Transforming Conflict Through Insight

From Arnold W. Zeman’s blog

With today’s launch of Transforming Conflict Through Insight, it is timely to republish an earlier post (October 11, 2008)  now that this blog’s readership has grown:

Unlike the fuzzy term referred to in the post below on ‘The Magic of Mediation’, ‘transforming’ is one of those very dense and opaque words that has a range of meanings attached to it.  Confusion often ensues when such words are used by a speaker/writer with one meaning in mind and a hearer/reader with another.

In their newly-published book, Transforming Conflict through Insight, Melchin and Picard apparently are using the term in its ordinary sense, “to change the nature, function, or condition of; convert”Cheryl Picard is the originator of a distinctive approach to mediation — the insight model.  The insight model is based on the epistemology of the Canadian Jesuit philosopher, Bernard LonerganKenneth Melchin is a Lonergan scholar at St. Paul’s University, Ottawa.  Picard and Melchin have referred to the insight model as learning-centred mediation — insight mediators “seek direct and inverse insights into what the conflict means to each party by discovering what each party cares about and how that threatens the other party. Insights shift attitudes and create space for collective action.” What ‘transforming’ means here is the learning by each party about the cares and threats dynamic, and how it lies at the root of the conflict.  It is, in my view, a top-down approach to mediation — the mediator applies her diagnostic template (Lonergan’s insight philosophy) to the conflict at hand and looks for opportunities to facilitate that diagnosis being learned or accepted by the disputants.

This approach is not to be confused with transformative mediation.  This is a bottom-up approach to mediation that has nothing to do with anyone transforming people or their conflicts.  Put simply, it is an approach to how people do conflict.  For example, a dispute between neighbours over a shared fence is not approached in relation to the substance of the dispute, but rather in terms of what the neighbours would like to talk about in mediation and how they’d like to talk about it.  Continuing the example, what counts in the mediation is the fencing, the interaction of the neighbours about the fence, rather than the fence itself.  The parties own both the dispute and the mediation process dealing with it — they make all the decisions about both.  The transformative approach capitalizes on natural shifts in the conversation of the disputants that move towards greater clarity about what matters to each disputant and the decisions each faces in dealing with their differences.  Transforming how people do conflict often leads to their finding a way forward, that may entail a resolution or another equally valuable outcome for the parties.


Arnold W. Zeman

After over 33 years in the public service of Canada, the last 20 of which as an executive, I retired from government in 2006 to pursue my passion to help people resolve their differences non-adversarially. I have been trained by the best in the field in both the public and… MORE >

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