Conflict transformation, Bush-style.

June 26, 2007

Something else that I learned at this conference, which I’m finding very valuable despite it only having ended today:

Professor Bush spoke deeply about the theory of transformative mediation. At the core of the theory is a set of cycles involving Empowerment and Recognition, the two elements that make the world of transformative mediation go ’round.

When we find ourselves in a conflict, whether we realize this or not, we experience two things:

1. Self experience: We first feel weakened, fearful, unsettled, unsure of ourselves – no more how strong and confident we may have been before the conflict.

2. Experience of the Other: We then move on to a self-absorption stage that involves discrediting the other party – because we are cloudy and unclear about ourselves, we can’t trust the other side at all. We totally alienate them.

It’s a very negative experience, clearly. It gets worse as the conflict intensifies. That’s the negative conflict spiral, and it’s a cycle of disempowerment and distance.

The interest here is to change the experience of the interaction. Right now, the interaction deteriorates because of the lack of competency and connection.

What needs to be done is two things:

1. The Empowerment Shift: We go back from weak to strong, from unsettled to calm. Confused to clear. Fearful to confident and inarticulate to articulate. We are changing the interaction from the point of the Self.

2. The Recognition Shift: Only once the Self has experienced the Empowerment Shift, then the Other can be taken care of. We go from self-absorbed to attentive. Defensive to open, hostile to civil. Suspicious to trusting and closed to open.

And that is when the interaction can become a positive experience, with the potential for resolving the conflict.

empowerment shift

This is Bush’s diagram of the process described.


I feel transformed.

June 26, 2007

Today the conference continued. I had a major realization today; seems obvious, but it’s not necessarily to someone studying this stuff deeply:

I’ve been under the impression that the best thing to do, as Fisher and Ury describe it, is to get to yes. Getting short of yes is useless. On top of that, everything about ADR and mediation is getting to yes. I included dialogue efforts under that heading.

Today and yesterday, Professor Robert Bush taught me I’ve been wrong in this thinking. Totally off. To him, there is more than one goal; you can strive to get to yes – which is a problem-solving, directive goal – and you can live with no. Living with no can be a productive way to go after the dialoguing process. It’s about conflict transformation, not conflict resolution.

Here’s how it looks:

Dialogue/Contact -> conflict transformation -> living with no.

It’s changing the interaction between the parties in dispute. And that can make a huge difference in both parties’ lives.

And it’s essentially what transformative mediation is all about. It also makes dialogue all the more valuable for me.
Sure, it seems obvious in the title of the field: transformative mediation, duh. But do you realize it’s more transformation than it is mediation?

For a lot of conflicts, that’s enough.