Conflict is different for everyone… especially when coming
from a different culture. What constitutes a conflict in one culture may be a lively and healthy debate in another. What is an assertive and healthy expression of desire in one culture may deeply offensive and cause pain and escalation somewhere else. So, what is conflict?

What is a conflict? It can be overt; with two parties in active disagreement, showing emotions, a difference in power levels and asserting their feelings of injustice.  Alternatively, it can be covert; evidenced by passive displays of withdrawal, subtle exclusion and polite non-cooperation.

What are the qualities of a good mediator?
They are open by nature, an accomplished active listener who can decode communication to identify the unread emotional needs of the parties involved; for security, variety, meaning, connection, growth and contribution.

They will be an advanced communicator able to synthesise, paraphrase and reframe as they dissect messages and undercover the constituent parts of communication; content, plea /  command /  request,  relationship and self-revelation.

Useful is a knowledge of the commercial world, how communities operate and prosper and how various relationships can be made to function successfully.

Finally, a good mediator will possess a healthy understanding of their own triggers, blind spots and irritating habits. A centred mediator will have learnt to accept themselves as they ARE and as they ARE NOT, will have built up their patience in dealing with difficult people and will be interested in creating new and lasting solutions that bring value and peace to quarrelling parties.

Who makes a good mediator?
Someone who is culturally sensitive, likes solving problems, has flexible thinking styles and possesses charm, advanced levels of language and influence and is in touch with their intuition. They will be patient and resourceful. They have courage, confidence and stamina as well as credibility, emotional resilience and intellectual rigour.

What discipline is required?
To emotionally detach oneself from the conflict, the personalities involved and the interests of the people in the dispute. To concentrate on the mechanisms of dispute and the methods to reverse these negative spirals producing constructive and robust solutions.

A great mediator is able to be centred, confident and strong. They are aware of their own words, body and emotions and can choose their responses and frame their communication to have an appropriate effect on the audience.

They will have practised varying their personal power so that they can rapidly adjust from high, equal or low personal power states.

They will know the difference between a judgement, an evaluation and a fact.

What is a trigger / irritator?
This can be a word, picture or idea that provokes a strong autonomic physical reaction and is normally labelled with a negative emotional term. Most conflict is fuelled by people who are communicating whilst reacting to a trigger. The mediator learns their craft by transcending their personal triggers and learning not to have an emotional response to key words and ideas that they were once vulnerable to.

Is the context important?
Disputes always occur within a setting that has many complex dimensions. PEST – There may be political, economic, social or technological issues in play. The dispute may be happening in one party’s territory and the context may make one side feel powerful and superior and the other vulnerable and threatened. A conflict will have a past, present, near future and a far future.

There may be a desire to win rather than lose, to maximise personal power and to minimise the opposition’s power in the belief that this is the “right” thing to do.

Part of the context is the common grounds, personal styles, the combatant’s cultural drivers and values and the psychological map of the world that each party has built up in living their lives and experiencing interpersonal exchanges with family, friends, bosses, customers, colleagues and acquaintances.

What methods can a mediator use?
A good mediator will attempt to separate out the issues from the emotions felt and the people and personalities involved. They will encourage divergent, creative thinking to maximise options, choices and suggestions giving a better chance of solving the problem that initially led to the conflict.

Here the good mediator differentiates between symptom, causes and root cause and facilitates brainstorming to generation suggestions from the disputing parties.

The mediator has advanced skills in using their words, body and emotions to create a vision, set a tone, manage tension and deal with the various interpersonal styles and the conflict styles present in the room.

From the outset the mediator asks each participant to dissociate from their own point of view and to begin to recognise that there is an alternative perspective and that a different position may also be valid and need to be acknowledged.

A prerequisite of good mediation is that the disputing parties share their power in order that they equally contribute to the solution and then feel better about committing to the outcome.

What needs to change to resolve conflicts?
The mistakes and misunderstandings must be reversed. The participants must learn to respect difference, to acknowledge its continued presence and to begin to think of ideas for constructive resolution. This requires heightened self-awareness of the individual’s own triggers, a recognition and acceptance of the valid position of other people and a growing desire to participate in problem solving and decision making.

The mediator watches for signs of change. It may be in the words that the parties use, the position of their bodies, their tone of voice, the new vision they are creating for the future or a change in tension, power or personal style.

Successful resolution comes from interrupting patterns, changing habits and expanding horizons and possibilities. It is an optimistic and constructive process that challenges the false thinking of participants.

So is it all about communication and style?
At the centre of conflict lie  people’s individual conflict styles. They may compete to win and make the other party lose. This is valid in some cultures where it can be quick and effective, especially if the party think they are right. The cost can be in creating damaged, humiliated people who do not join the consensus and may become bitter and choose to take revenge.

Others accommodate, losing the battle today to win the war tomorrow. They promote trust by giving something and acquiescing to the other’s power in the shorter term. They risk their trust being exploited and forfeiting a healthy long-term solution.

Players may compromise to produce a quick fix that wins them more time to structure a healthy solution. This may cause unhappiness as no party gets all of what they want.

Many people avoid, thinking this saves face, avoids pain and aids survival. However this does not provide a solution and can need lead to escalation.

Those that collaborate use the techniques of mediation to creatively expand their range of choices and end up with something of greater value for both parties that can be committed to, so producing a longer lasting and richer solution.

Associated with the collaborative approach is assertive communication where power and diplomacy operate in a healthy balance so that the individual can express their wants and needs whilst respecting the different wants and needs of the other party. Assertiveness combines facts with emotions and generates requests that have credibility. E.g. “When you do X, I find it really irritating. In future, can you do Y?”

Why is empowerment at the heart of successful conflict resolution?
If both parties feel confident and able to express their needs, then this is the only way that resolution can occur. The essential condition for success is that both parties feel validated, acknowledged, respected, listened to and understood.

The bi-product of empowerment is that the parties can then be held accountable for their behaviour and are invested in the consequences of their actions. The output of empowerment is personal responsibility.

What strategies are required?
The mediator moderates proceedings and deals with difficult behaviour. Knowing when to be assertive and to challenge individuals and went to use the group dynamic to challenge unconstructive behaviour becomes a strategic decision. The mediator balances diplomacy with the need for progress.

The mediator creates a frame, promotes trust, raises self-awareness, raises awareness of the other party, isolates the issues, restates the issues constructively and uses various methods to get to a viable outcome.

One strategy for reversing escalating tension or unblocking frozen debate is to stop, take a break, breathe, move bodies and change the setting. This can often release new energy, creativity and positive ideas. It subtly promotes the essential technique of mediation, which is to change the point of view.

When do you get a resolution?
The mediator’s job begins to come to a close when the parties have recognised and reconcile their differences and have agreed to discontinue hostilities.

Going further it is possible to create much better outcomes by trading further and creating synergies and greater value-added solutions by reframing difference as an opportunity. As Meredith Belbin said, “No person is perfect… but a team can be!”

What is to be learnt by the mediator?
Solving one problem is satisfying but it may not help you solve all problems. The mediator accumulates experience that include successes and failures (reframed as accelerated hot learning!) They hone their personal skills, detach, transcend their irritations and sublimate their own agendas, becoming adept at mining into communication to find the golden truths within.

Written by Matthew Hill from the discussion notes at the SIETAR UK World Café on Intercultural Conflict in February 2011 at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, moderated by Wendy Bamfield, Tricia Coverdale – Jones, Neil Payne, Christine Bunnenburg, Nicola Weinert, Chris Stephens, Chris Balkwill, Rob Johnson, Arun Singh and Katherine Barton.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the SIETAR UK World Café on Intercultural Conflict … especially our superstar mediators, Ranse Howell and Susanne Schuler.

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 18th, 2011 at 9:45 am and is filed under about cross-culture, conflict & resolution, cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural differences, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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