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Conflict and Conversational Practice– Article 3 of 3

During the last couple of decades, different approaches have been developed and applied by many professionals who practice in the arena of conflict and dispute resolution. Many of us have heard about evaluative, facilitative, transformative, and narrative approaches to mediation.
All of these approaches offer several valuable features and all have something in common. They embrace conversational practice. It should not be a secret that the mediation process is nothing but a bunch of conversations with multiple participants or parties involved in a conflict or dispute. These conversations take place between mediators and parties. They take place between mediators and the representatives of parties, such as attorneys, Union negotiators, or Human Resources managers. Finally, conversations also take place between parties themselves.

Perhaps it might be a good idea to pay attention to the structure of these conversations and see if organizing them in some fashion and understanding their structure would help practitioners to advance the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution. That of course is a truly ambitious undertaking. Similar undertaking can take some inspiration from the field of interactional socio-linguistic, conversation analysis, and discourse analysis, which are associated with such names as Erving Goffman, Emanuel Schlegoff, Harvey Sacks, Steven Levinson, and many others.

In this article my goal is quite modest. I want to show how certain types of acknowledgment can help to mitigate the intensity of conflicts. I want to show that these acknowledgements are used most effectively when they are a part of the conversational practice.

Let me begin with a few notes.

The first one is an obvious one.  Instead of completely eradicating conflicts from our private and public lives, we need to accept that they are a part of our human condition and human experience. Instead of fearing and avoiding conflicts we need to learn how to address them and dealwith them. Among many authors, Stuart Hampshire illuminates this fact in his book Justice is Conflict, writing following words; ‘Conflict is perpetual: why then should we be deceived?’ (Note 1) Acknowledging our predisposition for conflicts and desire to resolve them, Peter Adler makes the following claim about the mediation process (Note 2)

At the end of the day, and from a wide angle view plane, I believe mediation is a
“meme,” a word coined by Richard Dawkins that is a cultural proxy for a gene,
the basic mechanism of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 1850s.
Genes are packages of biological information. Memes are packets of cultural
information….The mediation meme probably goes back to our deepest history as human beings, perhaps to the end of the Pleistocene 40,000 years ago. It spans 6,000 historical and current language groups and runs parallel to our deepest destructive impulses.

Second, once we recognize the presence of conflicts in our lives, we need to determine at what point conflicts become a destructive force when it comes to our individual well-being, to our relations, and to our co-existence with others.

Third, mediation is a practice. It does not matter how much we analyze, hypothesize, and theorize about conflict resolution, at the end we immerse ourselves into the flow of mediation process and become active participants. Therefore it is important to make a distinction between reflective and pragmatic attitude.

Those among us who practice conflict and dispute resolution typically apply both pragmatic and reflective attitudes. We are problem solvers who often reflect on our experiences in retrospect. Social theorists and the theorists of justice predominately apply reflective attitude, and at the same time they emphasize the importance of practice. So conflict resolution can be understood as the theory about practice. In his seminal work, The Theory of Communicative Action, (Note 3) Jurgen Habermas used the terms ‘reconstructive sciences’ and ‘formal pragmatics’, relating these terms to activities (processes, practices) similar to conflict resolution.  From the practitioner’s standpoint, pragmatic attitude serves as a trigger for problem-solving activities. It does not necessarily guarantee solutions, yet it encourages seeking them.

Read the rest of this article here.

Read the first article here.

Read the second article here.


Milan Slama

Milan Slama is a practicing mediator and arbitrator in the Los Angeles area. He is a co-founder and the Board member of VBMC (Valley Bar Mediation Center). Currently he is a contractor for Los Angeles County and he also mediates for Chilren's Court.He has been associated with the LA Superior… MORE >

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