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Conflict Assessment and Management – Systemic Mediation

This article looks at how to address unconscious biases in order to tackle miscommunication and misbehavior. It begins with an examination of brain processes, and then looks at a practical understanding of how to tackle and change those processes. 


Attitude and behavior get reflected in action. The thought that triggers attitude is binary as it has an assimilation and contrast perspective. There is a tendency to compare it with the ‘anchor’ that the ‘self’ projects and hence ‘attitude change is a judgmental process.’ The strength or intensity of affective reactions to attitudinal responses results in the level of positioning and opinions. The degree of tolerance to external stimuli is a determining factor in persuasion or response. The effect of a persuasive message is therefore anchored on how the receiver perceives it. There is a subconscious sorting out of data in the instant of perception that leads to attitude. Social Judgment theory attempts to address the person’s preferred position serving as a judgment anchor. 


The premise behind Social Judgment Theory is that the effect of a persuasive message is dependent on how the receiver evaluates the position. SJT is based on motivation for attitude change as being mediated by judgmental processes and effects. It presupposes a bracketed area of cognition in terms of latitude of acceptance, rejection, and concomitance. 

Attitude and change in attitude is dependent on judgment which is sustained by biases and understanding of communication. In any communication what the listener is looking out for is a ‘guarantee of relevance’ and motivation for change is triggered by effective communication which is the intention as projected by the speaker and assimilated by the listener. The message and the manner in which it is communicated have a persuasive effect on intention to change. 

Social setting, cognition, and conversational processes determine cooperative communicators. Each idea, supposition, or position is backed by a thinking process. Any change presupposes persuasive communication. As the setting, cognition and evaluative processes kick in a flash of a second, persuasive communication is dependent on how the receiver decodes the information and evaluates the position it advocates. What one thinks of the information received and the assimilation and contrast effect decides the action that happens. It is also dependent on cognitive strategies that one chooses for the specified context. 


In a dialogue to explain one’s position or to recalibrate the opinion of the other, there is an attempt to process the information with respect to what is communicated. Three factors have a part in the internalizing of the intended communication:

  • Receiver’s level of involvement

  • Structure of stimuli- options/alternatives

  • Credibility or value placed on data received.

Processing of information and assimilation follows a pattern which is inclusive of  :

  • Cognitive- goal related

  • Affective- stress/anxiety

  • Motivational- cause & outcome expectation and 

  • Selection- values, needs. 

There is interplay of psychology of emotions and metaphysics of internalizing. 

Various theories relating to apprehension and assimilation have been recognized as having an impact on conflict resolution. Theories of interpersonal interactions which impact harmony and relationships are generally seen as RED: 

  • Self-Regulation

  • Self-Efficacy

  • Self-Determination

These factors are anchored mainly in:

  • Social Impact

  • Personal Construct

  • Positioning

  • Values

  • Personality systems Interaction

Any attempt in a paradigm shift in approach to conflict has to be inclusive of understanding human behavior and so apprehension of the context, the approach of the mind and the thought process. Guarantee to commitment and performance is ensured by assessment and then regulation by objective analysis. Forging strength to make an informed choice requires effective processing of information. Russ Acroff’s triangle points out how data is perceived and moves up the stages to become actionable. 

When apparent biases and ordinary judgment is addressed most often basic misunderstanding is often eliminated. De-escalation of conflict and restoration of harmony needs perceptive understanding of data, skills to be objective and to regulate thoughts and ability to move beyond conditioning to be willing to accept change. Action which is informed and knowledge based needs to be backed by volition and regulation. The communication that ensues will be able to move beyond the stress caused by anxiety and goal oriented thought.

Communication styles, action and behavior determine internalizing of the information received.  Communication is therefore not just what is said and heard, but it is inclusive of what is inherent and embedded in the message that is conveyed. Hence any attempt at mediation settlement has to first address the moral framework and reasoning of both parties and the mediator. Communication styles are a reflection of perception and interpretation of what is understood to be the conveyed message. Communication action is a manifestation of what is expected from the processing of information and communication behavior is the reaction/response to the understanding of the message.


The goal of mediation is not satisfaction but informed consent and action. Hence the primary need is for the mediator to give space and support to parties to express their values and reflect on shared interests. Exploration of values, interests and commitments enables moral reasoning. The next step is to address and ensure understanding of boundaries of concerns. These boundaries could be central or peripheral to the issue raised. It could be inclusive of identity, social proof and need for revision of moral framework. Once this is achieved the third stage is addressing collective interests/concerns, enabling in-depth communication and enduring discussions to aid bargaining. 

These stages then lead to satisfaction when parties are able to move from the self-reference frame to the larger frame and self-reflection leads to recognizing the needs of the other as a legitimate outcome. While arriving at a win-win situation by transformative or facilitative mediation leads to an outcome, satisfaction is not wholly felt in many cases. Following these stages of systemic mediation leads to wholesome satisfaction as self-reflection leads to ownership for the problem and for taking responsibility for the decision. 

More often parties’ demands or claims are based on entitlements without moral reasoning or critical thinking. Once the communication establishes space for boundary critique and critical thinking, parties are able to visualize realistic goals and change their mindset to understand how it can or cannot be reached. Communication in this process needs to address styles, behavior and intentionality. Systemic approach helps to motivate effective communication and resolution.


Uma Ramanathan

Uma Ramanathan, Advocate, Mediator, and Mediator Trainer. She is also the Organising Secretary of the Tamilnadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre, High Court, Madras. She practiced as an advocate in the High Court Madras, Tamilnadu, India for 29 years. She has been practicing as a Mediator since 2005 and training mediators… MORE >

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