Find Mediators Near You:

Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution

Review by:
The Aternative Newsletter Editor,
Robert Kirkman Collins
Published by:
Jossey-Bass, 2000, 261 pp.,

ISBN 0-7879-4192-1.

Order at Amazon.com


This is a flawed, but nevertheless useful, book on mediation. It’s premise is theoretically sound, in seeking to apply therapeutic techniques to destabilize repetitious (and unproductive) patterns of interaction by altering each participant’s views of history (their “narratives”). No one would doubt that mediators need to wean people from their fixed notions of history and a firm sense of entitlement if progress is to be made; there is less of a consensus, however, that this should be the primary focus of mediation.


There is much common-sense guidance offered here by two obviously skilled practitioners: avoiding attempts to solve problems until a relationship of trust has been built with the mediator; damping the perceptions of imbalance when having the first party give an “opening” statement; outlining questioning techniques to help people shift from fixed positions of entitlement; and, providing tips for the use of caucus.


The essential difficulty is that the authors approach healing the interpersonal relationship and solving the problem as two separate and distinct stages in mediation — with the emphasis only on the first. In fact, in many ways the process outlined in Narrative Mediation is more appropriately one for use in therapy (from whence it came) than in mediation. The authors preach that “Sometimes the development of an attitude of cooperation and respect may be more important that any substantive agreement”, but practice as if that were true in each and every case: “When the mediation has reached the point with [the participants] when a degree of goodwill and respect are present, the largest part of the mediation has been accomplished”. No — we pragmatists might respond — that’s simply when the mediation can begin. While it may be necessary to achieve some initial shifts in the parties’ perceptions of themselves and the problem in order to get down to work, the goal should not be to shift understanding as an end in itself, but simply as a step towards resolution of the conflict.


A more minor, but nevertheless annoying, tendency of the authors is to constantly present the simple in grandiose terms. Labeling favored mediation moves as “postmodern” or “poststructuralist” doesn’t necessarily make them any more innovative or useful than they actually are — it seems pretentious, and only serves to distract.


One puts this book down with the disquieting feeling that the authors were hoping to found yet another school of anti-pragmatic mediation in the tradition of the “transformative” mediation movement; what they have given us is a less grand, albeit still useful, volume.

                        author

Robert Kirkman Collins

Robert Kirkman Collins, J.D., has been cited by Cardozo Law School as being “among the pioneers of divorce mediation”. A co-founder of The New York Mediation Group, Bob is an attorney with an independent practice in divorce mediation and matrimonial law in Manhattan, with over twenty years of experience as… MORE >

Featured Members

ad
View all

Read these next

Category

Friday News Round Up

A Network Theory of Conflict Resolution Definitely worth a read: Creating an "energy landscape" from networks of friends and enemies could lead to a better way of resolving disputes. "Suppose...

By Jeff Thompson
Category

Making a Mountain Out of a Mole-Hill

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie NobleWhen we begin to experience irritation about something happening with another person, our thoughts and feelings sometimes go to places that are not helpful for the...

By Cinnie Noble
Category

How Best to Resolve Conflicts in the Health Care Setting

The world of health care has changed dramatically during the past two years. It was already experiencing various pressures, and with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, existing problems, like...

By Lisbeth M. Bulmash
×