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Sustaining and Nurturing Hope In A Mediation Process

Conflict is a result of bad behavior and choices individuals or groups earlier made in relationships with others in families or society. It is also a symptom that some thing wrong is happening or is about to happen that need adequate attention. Unfixed disputes have always left the debris of broken heartedness seemingly marooned in a desert of helplessness and despair because of frustration, which is heralded, into our lives.

This state of despair is manifested in a situation of unhealthy kinds of human or interpersonal interactions where there are evidences of competition, marginalization, mistreatment and insensitivity to others needs and values. However, the “silver linen” is that conflict in itself might not be too bad if channeled appropriately. In most cases what people in conflict are weeping over, might equally turn out to be what they will be rejoicing over tomorrow. Conflicts could be transformed into fertilizers for the seeds of peace and harmony in the society, lives and families if well harnessed.

In conflict resolution individual and groups behaviors changes often like the proverbial “weather cock”. No mood is predominant, meaning that disputants will react to problem differently. Often parties’ blind folded by their opposing views, interests and positions do not recognize chances and possibilities that abound for resolution, except fighting it out with their opponents to win at all cost. What parties needed most in this dark journey through the tunnel of conflict is a sort of inspired awareness to change direction to new self-realization, a condition of mind that will help them to change their perceptions and behavior. In addition, the awake-ness that inspires disputants to change course in dispute is Hope.

This article is an attempt to understand how “hope” influences a mediation process; by using, Snyder’s (1991, 2002) hope theory. If we understand this, we shall save disputants from unnecessary misery that accompany unresolved conflicts, and as well help mediators design an effective process that nurtures, and sustain hope as a platform for peace among individuals or groups in conflict. However, we believe that more research should be done to find out how to sustain hope in individuals and groups during a mediation/conflict resolution process.


Historically, hope phenomenon has attracted the attention of early writers and philosophers. The importance of hope was evident and equally promoted in the early evangelical activities of St. Paul the Apostle in his letters to Christian believers. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle described hope as some thing that is not seen but we keep on “waiting for it with endurance”. Historical writers in the early Judeo-Christian tradition in the past centuries placed hope as one of the important values of Christianity along side with faith and charity (see Gravlee G. Scott, 2000:461-2)

For example, Aristotle mentioned hope and hopefulness in several context but perhaps in his discussion of courage (Scott 2000). Later Christian missionaries like Martin Luther followed the doctrines of their predecessor to up hold hope dearly while emphasizing love and spiritual cleanliness (see also Snyder, 2002).

However in a situation where all hailed hope as a virtue others where abhorring it. For example, Sophocles portrayed hope as a human foible that only serves to stretch out suffering. Toeing this line was Plato who criticized those counting on hope for life describing it as a “foolish counselor”. Another ancient philosopher Euripides referred to hope as a “curse upon humanity”. In his own thinking Francis Bacon went a bit further by describing hope as “a good break fast, but bad supper” ( as cited in Snyder, et al 2002).

Additionally, Scholars (Vroom, V. 1964; Fry, 2003) of the “expectancy theory” seem to have borrowed leaf from Apostle Paul’s “unseen” idea of hope. According to Fry, (2003) “hope is a desire with expectation of fulfillment…It is a firm belief in some thing for which there is no proof, believing that, “what is desired and expected will come to pass” (712-3).

While these diverse opinions about hope will remain, later years have witnessed the growing belief in the power of hope to bring about transformation in societies and individual lives. In a bold step towards conceptualizing hope, Snyder understands hope as “a cognitive set that is based on a reciprocally derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed determination) (b) pathways (planning of ways to meet goals)” (Snyder, et al., 1991; 571). Deductively, human behavior is aimed at achieving a particular set goal, and needed some thing more than pathways to bring goals to fruition. Nevertheless, goals may be either approaches or avoidance in nature, and they may range from easy to seemingly impossible” (Gum and Snyder, 2002) goals.

The Scholar (Snyder, 2000) has created a hope-scale claiming that, “higher as compared to lower hope people have greater number of goals, have more difficult goals, have success at achieving their goals, perceive their goals as challenges, have greater happiness and less distress, have superior coping skills, and report less burn out at work (Snyder, 1995: 357-8).”

Furthermore, Snyder discovered that high hope people maintain their agency and pathways when confronted with difficulties, such as an obstacle to achieving a desired goal, while low-hope individuals will abandon their goals. Snyder’s theory is also premised on the cognitive assumption regarding goal achievement and beliefs “that one has the abilities to pursue goals and face obstacles, in contrast to other measures of hope that are conceptually different from hope” (Gum and Snyder, 2002: 884).

As far as mediation process is concerned understanding the hope phenomenon and how to guide disputants through the pathway of realizing their goals, and depart from conflict behavior is paramount herein. It is our argument that parties who are committed to resolve their differences peacefully are likely inspired by the power of hope and as a result predisposed to restoring strained lines of communication and relationships. If mediators understands the conditions that inspires and motivates disputants towards this “pathway thinking’ (Hope), they will be able to devise strategies to sustain this energy component to use the pathways to bring about healing and transformation effect in a conflict situation.

The take-away being that it might not be enough for parties or individuals to possess ideas(“pathways”) on how to address a conflict but what is also necessary for the ideas to be effective is “agency thinking” in the form of commitment or courage and affection. In this vein Michael Basch (1988:66-7), a psychotherapist offers a plausible insight stating that “the affect attached to a particular goal moves a person to engage in behavior that that will fulfill or reach it”. Our commitment and endurance forms the gateway to Hope. Individuals and groups embedded in conflict, and other problem often takes bold steps towards peaceful resolution of conflicts in order to reach anticipated goals. Moreover, the amount of “energy thinking” (faith, courage, and determination) determines how successful and hopeful their endeavor towards healing the wounds of conflict will be.


Conflicts of any kind have not made lives of many enjoyable. Instead it has lead many towards the path of destructiveness and “meaninglessness.” A condition of life to which one feels that life is not meaningful and devoid of any emotional sense, that at least some of the issues and demands posed by living are not worth investing energy in. This situation of hopelessness only will exacerbate conflict because both the perceived ways and energy thinking that will lead to change of heart is blocked by negative emotions. In a situation of conflict, lack of hope is likely to militate against any decision to resolve problem satisfactorily especially if the desired goal of a party is win-lose out come. Hence, the argument that lack of hope increases the probability of conflict while the presence of conflict signifies absence of hope in finding creative solutions.

Hope as a great dynamo motivates archenemies to take steps towards peaceful resolution of conflict even when they might not be eager to do so. Even while individuals or groups continue to fight or quarrel among themselves within, some of them are eagerly anticipating for extrication from the conflict especially when the toll is becoming higher and unbearable. This inner stimulation to make peace is akin to the “hope that is not seen” and has the propensity to transform lives and conflict. Cognizant of Hope synergy to conflict, we posit that individuals instinctively awaken by hope, are more likely to be creative in finding alternatives (Snyder, 2002) answers to their dispute if they come to mediation. This is because these individuals will react differently, and is able to make choices that they feel might be appropriate to satisfy their demands and still be able to understand the needs of the other party. Nevertheless, individuals lacking these pathways of hope are more attracted to seek redress in either fighting or resorting to adversarial steps, such as taking opponents to the law court for redress. Oblivious of the fact that such adversarial step will not address issues underlying conflicts satisfactorily. Adversarial steps bring short-term comfort to a party but will leave the conflict flames still burning, with disrupted relationships and communication links. Good relationships and communication are prerequisites for peacemaking because of their propensity to fuel conflict.

Those embedded in conflict experience great pain, material and human loses that blocks the perception of hope and pathways for resolving conflict. The parties will not quickly give up fighting until one of them become instinctively stimulated to change persistent negative and cognitive perception of the other. Hope during conflict is awoken when disputants start sharing vulnerability and decreasing will to continue the conflict. They are inspired by hope towards alternative dispute resolution, when their goal is to make peace. In addition, when this happens the dramatic change of attitude that has taken place, brings about hope of a better future, capable of restoring strained relationships.

In literature, goals are realizable only with the help of “agency thinking” (Snyder, 2002) such as faith (Fry, 2003:693) determination, endurance and vision. In a mediation process parties who fueled their goals and desire with strong agency thought like endurance are more likely to remain committed to resolving conflicts. In this vein, disputants must come to the mediation table with a vision and courage to dialogue and listen to each other rather than seeking who may be right or wrong. In other words, pathways combined with agency thought ignites the dynamo that heals and transforms conflict. Such transformation or change is possible by the intervention of a third party mediator who has the necessary skills needed to help disputants defuse their emotions and find creative ways to resolve underlying problem. Conflict is undoubtedly inevitable in a condition of hopelessness and lack of creative ideas or pathways to address contentious issues. Like in the medical profession, a sick person will seek the advice and treatment from a medical doctor, while in conflict resolution disputants willing to resolve their conflicts will meet a mediator. By training mediators are equipped with the necessary skills and strategy that will help parties restore strained relationships and broken links of communication that fuels animosity. However, for the kind of hope that heals the wound of the past to be ignited in the participants, mediators should sharpen and use their professional skills efficiently and more ethically to nurture endurance on the route of a desired goal.


The way of awakening hope in parties during a mediation process is yet unknown to professionals in conflict resolution. More so, this is posing great concern to conflict mediators and social professional helpers today. If we are able to discover this, we shall save people from untold pain and losses which conflict brings to many homes and societies.

Mediation as one of the strategies of conflict management is a process of “facilitated negotiation among two or more parties, assisted by a third party neutral, to resolve disputes, manage conflict, plan future transactions or reconcile interpersonal relations and improve communications” (Menkel-Meadow, 2001:p.X111).

Disputants come to the mediation table with baggage of their needs, values and emotions, and even in some cases, suggestions of how they feel the conflict will be resolved. In essence, the practice of mediation is about the choice of strategic behavior that mediators believe will facilitate the type of outcome they seek to achieve (Brett, J.M., R. Driegh., and Shapiro, D.L., 1986:281). Moreover, in literature, it is observed that most constructive solutions to intense conflict situations are those resulting from intrinsically motivated efforts by disputants to creatively discover satisfactory solutions to their problem.

Ideal places to generate and sustain hope in parties will e the pre-negotiating template. This is referred to as “the time and tasks apart from negotiation that have the purpose of beginning, sustaining, and nourishing a peace process by changing relationships and paving the way for negotiation or other peaceful steps to resolve conflict.” (Saunders, Harold 1996:419). At this level of mediation, stakeholders separately talk to the mediator about their interests, demands and fear. If properly harnessed, the parties who have blocked pathways because of conflict will see rays of hope as they try to change their differing perception about the conflict and the other.

A mediation process that is capable of sustaining and nurturing hope in individuals or groups is such that is well structured and organized in an unfettered environment acceptable to all stakeholders, guaranteeing a climate for dialogue where indications of power imbalance (Bercovitch Houston,2000) among parties is resolved so that participants can air their views without any fear or domination. The preference of pre-negotiation template is that it will not only raise the desired hope of ending conflict, but also might help parties see other creative ways that can change relationships and restore respect and trust required for peaceful coexistence.

Separately discussing issues with the participants in a caucus or pre-negotiation sessions before the joint meeting, offers them a vent for their baggage of negative emotions which is necessary for confidence building and trust among stakeholders. Emotions are powerful, and negative emotions that disputants bring along with them to mediation could be destructive if not properly managed and stemmed earlier. Our emotions are triggers of conflict and it obscures all efforts to see “pathways” or hope in resolving disputes. What this mean is that for hope to be inspired we must resist all negative emotions which handicaps us from seeing constructive ways of dispute resolution. Neutral third party mediators could come to rescue here armed with relevant skills to create fertile ground that will germinate ideas to reach a particular desired goal.

To nurture and sustain hope that leads to conflict resolution empathic listening and effective communication acumen should be used by mediators and other practitioners to manage the process. Armed with these skills, mediators are capable of diffusing fear, suspicion, and ill feeling that parties might be nursing against each other. Hope grows in the mind of individuals with the right thinking faculty. And by changing the way parties think about each other, relieves them from bad attitudes, behavior and mindsets that blocks the vision of seeing the light in the tunnel.

In literature, having pathways or ideas on how to resolve a problem might not be enough for sustenance of hope in peacemaking. Our creative proposals and goal requires thought energy to nurture (see Snyder, 1995) hope and keep it alive in stakeholders. In this vein, a successful mediation is capable of sustaining hope in parties or individuals if it is grounded in endurance, faith, self-will, courage and optimism. Hope is some thing not seen but pursued, and the drive on attaining our desired goals requires some endurance and faith, which fuels our commitment to reach understanding with the other in dispute resolution process. When mediation is at the brink of impasse, and stakeholders seem to lose hope, the spirit of endurance and self-will motivates them to stick a bit longer with expectation that their efforts will yield satisfactory result.

Contrastingly, in adversarial environment, it is highly unlikely that parties are groomed to have hope in a process tailored to favor one side and keep tears on the eyes of the other. In arbitrary or court processes parties have no opportunity to participate fully, and at the end it produces a win-lose situation, further deepening hatred and animosity among disputants.

A well facilitated mediation process is capable of generating, hope, creativity and design to reach a mutually agreed solution to a problem. Individuals who have many creative ideas (pathways) to a problem have hope. The glaring light of hope is evident from the road map of conflict resolution drawn and jointly produced by stakeholders without any much interference from a third party.

Hope creates a transforming effect on individuals in conflict when the awakening that calls for change in perception is experienced. This moment of awakening could be differently experienced individually. However, individuals experiencing conflict of any kind could glimpse at the ripe moment of hope by constant self-observation, discarding misperception that there is no light in the dark tunnel, remain creative and embracing positive thoughts of hope. Overall, sustaining hope in individuals after long drawn conflict will not be successful without a hope-mediator, armed with creative pathways, distinct goals and commitment to help disputant exit their conflict environment for better life.


Basch,F. Michael (1988). Understanding Psychotherapy. The Science Behind the Art. Basic Books, Harper Collin publishers. U.S.A.

Bercovitch, J. and Houston, A. (2000). Why Do They Do It Like This? An Analysis of The Factors Influencing Behavior in International Conflicts, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol.44, no.2, 2000.

Fry, L.W. (2003). “Towards a Theory of Spiritual Leadership”, in Leadership Quarterly Vol.14, no.6, 2003: 693-727.

Gary, Jay “Interviewing High Hope Leaders”. Internet:

Gravlee, G. Scott (2002). Aristotle on Hope. Journal of The History of Philosophy, Vol.38. no.38, October 2000: 461-477.

Gum, Amber and C.R. Snyder (2002).”Coping With Terminal Illness: The Role of Hopeful Thinking, Journal of Palliative Medicine. Vol.5, no.6, 2002: 883-894.

Menkel-Meadow, C. Ed. (2001) Mediation: Theory, Policy and practice, Introduction. Ashgate, Dartmouth.

Saunders, Harold (1996). “Pre-negotiation: Arenas of the peace Process,” in Managing Global Chaos, Eds. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson, and Pamela Aall. Washington, DC. United States Institute of Peace, press.

Snyder, C.R., Harris, C., Anderson, J.R., Holeran, S.A., Irwing, L.M., et al.(1991). The Will and The Ways: Development and Validation of Individual Differences measure of Hope. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, Vol.60, no.4: 570-585.

Snyder, C.R. (2002) Hope Rainbows of The Mind. Psychology Inquiry. Vol.13, 2002: 249-275.

Snyder, C.R. (2000). Hypothesis: There Is Hope. In Snyder, C.R., Ed. Handbook Of Hope. Theory, Measures, and Assessment. New York: Academic press.

Snyder, C.R (1995). The conceptualizing, Measuring and Nurturing Hope. Journal of counseling and Development, Vol.73, no.3: 355-360.


Emmy Irobi

Emmy Godwin Irobi (Ph.D) is a Mediator in Poland. He was trained and accredited by Polish center of mediation, and had further mediation education at the Law School, University of New Mexico, Alburqueque. He is currently doing his Post doctorate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, with a bias on… MORE >

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