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The Conflict Resolution Toolbox (Book Review)

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Read the Introduction online.


In reading books and articles about Mediation one seems to find distinctive categories of written end products. There are many, many books and articles on mediation and conflict theory. There are many articles that are book reviews. There are many things written on specific experiences, e.g. 9/11 Jacob Javits Center 5000 person facilitation on replacing the World Trade Center, and other such specific experiences. Finally, there are numerous articles and books describing specific mediations and what happened and how and why it happened.

About one in 1000 of these writings present a new paradigm for the field. Mr. Furlong’s new book is one that seems to do that. Mr. Furlong creates a very new concept in the literature of Mediation. His book may very well be a seminal work in the manner in which mediating and training of mediators is structured into the future. Mr. Furlong suggests something that does not seem to exist in this form presently. So, what is it that Mr. Furlong gives that could be that important, that significant? He has created a new approach to mediation concentrating on two important principals:

1) Diagnosing the Conflict

2) Using Diagnostic Models To Give Direction Toward Resolution

There are two things that are unique about this approach to mediation. Taking the second one first, the concept of working toward resolution respects the concept that Mediation can be, and probably should be Results Oriented. Often we get so enraptured with the dynamics and concepts of theoretical mediation that we tend to feel that resolution is not the main goal of mediation. But if resolution is not the main goal, then what are we really doing in the process? Our clients go into mediation, often by court mandate, but often not; and their expectation is that at the end of the mediation, they will have a mutually acceptable agreement to end the conflict.

Of course we cannot guarantee that ever. But we boast about the successes we have and try to sell our reputation and settlement rates as a reason why people should use one mediator over another. If we do so, then we should have the courage of our convictions and admit that Mediation is a process where the people should have a reasonable expectation of settlement. If not, why really bother to mediate?

More unique than the above, in which Mr. Furlong acts as an “agent of reality” for all of the mediation community; resides his concept of using “Diagnostic Models” in the mediation process. He carefully distills the theoretical aspects of mediation into models which have specific steps toward building a data set and information collection grid that helps the mediator diagnose what the conflict is really about, including the real underlying reason, not just what is on the Complaint.

He does this by presenting 8 different models with forms that can be utilized by the mediator to help in directing the mediator how to go about the mediation. Thus, the technique can certainly be referred to as “Pragmatic Mediation” and represents a huge perceptual shift in the way we try to articulate the techniques that the best of us find naturally do work in various different situations.

The Method

Perhaps the most significant line in the book’s introduction is as follows:

“There is no magic formula that resolves all disputes.”

Right from the beginning the author informs us that regardless of the tools and methods that can be worked out and quantified, there is still an element of art, experience and other factors that help great mediators be great. However, Mr. Furlong is not reaching to retrain great mediators. He is trying to present a new method of approaching mediation and he is trying to impact the manner in which the Techniques of Mediation are taught. In a tremendously insightful observational comment, the author states the following:

“Mediation training seems to be focused solely on face-to-face skills and simple steps for conducting the mediation itself, and does little to teach the participants about diagnosing the root cause of the conflict being mediated.”

For a very long time, there has been a divide in the mediation training community. There are only 4 to 5 days to train people who never mediated how to mediate. Many trainers believe that it is important to force a large amount of theory down the throats of the participants. But interestingly, most of this theory is just abstract noise to people who have never mediated before.

The other extreme are those trainers who push the participants immediately into role plays, with no theory. Then they work backwards from role play to role play. This approach is perhaps a better method of teaching technique that will be remembered because the people have actually participated in it, rather than just written down a bunch of notes. But it also lacks a certain clarity for the participants to understand the actual methods and details of what to do and what to say and how to say it in a real mediation situation.

Mr. Furlong suggests a way to change that problem and reduce confusion, while increasing clarity. Again, we should never forget what the author reminds us in the very beginning; there is just no “One Way” to mediate. The author also explicitly reminds the mediator that more than one of the models presented may be applicable to a single mediation. And the mediator is the one that needs to mix and match as appropriate for the individuals and the conflict.

The Models

The author has chosen 8 specific models for his book. In choosing these particular models the author states that they were chosen because each model allows the conflict to be viewed through a different “lens of perspective.” They are as follows:

1) The Circle of Conflict
2) The Triangle of Satisfaction
3) The Boundary Model
4) Interests/Rights/Power Model
5) The Dynamics of Trust
6) The Dimensions Model
7) The Social Style Model
8) Moving Beyond Conflict

Mr. Furlong’s book describes the models much better than I can do in this review. Suffice it to say though, that within the models experienced mediators will recognize many of the techniques they do use. And in addition, they will recognize many of the techniques they have rejected. Interestingly, one should rethink those that they have rejected in the past. Readers may find that models that seemed not to their liking, when applied in the author’s method may reveal incredible predictive and diagnostic potential.

Mr. Furlong has succeeded in taking the vast plethora of literature in the field and conflating it with practical experience. In doing so, he shows a truly unique approach to both mediating and training of same.

Pragmatic Mediation

It seems all mediation methods need to have a name. This review proposes that the method be called “Pragmatic Mediation.” The use of the term immediately suggests “practicality.” That seems to be what the author is trying to present. To use diagnostic models is a formalized method of doing what experienced mediators do automatically in their heads. Every mediator has certain approaches which are varied in accordance with the personalities of the parties and the nature of the conflict. The author does not suggest that this will not still be the case. What the author does suggest is that these practical and understandable diagnostic models are a more structured approach to dealing with a conflict in mediation.

The reader/practitioner must make their own judgments. As with different Mediation Types, i.e. Narrative, Evaluative, Facilitative, Transformative, etc. different mediators will feel comfortable using different diagnostic models. However, readers/practitioners should not shy away from the reconsideration of any technique that had previously been rejected as Mr. Furlong’s book lays out a “map” of each model and how it may be used in a structured way.

It behooves all mediation practitioners to read and try to integrate this book and its methods into the “Tool Set” that we bring to a mediation. The reading of new and different perspectives on the practice of mediation is often the best way for mediators to expand their mediation horizons. The book should be taken seriously as a new approach to the practice of mediation.


Jon Linden

Jon Linden is a Mediator, Trainer and Business Consultant. He holds an BS in biology and an MBA, both from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. Jon spent 20 years in the Food Service Distribution business, where he was the COO and Sr. V-P of a Distribution Center of a major… MORE >

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