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The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution (Book Review)

Kenneth Cloke, The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution (Janis Publications 2006)

The newest book from Kenneth Cloke, one of America’s most prolific and challenging writers on conflict resolution, is The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution. Cloke builds on his earlier works, especially his seminal book Mediating Dangerously (2000), in which he used an easy-to-read style, challenging mediators to be risk takers while pushing the frontiers in conflict resolution.

Crossroads of Conflict is a more complex book, in which Cloke pushes the frontier once again by challenging mediators to travel “the path of transformation and transcendence of wisdom, spirit and heart” (p. 1). In calling for heartfelt mediation, Cloke outlines five distinct phases in mediating, communicating, and connecting with the heart. The five stages (p. 251) are:

1. opening our own hearts;

2. reaching out with questions that can open the hearts of others;

3. encouraging and expanding direct heart-to-heart communications;

4. connecting heart awareness to problem solving, collaboration, improved understanding, and creating more satisfying relationships; and

5. designing rituals of release, completion, and closure.

Cloke next shares ten stages he uses as a guide for opening or initiating heart-based conflict communication.

The format Cloke utilizes in this powerful book is to begin each section with a telling quote, which he expands upon and discusses. Each section closes with a case study. Most, if not all, of his illustrations are drawn from domestic relations or workplace disputes. Unfortunately, Cloke does not address litigated conflicts. Clearly, the challenge of traveling the path Cloke lays out is made more difficult when disputes have reached the courthouse and involve people who do not have an ongoing relationship. Along with entrenchment due to taking litigation positions, the addition of litigators, risk managers, and insurance adjusters makes the path steeper. Crossroads of Conflict reflects why pre-litigation dispute resolution is to be preferred to mediation that occurs just before trial. Nevertheless, mediators can absorb Cloke’s wisdom and modify his approach to fit the litigated case, particularly when the parties have an ongoing relationship.

Early in his book, Cloke states that “[a]t the center or heart of every conflict lies a pathway to resolution, forgiveness, and reconciliation” (p. 45). To follow this pathway, we must open our minds, emotions, and hearts to a higher order of conflict and resolution. Cloke notes that conflicts manifest themselves in six distinct but individual locations. These are our physical bodies, minds, emotions, spirits, hearts, and systems (p. 71).

In a telling analysis of closure, Cloke states (p. 175): There are hundreds of ways of reaching closure, but all of them require forgiveness. In its simplest form, forgiveness is a willingness to let the conflict go and release ourselves from the burden of our own false expectations.

Cloke later notes that (p. 187):
forgiveness is not something we do solely for others, but for ourselves. It is reclaiming our energy, memory, and awareness, and therefore our selves, so as not to forfeit our lives to the past or repeat it in a different guise.

Cloke speaks of the music of mediation in this marvelously insightful book. My son, Dan, and I have often discussed the overlap of his work as a musician and mine as a mediator, talking about tempo, tone and timbre.

Cloke explains that (p. 220):
every conflict contains at its core a spiritual crossroads leading beyond impasse and resolution toward learning, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transcendence. Later, Cloke addresses ten paths to transcendence, a few of which are sufficient to provide a feel for the route Cloke would have us travel. We mediators must engage in committed and open-hearted listening, provide focused attention, and use dangerous empathy (pp. 276-77). Our role as mediators, Cloke urges, is to create alternative paths for people in conflict, letting them choose the path they decide to follow.

As Cloke continues to write and conduct training sessions, more and more mediators will dare to use his ideas and techniques, and embody his spirit. I was fortunate to have been in Cloke’s class at the Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative workshop in late June and experienced his special way of connecting with people. He focuses on and attends to program participants in a way that models his mediation style, while exploring his material interactively.

I highly recommend both the book and direct training with Ken. As with Mediating Dangerously, Crossroads of Conflict gives us a star to aim for in our work as mediators. I predict that this book, like Mediating Dangerously, will become one of the seminal books of our profession.


Joe Epstein

Joe Epstein received his law degree from New York University School of Law in 1969, where he served as a student editor of NYU's Annual Survey of American Law. He received his mediation training at CDR Associates, Harvard University's School of Public Health, Pepperdine University's School of Law and Chapman… MORE >

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