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The Dynamics Of Conflict Resolution (Book Review)

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In Mayer’s book, “The Dynamics Of Conflict Resolution,” the author presents a particularly unique perspective on the resolution of disputes and the prevention of conflict. This book is a very important one, in that Mayer truly focuses on a much broader topic than the mere resolution of conflict, as we usually view it from the standpoint of traditional Mediation or ADR. Rather than merely helping the reader in finding more skillful ways to resolve conflicts, Mayer presents a useful vision of what he sees as the potential and future for the understanding of conflict and the potential forms that such understanding might allow us to envision as the field of conflict resolution moves forward into the future.

The specific distinction that Mayer presents to the reader is that he elucidates the concept that going forward with the practice of conflict resolution, we should consider the motivations and meanings that people should or could derive from looking at the world as “a better place” than currently. While the book clearly delineates the aspects of conflict and the various dynamics within the study of disputes and why disputes happen, Mayer also focuses on what the field of conflict resolution should try to provide to people, as perhaps a public service to the entire world.

In order to better understand how and why people interact the way they do, we need to consider not only the resolution of disputes, but also the aspects of what a person involved in the field of conflict resolution might envision as his goals or objectives for people at large. For example, Mayer illustrates in numerous examples, that the benefits of the various practices of conflict resolution are not merely finding a solution to the problem at hand, but rather the enhancement of communication in a fuller sense. He cites several examples of times when the conflict was in fact, NOT resolved, but the benefits derived from the “process” were much more important and significant than the resolution of the conflict in front of the Mediator or ADR professional.

While this concept perhaps can lead the mediator, who is expected to act as a third party neutral, into some dangerous ground, Mayer suggests that the enhancement of communication and the enlargement of understanding over different cultures, genders and other differences between peoples and societies is a more relevant goal for the future of “conflict resolution” as a field of practice. To illustrate this clearly, Mayer cites the different roles that individuals in the area of conflict resolution could play, aside from the traditional role of Mediator. To cite several he explains functions such as Assessment, Facilitation, Training, Coaching, Fact Finding, Advisory Mediation, and others which do not represent the roles that are commonly expected of a Mediator per se.

What is Mayer’s objective in couching his commentary in this manner? He plainly states that for him, he sees himself as “committed to his work.” He wishes conflict to be handled in a more “productive manner.” He wishes to make the world a “better” place to live and work. And, he wishes that his work will “help him grow personally.” These are concepts that are different from what we generally think about when think about mediation as a method for resolving a problem at hand.

In addition to the above-mentioned concepts, Mayer also explains that conflict has basically three dynamics. These are specifically “behavioral,” “emotional,” and “cognitive.” To forge a truly meaningful and long lasting resolution, the conflict resolution professional must deal with all three of these aspects of a conflict, and not just one or two of them. Often, the “behavioral” component is focused on, but the “emotional” and the “cognitive” components are not dealt with effectively, and thus, new conflict is almost assuredly bound to arise.

Finally, Mayer’s book presents perhaps the best methods of breaking impasse that have ever been set down in one piece of work. The methods, which he suggests can be utilized in pushing past an impasse are revolutionary in their insight. Additionally, in an almost unheard of perspective, Mayer suggests that in some cases, impasse of one or more parties to a dispute is in fact appropriate. This concept is totally different from our usual vision of conflict resolution, and whether that impasse is a temporary impasse, or whether it in fact results in the termination of the mediation session, it is not always the wrong thing for a party or parties to do.

In short, the book gives a totally new view of conflict resolution as a field of practice. It presents an ethical and moral value system that heretofore has not been the general subject of books on conflict resolution. It allows the reader to consider not only methods of resolving disputes, but also asks the reader to go beyond the traditional impressions that a Mediator would have and look more at the ideals that embody what the future of the field of conflict resolution should embrace, rather than just helping people with skills and techniques that will help them resolve a particular conflict or dispute. Mayer makes an important contribution to the future of conflict resolution and the factors that we as practitioners in that field should consider as the avocation evolves into the future. This new approach is refreshing and even satisfying and empowering to conflict resolution practitioners and these concepts should be given serious consideration as we develop the field going forward. To make the world a better place to live in is certainly a lofty goal, but one that perhaps is not as unachievable as we once thought it to be. Mayer outlines ways in which we can consider how this might be accomplished. The book should be read by all deep thinking “conflict resolution” practitioners as they consider what it is they are trying to achieve by choosing this profession.


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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