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The Social Construction Of Mediation

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Recently, in her Two-Minute Training, my colleague Maria Simpson, Ph.D ( wrote about a process called “social construction” as defined inThe Social Construction of Reality by Berger & Luckmann (Doubleday 1966).

As she explains:

“Social Construction means that we create meaning through social interaction, mostly talking to each other. . . . We look at the world around us and try to find reasons for what has happened, good or bad, or find meaning in events. . .”

That is, we create our “realities” through conversation and discussion, through the specific words we use. Based on the words we choose, we can either create agreement or disagreement, resolution or conflict, thoughtful consideration or intolerance.

Why is “social construction” important? Because it plays a critical role in every dispute and thus in every mediation. Each of us comes to a mediation with our own construct of “reality” of the “true” facts of “what really happened.” We each have our own “story” built on our interactions with others. This is the “story” we bring to the dispute, we tell in a joint session and go into more detail with the mediator in a separate session. Obviously, one party’s “perception” of the “truth” will be different than the other party’s because the “reality” of each participant is different. Because of life experiences and social interactions with others, each participant comes from a “different place” with a different “reality” of what happened!

In many mediations, I discuss this point with each party: that there is no one single “truth” but merely every one’s own unique perception or social construction of what happened. There is no single “right” and no single “wrong.” Because of our social construction, our “right” and “wrong” will be different.

In a dispute, this point is critical. If the dispute is to be resolved, each participant must be willing to acknowledge this process of social construction and be able to see the dispute from the other person’s vantage point, “reality” or perception. Once accomplished, it becomes apparent to all concerned that the dispute is not as cut and dry or as black and white as initially perceived but rather very mercurial and nebulous; there are a lot more different sides or “realities” to the dispute than originally imagined.

Once the parties understand that there are several different “realities” or several different social constructions of the “truth”, the dispute becomes more malleable and thus easier to settle. Understanding that there is no one “true” story, each party no longer clings so tightly to her social construct of “the truth” and without necessarily accepting the other party’s construct (although perhaps acknowledging its existence), becomes more willing to settle. Principles of “right” vs. “wrong” give way to pragmaticism and practicality. With luck and persistence, the matter settles.

As my colleague concludes in her short Two-Minute Training: “Reality is, after all, yours to define.”

. . .Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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