Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution / Edition 1

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In this inspiring new vision of the art of conflict resolution, Kenneth Cloke shows new and accomplished mediators how to examine the inner processes and hidden personal recesses that limit their effectiveness, as well as the outside systems and structures that restrict their capacity to act on what they have learned. Cloke explores the dark places the edges, boundaries, and possibilities of mediation. He reveals how to approach dangerous conflicts domestic violence, war, slavery, fascism, insanity, and oppression'to uncover hidden choices and transformational opportunities that help people and organizations develop, grow, and learn more about themselves. Offering a wealth of fresh possibilities, Mediating Dangerously identifies potential openings, creative techniques, and new and unusual approaches to dispute resolution. The book includes specific guidelines, questions to ask, sample dialogues, checklists, and diagrams to help readers apply new techniques immediately in their current practice. The inevitable stress and pain of conflict can lure mediation professionals into taking the easy route to a quick compromise. But, claims Cloke, the role of mediators is not simply to settle conflicts or fashion agreements, but to create choices. This means going further, taking risks, opening wounds, and exploring dangerous terrain to locate the center of what isn't working. It requires great courage, honesty, and self-knowledge to open a Pandora's box of fear, resistance, dishonesty, revenge, oppression, and all the defenses and rationalizations that keep individuals, organizations, and societies locked in conflict. Mediating Dangerously shows conflict resolution professionals how to advance beyond the traditional steps, procedures, and techniques of mediation to unveil its invisible heart and soul and to reveal the subtle and sensitive engine that drives the process of personal and organizational transformation. This book is a major new contribution to the literature of conflict resolution that will inspire and educate professionals in the field for years to come. The Author Kenneth Cloke, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution in Santa Monica, California, has been a mediator, arbitrator, university professor, judge, counselor, coach, consultant, trainer, and designer of resolutions systems for over thirty years. He is the author of several books, including Resolving Conflicts at Work and Resolving Personal and Organizational Conflict (both with Joan Goldsmith, Jossey-Bass, 2000).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mediating Dangerously is, as all of Cloke's books, a book to buy." (The Texas Mediator, January 2002)

"Cloke writes with passion...." (Dispute Resolution Journal, October 2002)

Shows new and accomplished mediators how to examine the inner processes and hidden personal recesses that limit their effectiveness, and how to identify outside systems and structures that restrict their capacity. Describes creative techniques and unusual approaches to dispute resolution that can be used for dealing with dangerous conflicts such as domestic violence, war, slavery, fascism, and oppression. Includes specific guidelines, questions to ask, sample dialogues, and checklists. Cloke directs the Center for Dispute Resolution in Santa Monica, California. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787953560
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Series: Resolving Conflicts Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 627,789
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.07 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

KENNETH CLOKE director of the Center for Dispute Resolution in Santa Monica, California, has been a mediator, arbitrator, university professor, judge, counselor, coach, consultant, trainer, and designer of resolutions systems for over thirty years. He is the author of several books, including Resolving Conflicts at Work and Resolving Personal and Organizational Conflict (both with Joan Goldsmith, Jossey-Bass, 2000).

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Read an Excerpt

Mediating Dangerously

The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution
By Kenneth Cloke

Jossey-Bass Publishers

Copyright © 2001 Kenneth Cloke
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0787953563

Chapter One

The Dangers of Mediation

Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn't exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being. For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security. And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in [Edgar Allen] Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. Rainer Maria Rilke

The words mediating and dangerously do not often appear together in the same sentence. The ostensible purpose of mediation is to ameliorate danger, pacify hurt feelings, and create safe spaces within which dialogue can replace debate, where interest-based negotiation can substitute for a struggle for power. We are aware that conflict is dangerous, but we expect mediation to be safe.

We can all recognize that in order to resolve our conflicts we have to move towards them, which is inherently dangerous because it can cause them to escalate. It is somewhat more difficult for us to grasp that our conflicts are laden with information that is essential for our growth, learning, intimacy, and change, that they present us with multiple openings for transformation and unique opportunities to let go of old patterns. Why should this make mediation dangerous?

The Danger of Mediation

Novelist Norman Mailer is said to have remarked that "there is nothing `safe' about sex. There never has been and there never will be." The same can be said about communication and change. Every honest communication poses a risk that we will hear something that could challenge or change us. All significant change, whether in how organizations are structured or who makes family decisions or how we live our lives, will be perceived as dangerous, because we do not and cannot fully understand where it will lead.

Even the most destructive patterns, dysfunctional ruts, and painful routines seem safer than doing something different that could result in change. Every pattern repeats itself, whereas change could result in things becoming worse. The known, even when it is painful, is measurable and reassuring. There is danger in the uncertainty of change.

Yet there is also danger in trying to hold on to things as they are. Everything is always in flux, and efforts to freeze the status quo or return to an earlier, imagined safety cannot succeed. Rather, these efforts succeed only in sparking an eternal conflict between those who strive to move forward into the danger of the new and those who try to stand still or steal backwards into the safety of the old.

The same tension occurs in every dispute. Most people prefer the conflicts they know to the resolutions they cannot completely imagine. Once they have learned how to accommodate a particular conflict, it becomes part of their routine, and they know what to expect. The script is invariant, calculable, and sure, even when it results in misery and pain.

Everyone intuitively understands that genuinely resolving conflict means getting to the bottom of what is not working. The role of the mediator is to locate the wellspring of the quarrel and dam the source that is feeding it. It does not fundamentally matter whether that system is emotional, intellectual, familial, relational, organizational, political, economic, or social. The closer we get to the heart of any system, the greater the possibility that something fundamental could shift and therefore the greater the resistance.

Deeper still, every authentic communication demands openness, honesty, and vulnerability to others. Being vulnerable means risking pain and disillusionment, while anticipating the same honesty in return. The outcome of every open, honest encounter is therefore unpredictable and risky. It means facing parts of ourselves we would rather avoid. It means no longer demonizing our opponents as a way of asserting our own virtue but confronting our demons directly, as the only way of escaping them.

The greatest danger we face is our tendency to retreat from conflict, to accommodate and adapt to it. We quickly learn to expect nothing from our conflicts, to tolerate or anticipate them in our lives, to engage in them without self-reflection. This adaptation to conflict means abandoning all possibility of growth, awareness, learning, improved relationship, deeper intimacy, better results, and personal or organizational transformation, all of which are lost when we are unwilling to risk open communication.

The only way to escape the gravitational tug of a conflict to which we have grown accustomed, even addicted, is by honestly and energetically confronting the reasons we got into it, that kept us in it, that allowed us to accommodate and adapt to it. When we realize what we have gotten and lost by engaging in it, and what will happen if we remain trapped in it, we quickly discover which is the greater danger.

As mediators, we need to be willing to bring a deep, dangerous level of honesty and empathy to the dispute resolution process. Otherwise, we become characters in other people's scripts, rationalizing their torments, fears, and avoidance. As mediators, we need to avoid producing agreements that do not resolve conflicts, but merely suppress, silence, or settle them, that result not in growth, but in reluctant acquiescence and enduring discord.

To resolve any conflict, we need to trust that what will happen if we discuss it is better than what will happen if we do not. This inevitably means opening Pandora's box and not really knowing what will fly out. It is the depth and clarity of our own honesty and empathy, and our willingness to explore conflicts that are always just slightly out of control, that allows us to mediate dangerously.

Defining Conflict in New Ways

Most people think of conflicts as disagreements based on differences over what they think, feel, or want. Yet most arguments have little or nothing to do with the issues over which people battle. If we are going to support parties in using their conflicts as opportunities and guides to transformation, we need to deepen our understanding of the nature of conflict.

How we define conflict is critical to creating deeply honest and empathetic communications and achieving lasting resolutions. If our definition of conflict is superficial, we may resolve the wrong issues, communicate at an ineffective level, or address concerns that distract us from resolving core problems.

In every conflict, the parties appear to have nothing in common, yet they fit together like interlocking parts in a system. The masochist seems to have nothing in common with the sadist, or the optimist with the pessimist, yet they have their differences in common. There are no free-standing masochists, and if there is a single masochist in a crowd of a thousand people, he will find or create the sadist he needs in order to be whole. And he may have become so addicted or identified with his role that it will feel dangerous to discuss anything that might change it.

To better understand the rationale for a dangerous approach to mediation, consider the following alternative definitions of conflict. Each calls for a different set of strategies to probe the inner logic of the dispute, and a different set of questions to elicit honesty and empathy.

Alternative Definitions of Conflict

  • Conflict represents a lack of awareness of the imminence of death or sudden catastrophe. As the parties become more aware of the finite quality of each others' lives, their conflicts become less important.
  • Conflict arises wherever there is a failure of connection, collaboration, or community, an inability to understand our essential interconnectedness and the universal beauty of the human spirit. Everyone behaves in ugly ways when they are in conflict, hiding their essential beauty and interconnectedness. When they notice these qualities, their conflicts tend to diminish. When they act together, their conflicts become mere disagreements.
  • Conflict is a lack of acceptance of ourselves that we have projected onto others, a way of blaming others for what we perceive as failures in our own lives. It reveals a need to hide behind roles or masks that do not reflect our authentic feelings so we can divert attention from our mistakes. People escalate their conflicts by not being authentic. As they accept themselves more fully, they become more accepting of others.
  • Conflict represents a boundary violation, a failure to value or recognize our own integrity or the personal space of others. As people recognize and respect each others' boundaries, they experience fewer conflicts.
  • Conflict is a way of getting attention, acknowledgment, sympathy, or support by casting ourselves as the victim of some evil-doer. If the parties secure the attention, acknowledgment, sympathy, and support they need, they experience fewer conflicts as a result.
  • Conflict represents a lack of skill or experience at being able to handle a certain kind of behavior. As the parties become more skillful in responding to difficult behaviors, they cease being drawn into conflict.
  • Conflict is often simply the continued pursuit of our own false expectations, the desire to hold on to our unrealistic fantasies. When the parties give up their false expectations of each other, they surrender the conflicts they have created by trying to get the other side to become someone or something they never were.
  • Conflict represents a lack of listening, a failure to appreciate the subtlety in what someone else is saying. As the parties listen closely to the metaphors and hidden meanings of their conflict, they discover its true content, and feel less like counterattacking or defending themselves and more like responding constructively.
  • Conflict is often a result of secrets, concealments, confusions, conflicting messages, cover-ups, and what we have failed to communicate. Conflict hides in the shadows. When one of the parties throws a light on it, it disappears.
  • Conflict represents a lack of skill, effectiveness, or clarity in saying what we feel, think, or want. When the parties are able to tell each other clearly and skillfully what they need, they are often able to have their needs met without creating conflicts.
  • Conflict is a way of opposing someone who represents a parent with whom we have not yet resolved our relationships. If the parties can recognize that the other person resembles or is behaving like someone from their family of origin, they may see they are really angry with someone else.
  • Conflict is the sound made by the cracks in a system, the manifestation of contradictory forces coexisting in a single space. Many interpersonal conflicts represent the points of weakness in an organizational or family system. When the parties address these weaknesses, the conflicts they create usually disappear.
  • Conflict is the voice of a new paradigm, a demand for change in a system that has outlived its usefulness. The need for change always announces itself in the form of conflict, including increased interpersonal conflict. The introduction of needed changes often reduces the level of conflict in an organizational or family system.
  • Conflict represents an inability to grieve or say goodbye, a refusal to let go of something that is dead or dying. Many divorcing couples and surviving relatives get into fights as a way of saying goodbye to each other, or as a way of mourning someone they loved.
  • Conflict is a way of being negatively intimate when positive intimacy becomes impossible. Most parties prefer anger over indifference until they are really ready for the relationship to be over. This is because anger strips away their masks, permitting negative intimacy that results in boundary violation.
  • Conflict is the expression of one-half of a paradox, enigma, duality, polarity, or contradiction. Many of the conflicts people experience are actually polarities in which each person plays the role of yin while the other plays yang.
  • Conflict is often a fearful interpretation of difference, diversity, and opposition, which ignores the essential role of polarity in creating unity, balance, and symbiosis. As the parties learn to see their differences and disagreements as sources of potential unity or strength, their conflicts tend to disappear.
  • Conflict is a result of our inability to learn from our past mistakes, our failure to recognize them as opportunities for growth, learning, and improved understanding. Conflicts are often simply requests for authenticity, emotional honesty, acknowledgment, intimacy, empathy, and communication from others-in other words, they flow from the desire for a better relationship.

What is common to all these definitions is that our conflicts begin and end with us, as well as with the systems in which we operate. They have little to do with our opponents. As mediators, we can assist the parties in defining their conflict in alternative ways that allow them to perceive its deeper, more accurate meanings. We can define their conflict as a story, a culture, a set of bitter conversations or nasty words, or just feeling stuck. Through a dangerous process of definition, recognition, and acknowledgment, paths open to personal and organizational transformation. Each definition allows parties to redefine their conflict at a deeper level than would be possible, based on the surface issues over which they are arguing. To realize this in practice, we need to understand it in theory.

Searching for Relational Truth

If we focus for a moment not on the parties, but on ourselves as mediators, we can see that the roles we play in mediation are largely defined by our own attitudes, expectations, and styles. These roles, in turn, depend on a set of assumptions about human nature, the nature of conflict, and the nature of change that have reverberated throughout Western political and philosophical thought for centuries, resulting in radically different definitions of mediation.

Excerpted from Mediating Dangerously by Kenneth Cloke Copyright © 2001 by Kenneth Cloke
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents


The Dangers of Mediation.

Suppression, Settlement, and Resolution.

Honesty and Empathy: Speaking the Unspeakable.

When Helping Becomes a Hindrance.

Exploring the Conflicts Within Ourselves.

Fear, Apathy, Insanity, and Dishonesty.

Dismantling the Desire for Revenge.

The Magic of Forgiveness.

The Significance of Spirit.

Conflict as a Spiritual Path.


Mediating Fascism and Oppressive Relationships.

Power, Rights, and Interests.

Creating Responsible Communities.

What's Better Than the Rule of Law.

Shifting from Debate to Dialogue.

Improving the Way We Fight.

Transforming the System.

The Politics of Conflict.

Conflict Resolution Systems Design and the United Nations.

Where Inner and Outer Frontiers Meet.

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