Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution / Edition 1

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Most professionals trained to resolve conflicts ground their efforts in the theory that people are motivated by a desire to fulfill their personal interests. Mediators work to assist disputing parties by discovering a shared interest, which will motivate each party to resolve their conflicts. However, despite the widespread use of this traditional problem-solving, interest-based model of conflict resolution, incidents of violence, international hostilities, and legal disputes continue to escalate worldwide.In this book, John Winslade and Gerald Monk introduce narrative mediation-a new paradigm in the field of conflict resolution and a radical departure from the traditional interest-based, problem-solving approach to resolving disputes. Winslade and Monk reveal how this innovative approach, which seeks out the conflicting parties' individual stories, can be applied to create lasting resolution for a wide variety of conflicts. At the heart of narrative mediation lies the goal of developing a context for creating a relationship that is incompatible with conflict. This transformed relationship is built on stories of understanding, respect, and collaboration.Using actual scenarios from their mediation practice, Winslade and Monk show how the mediation context is filled with strong cultural narratives influenced by ethnicity, gAnder, class, education, and financial status. The narrative mediation technique guides professionals and their clients to make sense of the complex social contexts that shape conflicts, and ultimately helps to create new possibilities for change. In accessible, everyday language, the authors reveal how to build a trusting relationship with the disputing parties, map the effects of the history of the conflict, construct new solution-bound narratives, and finally move toward consensus and resolution.Written for therapists, counselors, professional mediators, lawyers, students, and trainees in the field of dispute resolution, Narrative Med

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A groundbreaking book bringing together ideas of social constructionist theory, narrative therapy, and mediation. The authors develop a very clear framework toward understanding this approach with case examples provided. I found this book useful to me both as a practitioner and as a researcher." (Jerry Gale, director, MFT Doctoral Program, Department of Child and Family Development, The University of Georgia, Co-PI Mediator Skills ProjectJerry Gale, director of the MFT Doctoral Program, Department of Child and Family Development, The University of Georgia, Co-PI Mediator Skills Project)

"An important "must-read" for anyone who is contemplating mediation. John Winslade and Gerald Monk are consummately qualified to bring us this book that is rich in a social constructionist understanding and revolutionary in approach. Focusing on stories of respect, mutuality, consideration, and support, their suggestions can only lead to new possibilities of peaceful coexistence—on both personal and global levels." (Victoria C. Dickerson, cofounder, and coauthor, If Problems Talked: Narrative Therapy in Action)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787941925
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN WINSLADE is director of the counselor education program at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. GERALD MONK Gerald Monk and John Winslade are leading figures in the narrative therapy movement and counselors of narrative mediation at the Waikato Mediation Services in Hamilton, New Zealand. They are the coauthors of Narrative Therapy in Practice (Jossey-Bass, 1997) and Narrative Counseling in Schools (1999).

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Table of Contents



Narrative Mediation: What Is It?

Theoretical and Philosophical Issues in Narrative Mediation.

A Narrative Model of Mediation.


The Relational Context of Narrative Mediation.

Disarming the Conflict.

Opening Space.

Building Momentum.

Getting Unstuck.

Documenting Progress.

About the Authors.


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First Chapter

Narrative Mediation: What Is It?

The universe is transformation: our life is what our thoughts make it.
(Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, "Meditations")

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.
(Hippocrates, "Precepts")

Greg wanted the custody of the children to be decided in the family court. "I'm sick of the bloody arguments," he said. "She keeps changing her bloody mind. One day she's all understanding and wanting me to be involved and the next day she's trying to keep me from having a say. I've had enough! I can't see how this mediation is going to make any difference. I don't want to have to rework this issue for one more day. She's made up her mind. It's like talking to a frigging brick wall. How are you going to make any difference? This mess has been going on for months!"

A Mediation Story

Greg was not enamored with the idea of mediation. (The comment at the beginning of this chapter is from his first meeting with the mediator.) He wanted a family court judge to put a stop to Fiona's "controlling and manipulative behavior." The judge would surely make a "sensible" decision and give Greg custody of the children. Greg was sure that the judge would understand his story.

Fiona had initiated the mediation. She had outlined to the mediator in a telephone conversation that she had interim custody of the three children and was highly motivated to avoid the agony of an expensive and lengthy court hearing. She did not think this ugly dispute was going to be solved by a judge. Fiona was also sick of Greg's threats. She knew he would tell the mediator that she deserved to lose all the children, that she was to blame for the breakup of their marriage of fourteen years. Fiona was most upset about how Greg would run her down in front of her friends in their small rural community. He would tell her friends that she had no morals and that she had deceived him when she had an affair with Greg's friend three years previously.

Fiona and Greg had a well-developed problem-saturated narrative about the conflict.2 Each described the other in unidimensional, fixed, and unyielding terms. Elements of this problem narrative had such a tangible and reified quality that both Fiona and Greg experienced their own storied account as the only true description of the events of the conflict.

The Storying Process

The narrative perception is that people tend to organize their experiences in story form. The narrative metaphor draws attention to the ways in which we use stories to make sense of our lives and relationships.3 People grow up amid a multitude of competing narratives that help shape how they see themselves and others. They tell stories about themselves and about others. They act both out of and into these stories, shaping the direction of the ongoing plot as they do so. Descriptions of problems are typically told in narrative terms. Such problem narratives have often been rehearsed and elaborated over and over again by participants in a conflict.

Beginning the Mediation

Greg was mandated to attend at least one mediation session before the matter could be taken further in the family court. Although he was reluctant to attend, he still had a lot to say about his present circumstances and about his desire for custody of the children.

Greg had established his own courier company over recent years and described not having the time he would have liked to spend with his children and, now, his ex-wife, Fiona. He reflected back on these times with some regrets. Yet there was a great deal he was proud of. He was now a self-made man. He enjoyed a very good income and employed a growing fleet of drivers and a competent administrative staff to cater to the demands of his burgeoning business. At first Greg was clear that his full commitment to his career and the establishment of a strong financial foundation were the best contributions he could have made to his family's development. He recollected clearly the financial struggles his parents had experienced in his early youth and the shame his father had suffered in barely managing to look after the basic needs of the family. Greg did not want to put his family through the money worries of his childhood. Indeed, Fiona had enjoyed a financially comfortable life with Greg in recent years and, while married, had needed to work only part-time, so she was able to follow interests outside of the family.

Greg and Fiona's children-Frank (fifteen), Jessie (eleven), and Thomas (six)-were receiving a high-quality education at a private school and had had some wonderful vacations with their mother in the last few years. Greg had missed most of these vacations because of the demands made on his time by work pressures. Clearly he regretted missing out on so much of the children's childhood. Earlier in the marriage he had wished that he was more nurturing toward Fiona, but now he was bitter about how she was behaving toward him. Greg was against the separation that Fiona had instigated some seven months before. Although he was still angry at her betrayal and the agitation she had caused him, he still loved her, he said.

Greg explained that it had taken time to build up his business. But now that it was virtually running itself, he imagined he could devote more time to the children, even if he couldn't be with Fiona. In fact, he saw that it was now his right to help shape the children's moral development.

Following his separation from Fiona, Greg had become reinvolved in a Christian fellowship from which he had been disengaged since his teens. He was keen to imbue a strong Christian presence into the children's lives. Greg explained that Fiona was now spending significant amounts of time socializing with friends and, in his view, was not providing the quality of care he thought the children deserved.

Greg was also agitated about the implications for his business of a matrimonial settlement that was still to be finalized through Greg's and Fiona's lawyers. Greg did not think Fiona was entitled to half of their assets. He felt it had been due to his own efforts that the business had gone so well. He recognized that legally he would very likely have to pay out a significant share to Fiona, but he wanted to minimize the size of this payout in order to maintain business solvency.

Greg was certainly unwilling to give up the family home. Fiona had moved into a two-bedroom apartment with Frank, Jessie, and Thomas. Greg, however, wanted the children to live with him in the family home. For her part, Fiona was convinced that the children were better off with her.

Opening Up Space in a Tightly Woven Story

Judgment and accusation are typically woven so tightly around the participants in a conflict that there does not seem to be any space for other descriptions of what has taken place or what could take place. We refer to these descriptions as totalizing descriptions; that is, they sum up a complex situation in one description that purports to give a total picture of the situation or of a person in it.4 Totalizing descriptions of the conflict and of the conflict's protagonists tend to become highly evolved before the mediator has an opportunity to be part of the conversation.

These strategies are elaborated in considerable detail in the following chapters. However, here we briefly introduce them in relation to the scenario presented earlier, to give you the flavor of the narrative mediation process.

Building the Relationship in Mediation

Building trust with each of the disputing parties is crucial to the successful outcome of any mediation. When people feel hurt by the actions of another, they tend to rework aspects of the conflict story to reinforce their own sense of injustice, betrayal, victimization, or mistreatment. The mediator can use the narrative metaphor to convey to each of the parties that the mediator has grasped the depth of their distress, without appearing to collude with each party's problem-saturated descriptions of the other.

Externalizing Conversations

Externalizing conversations, discussed in more detail in Chapter Six, are one of the most powerful methods that narrative practitioners can use to help disputing parties disidentify with the problem story and begin to develop shared meanings, understandings, and solutions.5 Externalizing conversations reverse the common logic in both popular and academic psychology that increasingly focuses explanations for events inside the person. Externalizing conversations focus attention on the relational domain. As mediators externalize a problem, they speak about it as if it were an external object or person exerting an influence on the parties but they do not identify it closely with one party or the other.

Mapping the Effects of the Conflict History on Disputing Parties

Fuller descriptions of what is going on give the mediator much more information about how individuals construct problem issues. In the case of Greg and Fiona, the mediator explored the effects of the problem-saturated story in order to gain a richer description of the parties' different understandings of the conflict.6 The mediator paid particular attention to fleshing out the history of this account of the problem. The ebb and flow of the conflict could then be storied from its origins in an externalized fashion to help the parties understand the impact that the evolution of the conflict had had on them.

Constructing Solution-Bound Narratives

It is significant for a mediator when one of the parties clearly states that he or she does not want to participate in escalating the conflict. This decision can open the door to a very different conversation. The mediator was now able to ask Greg if there had been any brief periods when there were interactions with Fiona in which he thought trust was building rather than diminishing. This move in narrative mediation is based on the notion that people in dispute are likely to have had experiences that were not completely dominated by the history of the conflict.7

Fiona's Account

A separate meeting was arranged with Fiona. The mediator asked her to express her views on the present difficulties and to provide a brief overview of the history of the conflict with Greg.

Fiona was adamant that her marriage was over. She described many years of feeling empty and alone in the marriage. She felt that Greg had been consistently emotionally unavailable for long periods. Even a short while after marrying, Fiona had noticed a change in Greg. She remembered that he had been very attentive, available, and loving when they had lived together. All that had seemed to change after they got married. Fiona described Greg as losing himself in his work. He would be gone early in the morning and would often return late in the evening. He would be exhausted and spend little time with the children, even though he cared about them. All of this discussion supported a view of the negative effects on Fiona of Greg's single-minded focus on being a successful material provider.

Fiona indicated that she was completely responsible for attending to the children's psychological and emotional needs. She would attend to their distress, deal with their disappointments and conflicts, and delight in their successes. She granted that Greg did his best to play with the children and attend school functions, but he was usually unavailable. Fiona claimed that Greg would often lose his patience with the children and become short-tempered and somewhat aggressive with them.

Fiona believed that in the early part of her marriage both she and Greg had expected that Fiona would be the homemaker and take charge of the domestic duties. She said they had never really negotiated this but had found themselves caught up in patterns that had been modeled by their parents. By adopting a curious and naive posture, the mediator helped Fiona to name how in both her and Greg's family of origin the women were primarily responsible for the psychological support of their husbands and children. Featured were traditional gendered patterns for the division of labor in which the male was responsible for the primary income and the female was responsible for the care of the home and the raising of the children.

The mediator asked Fiona what her attitude was toward these cultural imperatives. She felt resentful about her predicament and wished that she had been more assertive with Greg about what she wanted. She had dedicated herself to being a good mother and homemaker. She had done her best to be responsive and caring toward Greg, but she felt she had gotten little in return other than temporary financial security. Now that too was gone. She did not have a career and she wished that she had insisted on support from Greg to commence some studies. She felt betrayed by Greg's "neglect of the family's psychological needs." Fiona was now immediately faced with minimal income. She would get a meager financial benefit from the state and she could supplement this income with her part-time work.

Fiona felt entitled to at least half of the business assets because of the sacrifices she had made in raising the children and taking care of Greg's needs in the home. Yet she also felt guilty about the extra pressures this would put on Greg to find some way of keeping his business while dividing his assets in half to pay Fiona her share of the matrimonial property. This was an issue she would have to face.

Fiona was clear that Greg was in no position to have custody of the children. Currently he had the children in his care every second weekend and set aside one afternoon per week to spend time with them after school. In Fiona's view, the children did not want to live with their father, though she recognized that Jessie had a stronger psychological tie with Greg. Fiona thought that Jessie felt responsible for providing some care and company for her father. Jessie had said to Fiona that she was worried about her Dad living all alone and that he needed somebody to look after him. Fiona was strongly against splitting up the custodial care of the children.

Disassembling Cultural Prescriptions

Fiona had been positioned (not so much by Greg as by conventional cultural discourse) as the domestic server and social-emotional caregiver of the family. Throughout her marriage she had felt obliged to take complete care of the children's psychological well-being and had assumed that this was her primary role in life. She now realized that over the years this role had taken its toll. The moral weight of it was particularly burdensome, because there was no sign that Greg would be relieving her of this responsibility.

Naming Dominant Discourses

Because narrative mediators are interested in tracking the background narratives and identifying the themes that underpin the conflict, it is useful to record the dominant themes. Such recordings will of course be affected by the discursive themes that have an impact on the mediator. In the first session with Fiona, for example, the mediator noted the following background discursive themes that appeared to be a feature of her relationship with Greg:

It seemed that Fiona was still heavily influenced by these discursive influences. However, mapping their effects on her sharpened her sense of the cost that these cultural prescriptions were exacting from her sense of well-being. She was clear too that she did not have to keep subjecting herself to these cultural norms or continue to seek fulfillment through being a dutiful wife and partner. This knowledge had assisted her decision to create a life independent of Greg. The clarity she was gaining from the early mediation session was enabling her to be more consistent with Greg about her intentions.

A Deconstructive Conversation with Greg

The mediator met individually with both Greg and Fiona one more time before a joint session was held. Greg was not keen to meet with Fiona until he felt better prepared. From the mediator's perspective, there was potential value in strengthening Greg's degree of engagement in the mediation. The mediator also wanted an opportunity to understand further Greg's perspectives on the problem.

This discursive imperative often invokes a rigid position in a custodial conflict. In the second session with Greg, the mediator explored with him other possible discursive imperatives that were influencing his view of what he was entitled to. They identified the following background discourses:

The mediator then went on to explore with Greg the effects of the statement, "A good male provider is a good income earner." The mediator developed an externalizing conversation in order to name the effects of this particular discourse on Greg, Fiona, and the children.

A Deconstructive Conversation with Fiona

When the mediator met with Fiona again, they continued to develop the deconstructive conversation they had begun in their first meeting. Here two parts of that conversation are highlighted.

This kind of discursive analysis maps out the territory from which ways out of the conflict can be found. As we live, we "perform meaning" around such statements. We also offer one another positions from which to relate. The statements that embody dominant or alternative discourses are not compulsory requirements for living, however. As we weave stories around them, they come to express the realities of the relations between us.

Introducing the Children's Voices

One of the options in a situation like this, where two competing stories were casting the two protagonists, Greg and Fiona, into conflict with each other, was to widen the conversation and include other voices. Other voices would alter the dynamics; they would call forth new responses so that Greg and Fiona would not simply respond to each other's voices (and each other's discursive positions).

The Family Meeting

Greg, Fiona, and the children all attended the next session. The mediator invited the children to speak about their own views on their caregiving arrangements. It was clearly difficult for Jessie to talk. She did not want her father to think she was abandoning him. The mediator supported Jessie's desire not to say anything while Frank and Thomas made their views clear to their father. They spoke frankly about their wish to keep the caregiving arrangements the same.

Moving Toward Consensus

In two subsequent sessions, Fiona became more flexible in her dealings with Greg as he softened his formerly authoritative stance. The mediator exercised his curiosity about the details of their ideas about caregiving arrangements. This led them to develop greater fluidity in these arrangements, particularly in relation to holiday plans for the children.

Holding to the Preferred Story

Fiona and Greg were now beginning to disengage from their totalizing descriptions of the other as hurtful and destructive. They were developing more understanding of what it meant to move from a couple relationship to a parenting one. In other words, they were developing a different story about their relationship. It was the mediator's concern to keep asking questions to help them elaborate this story.

Thickening the Plot

It was quite understandable for Greg and Fiona to turn to the difficulties they were about to face in the next week. A degree of trust had developed in the mediation sessions that provided safety for them to talk about these difficult issues that would otherwise be too upsetting to discuss on their own. Although they were ready to focus on the matrimonial property issues, the mediator wanted to stay with reflecting on the changes Greg and Fiona were making in their relationship. He felt that this discussion would give more fullness to the positive parenting narrative they were establishing for themselves and their children. "Thickening the plot" of the preferred narratives of a parenting partnership, would, the mediator believed, serve them both well in managing the difficult matrimonial property issues.14

I think I am a quite trusting and forgiving person deep down and I am also beginning to appreciate that Greg sincerely believed that the way he was being a father of the children in our marriage was motivated by his best intentions. It has helped me see another side of him that I couldn't see before. However, too much has happened to want to try again. I guess that is just the way it is.

Well, all I can say is that it has been a painful experience that I never want to repeat. I've learned a lot going through this and I can't say I am fully there yet. I have been really knocked around by this whole issue. However, I think I am a better man for it. I would like to think that I have the ability to put my family first, and under the circumstances I think I have taken a pretty unselfish view of things. I know that the financial settlement issues will hit me hard, but they have to be faced, and I now say the sooner the better so I can pick up my life again and go on.

Storying the Future

These statements were enormously important because they were to help Greg and Fiona construct a positive foundation from which to tackle some of the more difficult issues they were about to face. I asked them whether they had learned some strategies that would help them deal with the challenging matrimonial property issues. Greg thought they had moved their relationship into a parenting and business partnership and, because they had built a greater degree of trust, he was not anticipating major problems with the property settlement. Already he was preparing to work with Fiona so that she would receive a just share of their assets. Greg wanted Fiona to be fairly resourced so that she could purchase her own home, one that would be much more appropriate for the children. Fiona, for her part, was going into the deliberations with the confidence that she was seeking a just share of their joint assets, and she was going to take considerable care in the way this would be handled.

This is also the end of the first chapter. No doubt this chapter has raised many questions about the narrative approach to mediation. We have made many allusions without providing full explanations. Our purpose has been to whet your appetite. The story we have told serves an introductory purpose for this book. We want it to convey a flavor rather than amount to complete coverage. In the next chapter we explain how a narrative approach is built on assumptions different from those that underlie the problem-solving approach. We then turn to a theoretical review of narrative mediation that underpins all of the important moves and strategies taken up in the mediation process. Later we speak more about the practice aspects of crafting a narrative conversation.

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