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Mediation is the process adopted by a third party to reconcile two or more people or groups which have a dispute over something. It involves deliberation of the outcomes that may or may not necessarily be liked by the opposing faction but nonetheless would bring about a harmonious coexistence between them. The process of mediation, the approach and the envisaged outcomes are all the brainchild of the arbitrator but not the contending parties. Numerous approaches to mediation exist; however, the choice is at the discretion of the mediator as long as they yield the expected results which are binding to the competing factions. This essay examines the similarities and differences in three mediation approaches namely problem solving, transformative, and narrative approach.
Similarities and Differences between Problem Solving, Transformative and Narrative Approaches of Mediation
Problem Solving Approach
Problem solving mediation technique is a commonly embraced approach by mediation practitioners especially in North America, who view conflict in terms of presenting a problem that requires a solution (Moore, 2003). They then seriously choreograph ways of reframing the said conflict in a manner that enables a mutually acceptable solution for the warring factions. Just like transformative and narrative mediation approaches, problem solving technique may lead to lasting peace and consensus between the afflicted parties (Moore, 2003). However, the difference with it is that arbitrators would often assess the magnitude of the conflict between the two parties and help them to redefine their dispute in terms of a problem. This therefore marks the starting point for solution finding, which would be satisfactory to the interests of both sides through interactive bargaining.
The objective of this approach is usually to help parties at loggerheads to generate a mutually acceptable settlement of the dispute at their disposal. The arbitrator is then actively involved in facilitating the outcome by ensuring that parties only focus on negotiable interests as non-negotiable ones are discarded. Here the parties are also discouraged from delving into the past differences for that may hamper mediation process, instead they are encouraged to dwell on what they want in future and how their interests can be met simultaneously (McElroy, 2012).
In some cases, the arbitrator may suggest a solution and strive to coerce the disputants to adopt it. Once that is done, the mediator would then set deadlines as a way of inducing these parties to expeditiously progress towards an agreement. The practitioners are fully in control of the mediation process as well the substance of discussions and would often determine the kind of agreement to be reached by the disputants; whose focus is narrowed to resolvable issues alone but not the areas of disagreement where consensus is hardly achievable.
Apart from that, there is the transformative approach of mediation which was suggested by a renowned practitioner, Heidi Burgess in 1970s. Unlike the problem solving approach, this approach does not seek the solution of the problem at hand, but rather the mediator is charged with the responsibility of recognizing and empowering the involved parties to enable them define issues in their dispute and find solutions on their own. Each disputant is guided into seeing and understanding the other person’s point of view by acknowledging and empathizing with the situation and problems of the fellow disputant.
The transformative approach does not suggest engineering for a solution like in problem solving, but journeys with the disputants in seeing and understanding why the opponent may feel and act in a particular way (McElroy, 2012). Each of them is also helped to evaluate the extent of their own behavior in influencing the other party’s reaction. They are helped to approach the problem at hand, as well as the future problems strongly and openly, and the arbitrator restrains himself from holding the responsibility of the outcome of mediation.
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Disputants are made to understand that recognition is a give-and-take principle. This arouses the sense of value and strength in an individual giving them capacity to handle their own problems in life. Through the approach, disputants are able to gain more clarity about their objectives, preferences, options and resources and use the information to make rational and deliberate decisions to solve the dispute without external influence.
Summarily, the transformative approach to mediation adjoins skill-based empowerment that enriches disputants’ skills in conflict resolution, in which they acquire listening skills and analytical skills for evaluating alternatives and make decisions in a more effective style than before. The consensus reached in this approach is more likely to thrive longer than the consensus reached through problem solving since in the transformative approach the final decision is free from the mediator’s influence.
Finally, the narrative approach which was developed in the mid-1980s by Australian nationals, Michael White and David Epston, is among the approaches that some mediation practitioners embrace (McElroy, 2012). This regards mediation as a story telling process serving one’s ethical mandate, which means participation in the process, as well as the pragmatic mandate that depicts shifting from story to the settlement of the dispute. Unlike the problem solving and transformative approaches, stories given by the conflicting parties in narrative approach act like theories of responsibility. They logically create pivotal connections between players, their activities and possible consequences.
In a mediation process, disputants develop, modify and contest narratives interactively with each other in a manner that tends to categorize them as victim and protagonist. Here the mediator seeks to destabilize those ‘theories of responsibility’ that simultaneously serve to justify one’s point of view and unjustify the point of view of the opponent. The mediation will help the disputants to end their previous interpretation of the conflict and open new possibilities of new account and mutually gratifying interpretations and outcomes.
The approach serves as the methodology that provides mediators with a way of incorporating stories into the structure of mediation in which accounts of events that lead to the conflict are linked to one’s point of view and so to the expected outcome of mediation (Winslade & Monk 2001). Just like in the transformative approach, here clients are guided to identify and find solutions to their own problems without being coaxed by mediation practitioners. Mediators decline in doing so because they acknowledge the fact that influencing the disputant’s thoughts amounts to changing his identities via active and imaginative endeavor; which does not give a true reflection of the reality on the ground. The ventilation into the matter by the warring factions is what ensures lasting credible and sustainable solutions because it is arrived at by their own initiatives, efforts and skills of resolution.
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The aforementioned approaches are pertinent since they all are geared towards acquiring peace and reconciliation between parties that are in dispute. All of them involve the disputants and the mediator who often comes in as a third party. However, they differ prominently in the manner in which they are administered by arbitrators and the way disputants are involved in the process of finding a solution to their dispute. The most appropriate approach is the transformative approach since it equips disputants with skills for not only finding a solution to the problem but also sustaining the same solution beyond mediation. The fact that warring factions have thoroughly been involved in sorting out their own differences is sufficient to guarantee that the consensus reached will be perpetual unlike when they would have been coerced into reconciling.
In the problem solving approach, the solution is centered around the mediator, not the disputant. This means that mediation is more orchestrated to serve the interest of arbitrators but not the disputants themselves. It is therefore unsuitable where lasting solutions are direly considered.
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