Positions and Interests

A discussion of the role of positions and interests in mediation and the role which fear plays in keeping conflict alive.

Cocktail talk around the issue of mediation invariably gives rise to someone sharing about how much they hate conflict and how they would much rather run away from a potential explosive situation then deal with it head on. Statements such as these are often met with nods of widespread approval. In many respects this peace-at-all costs stance adopted so casually by many is however questionable … especially when one meets up with these vociferous proponents of peace at some later stage in the corridors of the court-house only to find out about the long drawn out civil dispute they are engaged in against a third party.

If the dislike of conflict is an almost universal issue then why is there so much conflict around us? and what is it that keeps people entrenched in cycles of conflict?

One look at the morning news is enough to lead one to the conclusion that the World is in a mess and that in reality, there are clearly too few people in the World who hate conflict enough to stop its occurrence. Moral issues, religious issues, cultural issues, territorial integrity and plain old personal affront seem to be the seeds from which a harvest of retribution is often reaped much to the distress of the vulnerable and innocent.

The focus of this article is not to air opinion on politics, policy or World issues (which in many respects are inextricably linked to the conflict triggers noted above) but rather to look critically at conflict in the home and in one’s working environment and to assess whether we are just paying lip-service to a generalised dislike of conflict when in fact we are quite eager to roll-up our sleeves when our own issues rise to the surface.

No doubt the experts on this issue would have a field day populating any such discussion with lengthy “scientific” writings on the why’s and wherefore’s of conflict which in turn has the potential to cause more conflict on conflict itself but in a nutshell, when one gets down to grassroots on this issue – Conflict turns on the Pivot of Fear.

People fight because they are afraid. Fear is the motivator

Fear … of emotional death

Fear … of financial devastation

Fear … of change

Fear … of loss of personal integrity, reputation and standing.

The list goes on …

People remain in conflict – despite their potential abhorrence of conflict – not because they are driven to maintain the status quo but because of the overriding prevalence of such fears. Within the legal process this is often compounded by the fear of loss of face in the event of being the first to extend an olive branch of peace towards a belligerent adversary.

In inter-personal mediation it is of critical importance that mediators understand the underlying issue preventing conflict resolution and assist clients in moving from positions to needs and beyond. Allowing clients the privilege of uninterrupted thought and verbalization during this process is an essential element in uncovering the deeper layers of emotional content driving conflict and keeping people enmeshed therein.

Clearly this process is not applicable for all mediation matters but certainly its impact in inter-personal and family mediations cannot be under-estimated, particularly in the transformative mediation model. Fear is undoubtedly one of the most primal and hidden of the emotions experienced by mankind – sensitive handling of this issue within the mediation process has the greatest potential for relationship reconciliation and mutually beneficial outcomes, even in the eventuality of divorce, separation or termination of future working relationship.

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