Transformative Approaches to Conflict

Burgess, Heidi/Burgess, Guy
Transformative Approaches to Conflict. 1997
Though transformative mediation has roots that go back to the 1970s, the term and approach have been brought to the fore by the publication of Baruch Bush and Joe Folger's book The Promise of Mediation in 1994. This book contrasts two different approaches to mediation: problem-solving and transformative. The goal of problem solving mediation is generating a mutually acceptable settlement of the immediate dispute. Problem solving mediators are often highly directive in their attempts to reach this goal--they control not only the process, but also the substance of the discussion, focusing on areas of consensus and "resolvable" issues, while avoiding areas of disagreement where consensus is less likely. Although all decisions are, in theory, left in the hands of the disputants, problem solving mediators often play a large role in crafting settlement terms and obtaining the parties' agreement.

The transformative approach to mediation does not seek resolution of the immediate problem, but rather, seeks the empowerment and mutual recognition of the parties involved. Empowerment, according to Bush and Folger, means enabling the parties to define their own issues and to seek solutions on their own. Recognition means enabling the parties to see and understand the other person's point of view--to understand how they define the problem and why they seek the solution that they do. (Seeing and understanding, it should be noted, do not constitute agreement with those views.) Often, empowerment and recognition pave the way for a mutually agreeable settlement, but that is only a secondary effect. The primary goal of transformative medition is to foster the parties' empowerment and recognition, thereby enabling them to approach their current problem, as well as later problems, with a stronger, yet more open view. This approach, according to Bush and Folger, avoids the problem of mediator directiveness which so often occurs in problem-solving mediation, putting responsibility for all outcomes squarely on the disputants.

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