Narrative Mediation - An Approach to Conflict Resolution

13 August, 2020
Narrative mediation is an approach based on the power of the spoken word. The goal of this method is to use personal narrative to help all of the parties involved in a conflict see the situation from a different perspective.
 

Narrative mediation is a conflict resolution technique that’s based on how people structure and describe the discrepancies or contradictions they’re immersed in. It’s important to mention that personal language reflects how an individual sees the world, which tends to give valuable clues about the true nature of a conflict.

Generally speaking, narrative mediation is useful for getting each party to express their interests and personal needs. That way, facilitators can deconstruct individual narratives in order to resolve the issue in a way that favors intrapersonal and interpersonal understanding.

Conflict resolution begins when you identify the root cause of the problem. For example, maybe you believe that you’re upset with someone because they aren’t collaborating with you. However, narrative mediation can help you discover that what’s actually bothering the other person is the way that you ask them to collaborate. This shows that, if you can encourage people to tell their side of the story and then analyze the way that they narrate their conflict, these types of details float to the surface.

Two people talking.
 

The basic concepts of narrative mediation

In order to understand narrative mediation, you first have to be familiar with a few concepts that are inherent to this method:

  • Conflict narrative. The way in which each person creates a story of the conflict. It gives clues about the elements and aspects they consider problematic and defines their position.
  • Alternate narrative. The ideal situation that would allow all parties to overcome the conflict. Again, all parties use personal language to express what they want and what they’re willing to do to find a solution.
  • Meta-narratives. The rules and values that implicitly appear in the conflict narrative and in the alternate narrative.

Narrative elements

The characteristics of the stories people tell about a conflict is another important aspect of narrative mediation. These elements are the foundation for the deconstruction process of the real conflict. The characteristic elements are the following:

  • Storyline. The way an individual generally describes the cause of the problem, the change that led to the conflict, the complicating factors, and what would make a solution possible.
  • Subject. The concrete aspect the conflict is about.
  • Context. The physical and social surroundings where the problem takes place.
  • Characters. Everyone involved in the conflict (in one way or another).

One person’s narrative of a problematic situation is usually very different from another person’s. It often seems as if they’re talking about two completely different issues.

 
A couple's therapist using narrative mediation.

Narrative mediation techniques

Narrative mediation uses many techniques to resolve conflicts. The ultimate goal is to build a common narrative that all the parties can agree on. Also, this narrative should represent everyone and lead to a unified alternate narrative. To do that, mediators can use one or several of the following techniques:

  • Double listening. It involves taking note of one person’s negative descriptions and making them positive. For example, a statement such as “Her selfishness bothers me” becomes “I’d like her to be more generous”.
  • Paraphrasing. Here, the mediator synthesizes what each person narrates as much as possible. They use the storyline as a foundation and summarize the root cause, the change, and the complicating factors. This encourages each party to listen to each other through the mediator.
  • Reconsideration. It consists of taking note of the aggressive expressions that the different parties use and re-use them in a conciliatory way. For example, if someone says “He’s a liar“, the mediator intervenes with a phrase similar to this one “Maybe what you mean is that you perceive some inconsistencies in what he’s saying”.
 
  • Externalization. The mediator helps the parties identify the most negative feeling the opposing party is causing. For example, if the feeling is anger, the parties participating in the conflict resolution will delve deeper into their experience of that anger and how it manifests itself.
  • Inclusion of other narratives. This is similar to a role-playing technique. The mediator asks the involved parties to put themselves in the shoes of a neutral party to see the conflict from another perspective. For example, what would a police officer say about what you just told us?

Conclusions

All of these techniques seek to deconstruct each party’s narrative. The goal is to make the narratives more open, flexible, and understandable for everyone involved. These techniques tend to work well in organizational contexts.

 

Garrido Soler, S., & Munuera Gómez, P. (2014). Contra la neutralidad. Ética y estética en el modelo circular-narrativo de mediación de conflictos. Revista Telemática de Filosofía del Derecho, (17), 139-166.