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Adding Complexity to Conflict Narratives

Adding Complexity to Conflict Narratives

How does adding complexity to the story help identify the interests of the parties?



Full Transcript

At this point, I wouldn’t actually ask them about interests. I just want to complicate the story. The typical things that I look out for are missing characters. Usually there are more characters than the heroine and the villain, the person in front of me and the bad guy. But they often don’t get talked about unless they are the henchmen of the villain or the supporter of the heroine. There’s no one in between. So I spend a long time asking about who else is involved and what else they might have been doing and seeing. In melodramatic narratives, there are usually very quick leaps of behaviour that are very simplified. I’ll slow it down a lot and say, ‘so when you first met them, what happened? You said there was an interaction. Tell me what they said and then what did you say?’


Heroines, the clients who are in that role tend to skim over their behaviour a lot. Their behaviour often doesn’t work to their advantage because they have to admit that they’re not perfect, so I spend a lot of time saying ‘And what do you do then? What exactly did you do in response and how did you react to that?’ I spend a lot of time focusing on them, but I do it in a way, so, ‘Okay, and what happened then?’ In a very curious, kind of confused way so that they don’t feel like I’m challenging them. I’m on their side. I’m just trying to really understand as much detail as possible.


Yeah and I spend a lot of time saying things like, ‘Tell me more about that. Can you explain that a little more?’ I use a lot of generic phrases that encourage them just to elaborate as they see fit. I won’t say, ‘Did you say this or what did you do when that happened?’ I’ll use very vague, confused statements just to encourage them to elaborate.


What I want them to do is feel like I’m completely on their side. At the moment, they’re probably still hopeful I might be able to save them, but what I’m doing at this point is showing that I’m completely on their side and I’m really trying to understand what exactly has happened. Also after that, I’ll actually be asking them some questions about what the impact of that has been. ‘What’s happened? And why does this all matter to you? What does this mean for you?’ I’m really there with them saying ‘I really want to know what it’s like to be you, what’s happened and how you feel about it now and then we’ll see what we can do.’ And they’re probably still hoping I’ll come up with some amazing solution and I’m certainly not encouraging that, but at the moment I’m just making sure that they know I’m on side, trying to get them to elaborate their story and giving them opportunities to recognise that there’s maybe a bit more to it than what they’ve been telling themselves for a while.


I’m really there with them, but while I’m doing that, I’m also kind of subtly encouraging them to elaborate the story. It’s sort of like they’ve been walking through their story with a very blinkered view on the world and as they walk along I say, ‘Hey wait what’s this over here? You just mentioned this. Tell me more about this thing over here. And oh, you said this. Tell me about that thing over there.’ I’m kind of encouraging them to look a little more widely as their really walking that well worn path and helping them get to notice things that they kind of knew were there but just haven’t been paying attention to. Just feeling out the missing bits of that story.

About the mediator

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Dr Sam Hardy is a leader in the field of conflict resolution and has been described as both a practical thinker and a thinking practitioner.
 She has advanced postgraduate qualifications including a PhD in
 conflict resolution as well as many years of international experience as 
a conflict resolution practitioner. Sam has been mediating since she completed her original mediation training in 1997, and she is a Nationally Accredited Mediato... View Mediator