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Narrative Mediation Skills and Techniques

Narrative Mediation Skills and Techniques

What are some important skills and techniques used in narrative mediation?

 

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It’s very easy to say, ‘Yes, people come with problem-saturated stories. It creates a very rigid, very inflexible dynamic.’ Yes, we all know that. It’s all very well and easy to say that what you’re interested in doing, as a narrative mediator, is to be able to look at plot elements. Events that are not captured by the problem-saturated narrative, bring those forward, link those together and to help generate and create a new narrative . . . A narrative that can build some kind of shared understanding, or to start moving towards respect, start to build the beginnings of trust.

 

All very easy to say that, but this is really difficult to do. This is really hard. When people are really stuck, they’re not looking for anything else. They’re not seeing anything else. They don’t know anything else exists, other than this person is this despicable being and that they have done all these terrible things.

 

What we’ve done, and it draws heavily on the therapeutic work in narrative, is develop a set of techniques. One is, I’ve been speaking about is narrative mapping, drawing on Gregory Bateson’s work. The other is deconstructive listening, looking at the background social forces, the cultural mappings, the effects of culture on people’s understanding about what’s going on.

 

A simple example: early in our marriage, my wife and I conflicted about people coming to stay in our home. I come from New Zealand. I have family there. In New Zealand, when we travel to the other side of the world, we stay with relatives maybe for a month, maybe for six weeks. It takes a long time to get there. It costs a lot of money. My wife was so shocked early on in our marriage to think that I would have family members and friends staying in our home for one month, or even longer. She couldn’t get her head around that.

 

She couldn’t get how I would want to do that, how intrusive and disrespectful and rude that would be, to have a visitor or a family member stay that long. I said, ‘How long does your family stay with you when they visit?’

 

‘A maximum of four days. We couldn’t stand it any longer than that.’

 

Initially it was like, ‘That feels very hurtful that you wouldn’t want my family to visit with me. They’re coming a long way. That’s not very kind and thoughtful. That we would welcome my family that they would be very comfortable here for a period of time.’ She said, ‘It’s so thoughtless of you and selfish that you would have family members imposing on our lives for that kind of period. That’s so rude and thoughtless.’

 

As we started to deconstruct, that really wasn’t about either of us being selfish or some kind of characterological [inaudible 00:46:54] problem about one another. It’s really about the cultural meanings that we made about why we felt so fiercely passionate about this and why this conflict went on for some time.

 

So deconstructive listening is looking at, ‘How did you come to that idea that you care so strongly about that and you think of me in this way?’ That would be an example of deconstruction, simply.

 

The third technique I wanted to mention is this technique we call ‘double listening’. All mediators know about active listening and reflecting back what people are saying. You paraphrase, you summarise, you identify theorems, and these kind of things. We’re interested not only in all of that, but we’re interested in double listening. We’re always listening for the not-yet-said or what is implied.

 

When you say, ‘It’s not fair. It’s unjust,’

‘Tell us about fairness. Tell us about justice.’

‘They were really rude.’

‘What is not rude like? Tell us about what you would prefer, that’s not what that is.’ We’re always looking and listening for the contrasting reflections.

 

Then we’re writing those down and noting them. In the separate sections, we’re noting them and pulling them together. We’re also noting them in the joint session in the moment to moment exchanges. That, we have found, is incredibly helpful. Again, it’s all about timing of when you do these things.

 

Lastly, I think what narrative work is most widely known for is the externalising language, externalising the problem. The problem is the problem. The person is not the problem. What are the externalising issues? When we’re in a conflict as mediators, we’re dealing with issues of betrayal, issues of distrust, unfairness, injustice. We’re looking at, ‘What are the effects of betrayal on you and on this conflict? What are the effects of distrust had on you coming to some sense of agreement or sense of understanding?’

 

We’re constantly externalising the problem and its effects on the parties. They don’t typically use this language, but it starts to loosen up space for them to move away from what we call these essentialising, totalising descriptions of the other to something that is a little bit more nuanced, that there are some spaces that they haven’t thought about before, new entry points that haven’t been considered.

 

As they go, realising that the suffering that the other party is engaged in, especially when we’re dealing with conflicts that I’ve said are involved in parties that have got some stake in some kind of ongoing relational space rather than, say, an insurance company that’s paying out some money to someone who was an accident victim.

 

The insurance company doesn’t care about the person. They just want to know what financially is it going to take. The agent isn’t going to be personally hurt, although the company might be affected by how much it’s going to cost them.

 

We really, as much as possible, want to look at the effects of problems on persons. Those would be some of the techniques that really stand out in our practice.

About the mediator

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Gerald Monk is a Professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at San Diego State University and teaches in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program. He is a practicing Marriage and Family Therapist in California and a mediator and trainer in collaborative divorce practices and mediation in health care. He has worked as a psychologist and counselor educator in New Zealand for fifteen years prior to moving to the United States ... View Mediator