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Disputes Suitable for Narrative Mediation

Disputes Suitable for Narrative Mediation

Are there certain types of dispute where a narrative approach to mediation is particularly effective?



Full Transcript

I think the range of questions that a narrative mediator asks, which are questions that oftentimes pick up threads that people may not have paid attention to before, I think there are settings where people don’t want other people to pick up any threads, and some of those are contract business settings for instance, you know, where they expect to have ‘Just the facts, ma’am,’ and everybody’s dressed in three piece suits and there’s a lot of money at stake, and they don’t want the sort of real, they might not be explicitly de-legitimising the other, but they’re just talking about the facts of the contract and this other person didn’t comply and they don’t even really care why they didn’t comply. They just want it to comply.


So those aren’t very developed stories, many of those business contract disputes, are not very developed stories. So, I’ve found that some of the narrative mediation that I’ve done, in some of those cases, I felt like just didn’t quite fit.


But I think that, I did a really interesting case with a very large construction dispute, and I went into it thinking ‘Oh, this isn’t going to work because it’s just too people-oriented narrative mediation for some of these more legalistic kind of problems.’


I was worried about it, and it was just phenomenal, because I ended up, this long story that the contractor told about what they were trying to do, and when they first went into contracting, and sort of the history of his own relationship to his work that I didn’t anticipate he was going to, was going to show up, and that altered everything. That story changed everything. And it was, again, picking up that little note of a piccolo in the back, and then expanding that changed the tenor of the whole music that we heard. And I was very surprised. So it actually challenged some of my assumptions there about that. But most conflicts that I deal with are, let’s say, identity-based, protracted, violent conflicts, and this works beautifully.


This narrative mediation worked beautifully, in that, not because you can put the principals together, but I can put different groups of people I can work with and then begin to design processes to bring representatives from those different stakeholder groups together.


I’ve done other work on, for instance, protracted conflict here in the United States on climate change, working with groups that have deep divisions inside of them where people, some people think they are, there is, it exists, and other people think climate change doesn’t exist, and I do just simply facilitated conversations, and that never rises to the level of mediation because there’s no discreet problem that’s formulated, so I think there’s sort of gradations of narrative work in the sense of some work actually terminates in agreements and is intended to, and other work just is facilitated conversations.

About the mediator

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Dr. Sara Cobb, (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, Amherst) is a Professor at The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University, where she was also the Director for 8 years. In this context she teaches and conducts research on the relationship between narrative and violent conflict; she is also the Director of the Center for the Study of Narrative and Conflict Resolution at S-CAR that provides a hub for scholarsh... View Mediator