Helping people move further away from what produces conflict and closer to the relationships they prefer is what narrative mediation seeks to produce. Conflict resolution through the lens of social construction, and framed as narrative mediation, offers that conflict between individuals is usually constructed within a larger community context.
Season 5 is a Collaboration with the Taos Institute
This season of the Positivity Strategist podcast is a collaboration with the Taos Institute. We’re focusing on the topic of Constructionist Practices as Social Innovation. My guests in this season are Taos Institute Associates who’ve contributed to The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice. [Links are listed below.]
Author Bio and Chapter Title
John Winslade Ph.D. is a counselor educator who has specialized in the application of narrative ideas in conflict resolution. During the late 1990s he was Director of Counseling Education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. In 2003, he moved to the United States where he became the Associate Dean of the College of Education. Now an emeritus professor, he is back to New Zealand. He has co-written a great number of books and many chapters and articles on the subjects of narrative therapy, narrative mediation and conflict resolution, grief therapy, multicultural counseling and education.
With his colleague, Gerald Monk, Ph.D., he co-authored the chapter on “Narrative Mediation” for The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice. Their chapter, which is the topic of this interview focuses on re-authoring conflict stories. (In fact, John co-authored two chapters in the Sage Handbook.)
Two Chapters – Title 1: Narrative Mediation, co-authored with Gerald Monk, Ph.D. Title 2: School Counseling, co-authored with Michael Williams
Relanguaging “Conflict” to “Difference”
John offers the perspective that conflict is better thought of as difference. There are multiple ways to value difference. Growing up amid cultural diversity, as he did in New Zealand, John has witnessed how the indigenous Māori and the European settlers continue to learn to live together with difference. He is cognizant of the dominant discourse of both cultures and how both are valid and valued as different and separate.
John recounts one of his experiences of conflict regarding a member of the Māori community losing her job at a local school. He outlines the process of narrative mediation between a school board and members of her Māori community. Both parties were in different rooms while the negotiation was going on. Messages were relayed back and forth and when a mediator switched the question of whether or not racism was present and asked “what can be done to reduce racism?” the conversation shifted from what was perceived to be the issue to the real issue that produced a satisfactory outcome for all. The deeper socio-cultural narrative that underscored both groups surfaced and they were collaboratively able to re-author the conflict. This is the intent of narrative mediation.
The field of conflict resolution has grown considerably and narrative approaches have also diversified and developed over time. The intention of narrative mediation as a process is:
- The creation of an alternative relationship story
- The deconstruction of the problem story; and
- The opening of space for people to make discursive shifts
Each of these three stages are nuanced and multi-layered. In the The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice, the authors offer a scenario set in a university which serves to outline three stages of narrative mediation. There is one mediator in this particular case; in other cases there are often more mediators.
- The mediator conducts separate meetings with the conflicted parties
- A joint meeting follows
- Follow-up meetings with both parties are scheduled to encourage shared understanding is reached and agreements honored
The process gives space to surface what stories might be swirling around in each of the participants that inform the dominant discourse that gives rise to the conflict. The intention is to achieve the kind of new relationship that will support the participants going forward and reach a satisfactory situation for all.
The role of the mediator
The mediator usually meets first with each party separately. It’s a way to develop trust and empathy and to diffuse some of the tension before the joint meeting. It is only in the following sessions that space is made to explore the counter stories. Best practices in narrative therapy suggest bringing more people into the conversation: 5, 10 or even 20. This prevents the isolation of one person and enables the work to be centered on the relationships between people, or groups of people.
Skills of narrative mediation
Over the years, the focus has been on developing ideas rather than on teaching specific skills, however, double listening, externalizing, investigating the problem story, and building a counter story are all key practices that can be learned. Most important is for mediators to find their community so they can participate in conversations with others who are interested in this work.
Shifting The Dominant Discourse
The power of dominant discourse is what gets in the way of relational and collaborative practices. It’s the dominant discourse that perpetuates the old stories which fuel the conflict. Discourse needs to be understood in terms of: What is the background discourse? How familiar are people with that discourse? And what is unique to the particular context in which the parties find themselves?
For instance, many young people enter marriage and start a family with the discourse put forth by fairy tales or Hollywood movies rather than with expectations based on the actual socio-cultural background of the individuals. At the core of narrative mediation is the intention to put the discourse back into the culture where it belongs, thereby eliminating blame. Through the practice of externalizing, one can ask about the effects of that discourse and move toward the alternative stories of collaboration.
In order to amplify relational and collaborative practices to help resolve conflicts and re-story narratives across the world, finding groups where we can have conversations that pay attention to the dominant cultural stories facilitates opportunities to connect with the counter stories that bring hope for the change that is desired.
Connect to Authors
John has authored and co-authored many books, papers and articles some of which are linked below.
- The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice
- Four Books that John has co-authored available at The Taos Institute
- Three Books John has co-authored with Gerald Monk
- Narrative Counseling in Schools