Conflict is an inevitable fact of life, whether it occurs between couples or within or between companies and countries. The effective resolution of conflict is a growing field of study with many unanswered questions. What does it mean to come to a fair and equitable resolution? How do we measure fairness? How do mediators focus attention at the outset of a session?
Disputants come to mediation intensely focused on wrongs, real or perceived, that create the basis of the conflict. Is it the responsibility of the professional mediator to identify the agenda items, which include the perceived list of wrongs by each party. The mediator is also charged with listening to potential solutions suggested by the disputants and helping them shift focus from the inherent aggression of a conflict to the softer focus of a compromise and solution. How then, will the mediator best assist disputants to slow down and push a metaphorical “cognitive pause” with their current grievances? These are the questions President of Mediators Without Borders, Shauna Ries and Professor Susan Harter grappled with as they sought to create a conflict analysis model that measured client understanding and, ultimately, mediator efficacy.
inAccord, as the name implies, is designed to move discord to agreement. Our three phase design encourages disputants to find connections on commonalities as opposed to a divide and conquer mentality. Our guiding principles include a psychological foundation of transparency and empowerment, while exploring the role of emotions in the particular conflict. In the first phase, the mediator administers survey instruments to identify the disputants’ conflict style, their emotional level regarding the dispute, and their expectations of the inAccord mediation process. The mediator is then able to discern, based on the emotional levels of each disputant, whether to use a more relational or directive approach as they facilitate the case. The heart of the intervention is in stage two, where we have identified 4 measurable facilitative stages wherein the mediator seeks to empower the disputants through instruction of the Touchstone Skills, which include Questioning, Reflecting and Reframing techniques. Each stage includes an understanding and satisfaction survey that informs the mediator if the disputants are ready to progress to the next stage. Finally, in phase three of the inAccord model, disputants self-report their emotional level and fill out a post survey that measures whether their expectations were met. Our research has demonstrated that most disputants report more empowering emotions than were reported at the outset of the mediation.