Psychology & Mediation – Power Duo

By Pedro A Jedlicka –

“What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know”. St Augustine*

Something similar happens with the notion of “Conflict”. We can all be clear about its meaning. We live in polarizing times, which at least allow us to become very familiar with this notion. However, and without asking Google for help, how difficult it is to build a definition of “Conflict” in our own words?

Stop! Let’s not look at the definition yet. It is not what matters most here. Let us focus on our first reaction to that notion. What is a conflict for you? What other concepts or notions can you connect or relate with it? What is your reaction to that word? Do you associate it with positive or negative sensations? Let us think about this for a minute.

I believe we can all agree that the notion of conflict is generally received with a negative reaction. It is usually related to problems, fights, battles, irreconcilable differences, distancing, and many other negative connotations. Although we know that many others, in smaller percentages, give it a positive meaning because they associate it with opportunities for growth or transformation.

Both can be correct: the notion of conflict is essentially subjective. It is not positive or negative in itself. And it is very dynamic. It adapts to the perception that each one may have of a certain situation at any given moment, which may even change over time. Hence, it is said that the conflict is in the mind of the people and not in the objective reality.

That is why, I really like the concept of conflict suggested by Caivano, Gobbi and Padilla**: “Conflict is a perceived divergence of interests”

This concept highlights the element of perception. It does not matter whether such divergences are connected to existing differences in the objective reality.

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are — or as we are conditioned to see it.” Stephen R. Covey***

Reality is complex, and we do not fully know it. We only perceive a very small portion of that immensity. Additionally, each human being interprets and attributes meaning to the reality they perceive, based on her own life, her own experiences, education, values, principles, culture, customs, expectations, emotions, concerns or fears. This is what makes us unique.

It might be simple to understand this situation. However, in my experience, we rarely question the accuracy of our interpretation of a certain reality, leaving little room for curiosity to understand how different the interpretation that each party may have of one situation might be.

On the contrary, we take for granted that we see things as they are. Any approach that may differ from our perception must be mistaken or false. Or at least very strange.

This becomes more complex if we take into account that our own human nature makes us emotional and sentimental beings. Those emotions, which may be positive or negative, also influence-sometimes too much-the way we perceive and interpret reality.

It is critical for a mediator to begin every approach to the parties following this understanding. In fact, curiosity may become a great tool for mediators. Especially, as a very effective way to block our biases.
We will talk a little more about this subject, in future publications.

* Augustine (2006). The Confessions. Ed. Michael P. Foley. Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company.
** Caivano, Roque J.,Gobbi, Marcel & Padilla, Roberto E. (2006). Negociacion y Mediacion. Buenos Aires: Ed. Ad-Hoc.
*** Covey, Stephen (2009). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: RosettaBooks LLC