Log in

Log in

Discover ISCT

<< First  < Prev   1   2   Next >  Last >> 
  • September 12, 2023 1:49 PM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    International Conference on Transformative Practice Coming to Czech Republic

    By Dan Simon

    Brno, Czech Republic will host the latest conference on Transformative Mediation, Coaching and Dialogue in November. Conflict transformation enthusiasts will gather to discuss the new developments in the field. Anyone interested in conflict intervention (including mediators, conflict coaches, educators, researchers, facilitators, and more) is invited to attend (and can do so for the incredibly low fee of $60). Register here. The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation (ISCT) has hosted international conferences periodically since early 2000’s. Those conferences took place in Rome, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and Santa Barbara; and affiliated organizations have held similar gatherings in Slovena, The Netherlands and elsewhere.

    “Current Directions in Transformative Practice: Mediation, Coaching, Dialogue” will be held on November 2ndand 3rd, 2023. It’s being organized by Czech transformative mediators, Martina Cirbusová and Robin Brzobohaty, with the support  of the board, fellows and staff of the ISCT.  A pre-conference training in transformative mediation will take place on October 29 – 31 in Brno, to be taught by Cirbusová and Dan Simon. You can register for the pre-conference training here.

    The City of Brno, lead by the mayor, Dr. Markéta Vanková, is sponsoring the event. Presenters will include Anja Bekink (ISCT President), Cribusová, Janet Mueller, Judy Saul, Carol Bloom, Erik Cleven, Dan Simon, Brzobohaty, Kees van Eijk, Peter Miller, Cherise Hairston, Mia Bowers, Vesna Matovic, Olivier Chambert-Loir, Basia Solarz, Christian Hartwig, Jakub Rubeš, Lukasz Kwiatkowski, Alžbeta Kubišová, Carlo Mosca, Lenka Poláková, Sharon Press, Kristine Paranica, Lydia VanderKaay, and Robert A. Baruch Bush. The program is available here.

    Conference workshops will focus on mediation, coaching and dialogue, which are distinct but related ways to apply the transformative approach to conflict. The program also allows for plenty of time to socialize and network with kindred spirits from around the world.

  • December 06, 2022 11:41 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    Communicating from Compassion and Strength

    by Janet Mueller

    As a transformative mediator, I see and experience the relational worldview in action every time I mediate.  I see how people move between weakness and strength, and self-absorbed and compassionate. Yet my own experience of this still confuses me.  Sometimes, it is so easy for me to be compassionate.  I give people a pass for “not so great behavior.” (My compassion is so big, I can’t even call it bad behavior!) I understand their circumstances or I know they mean well.  But other times and with other people, I immediately jump to frustration and criticism – giving no passes whatsoever.  And what about considering myself? Often I let that go, setting aside my own needs and wants, for the other. 

    Why am I so compassionate sometimes and other times completely impatient and intolerant (aka self-absorbed)? Why do I stand up for myself sometimes and other times acquiesce?  

    As a practitioner in the ADR field, I want to do conflict well.  I want to understand my own experiences of conflict, grow and get better.  But answering these questions for myself is no easy task.

    I tried to tease out when and where each of these were true- when I put myself first, when I put others first and when I could truly consider both.  I was looking for patterns.  This helped some as I did find that I am often the most self-absorbed and least considerate in my closest relationship and when I am more removed from the conflict, my compassion flows more easily. 

    I was surprised by this and felt there must be more. As I dug deeper I found other things that impact my compassion and strength.  I found layers upon layers of cultural expectations that I have absorbed, implicit biases that I work to be aware of, and my basic needs like food and sleep that factor in too.

    Reflecting on a recent experience working with a group, I remembered that conflict is hard. (As if that weren’t completely obvious!)  I felt pushed and pulled in this meeting.  In the moment, I was able to acknowledge what I was experiencing to myself.  And that awareness helped me to find support, to ask for time to process, and to begin to see the other. 

    It is humbling to be a professional conflict practitioner and still struggle with my own conflicts.  Yet, these challenges help me continue to grow and learn so I can make different choices in the future.

    If you are curious about your own experience of conflict and how it could be different, I encourage you join me for a *workshop on December 15th!

    *Workshop description and registration

  • September 29, 2022 11:32 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)
    This guest blog post by Tara West was originally posted to this site on January 29, 2020. Tara West is the author of The Mediator's Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict (2021) and co-author of Self-Determination in Mediation: The Art and Science of Mirrors and Lights 

    (2022). She is a certified transformative mediator and conflict coach who has also been trained in facilitative, evaluative, and understanding-based approaches to mediation. Tara earned her PhD in Social and Health Psychology from Stony Brook University and her JD from the New York University School of Law.

    Tara will be giving a workshop on her book, The Mediator's Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict, on October 6. Register here.

    “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” - Ben Franklin

    Political debates have long raged about the role of the state, and the correct balance to be struck in its duty to guard both the liberty and safety of its citizens. People tend to view both as desirable, but assume that each comes at a cost to the other. Debates generally revolve around which of the two values to prioritize, and what costs to tolerate.

    Similarly, mediators speak of the duties to honor party self-determination and to offer protection. As with the role of the state, many assume that there is a balance to be struck between the two, and tradeoffs to be made.

    In this post, I’d like to explore the question of whether a mediator’s protective interventions are actually likely to achieve their intended effects. In other words, what benefits are being secured by these protections? Might prioritizing party self-determination[i] provide greater benefits, with fewer costs?

    Protective interventions[ii] tend to go something like this: When a mediator believes the parties are heading toward an unsound decision, she will ask them a series of questions designed to help them see the flaws in their plan, often in the form of hypothetical scenarios (known as “reality testing”). If that fails, she may recommend that the parties seek the advice of an expert (e.g., a child psychologist, consulting attorney, or financial advisor). If the mediator believes she has the relevant expertise, she may share her own perspective on the decision. If the parties are determined to move forward with a decision that the mediator is troubled by, depending on how troubled she is, she may withdraw from the case. So, the general idea is that the mediator flags what she views as a flawed decision, and then, in some fashion, attempts to direct the parties away from that decision.

    Undoubtedly, in many of these cases, the parties do end up changing course and making a decision that the mediator feels better about, and perhaps one that the parties also feel better about. At other times, the parties may not change course, but the mediator may continue to work with them anyway; in that case, she may decide that she did what she could by raising her concerns, but that these are ultimately the parties’ decisions. In other cases, the parties may not change course, and the mediator may be so concerned that she withdraws from the case. In this situation, she may decide that she does not want mediation (or herself) to be used in the service of a bad outcome.

    While arguments in favor of protection of the parties, a third party, or even the mediation process are not without merit, there are a few assumptions underlying these attempts at protection that are worth exploring. The first assumption is that the mediator is in a better position than the parties to know what decisions they should make, and what information they need to make their decisions. While the mediator will (hopefully) have had mediation training, and may have subject matter expertise, she will never be an expert on these particular parties, including their values, preferences, limitations, and capacities; nor will she be an expert on their particular situation, including the realistic options they have, and how each option would work for them in practice. Therefore, there’s at least some reason to question whether the mediator’s concerns are (or should be) relevant to the parties’ decision-making process.

    The second assumption is that these protective interventions are more likely to lead the parties to a good decision (even if only in the mediator’s eyes) than are practices that do not have protection as a goal. That is, there is an assumption that the parties would not eventually ask their own questions, raise their own concerns, or seek expert advice without being prodded to do so by the mediator. This also assumes that the protective interventions are not having the opposite of the intended effect, and that the parties would not, in fact, be more likely to change course without the mediator’s nudging. Given that autonomy is a basic psychological need (Ryan & Deci, 2017), it’s worth considering the possibility that applying subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure to the parties may actually lead to resistance. The parties may then be more likely to dig in their heels and commit to a decision that they would have moved away from, for their own reasons, had the mediator given them the space and support to do so.

    A third assumption is that all decisions made in mediation, especially those included in a formal agreement, will be given full effect by the parties going forward. Although the written agreement certainly matters, what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do are often two different things. Even decisions ordered by a judge may be ignored or challenged, formally or informally, jointly or unilaterally. This can be for the better or for the worse. That ideal decision that looked lovely on paper? It may exist solely on paper. Same goes for the not-so-ideal decision. Therefore, protective interventions that successfully get parties to a “good” decision in the short run may actually backfire in the long run - either because the decision did not work for the parties, or because they are still psychologically resisting the pressure that led to it. In contrast, decisions made freely by the parties, but that turn out to be mistakes, may be more easily corrected in the future.

    Despite these doubts and concerns, protective interventions may be necessary in the context of an approach where the mediator directs the parties’ conversation and guides them through a series of steps, thereby giving them the expectation that the mediator is providing protection (see Bush, 2019). Relatedly, these doubts would not suggest that mediators take a hands-off approach, and offer no active support, or brush the parties’ disagreements, concerns, or hesitations under the rug.

    Instead, these doubts and concerns about protective interventions suggest that if the mediator actively supports and reflects the parties’ choices without judgment, including their own efforts to gain clarity, the parties may be in the best position to understand their situation and make their own thoughtful decisions, without a need for the mediator’s protective interventions.

    Of course, mediators who refrain from using protective interventions, and instead support the parties’ decisions, every step of the way, can also offer no guarantees about the quality of decisions the parties make. However, by supporting the parties as they make their own choices, whatever they may be, the mediator at least knows that he’s not bringing his own biases, misinformation, and pressure into the parties’ lives (including the pressure to reach an agreement[iii]). By treating the parties as if they are capable of making their own decisions, he may find (as would be predicted by the self-fulfilling prophecy) that this is indeed the case.

    Although protective interventions are certainly well intentioned, perhaps we can best protect those we serve by protecting them from our own good intentions.



    Bush, R. A. B. (2019). A pluralistic approach to mediation ethics: Delivering on mediation’s different promises. Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, 34(3), 459-535. 

    Ryan, R. M, & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.


    [i] The definition of “self-determination” is also a subject of debate. Although there is much to be said on this topic, for the purposes of this post I’m referring to the parties’ freedom to make choices about both outcome and process, with the mediator actively supporting these choices rather than attempting to steer them toward or away from any particular decision.

    [ii] Protective interventions may take other forms in different situations (e.g., when the mediator suspects party incapacity or domestic violence), which are beyond the scope of this blog post, although the same principles may apply.

    [iii] My suspicion is that these protective interventions arose in response to the tendency for mediators to prioritize reaching an agreement - any agreement - without regard for the quality of the agreement (nor for the quality of the parties’ decision-making process). That is, if the mediator is taking responsibility for getting the parties to an agreement, even if he is only nudging them in that direction, then perhaps he should take some responsibility for the quality of the agreement.

  • September 14, 2022 2:45 PM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)
    The institute is excited to present a new training this fall,Transformative Dialogue: Co-creating and Facilitating Conversations in Organizations and Communities.                           

    Please take a moment to read more about this training, as described by two of the practitioners who developed it, Judy Saul and Erik Cleven. 

    The training consists of 16 hours of live contact with participants over 8 sessions and aims to prepare people to be more prepared to facilitate group conversations from a transformative perspective. The asynchronous content is delivered through videos and reading assignments in the training manual. One of the most exciting things about the course is that participants will see a wide diversity of presenters, working in a variety of contexts. In addition to presenting the material, participants will hear numerous first person examples illustrating the diversity of dialogue work. This course is equally suited for folks who have training in transformative mediation or for people who are new to the model.

    The live sessions will all be interactive and will focus on skills training, thinking about the application of the material and in discussion with others.

    The first training in transformative dialogue was offered in Nairobi, Kenya in 2012 by Judy Saul and Erik Cleven. Since then the training has evolved as transformative dialogue work has evolved. This training includes many new features including a focus on dealing with issues of race and racism, implicit bias, power and culture, and also introduces participants to a set of expanded premises about identity and people in groups.  

    Many people have been involved in developing this training. In May 2022, Erik Cleven convened a workshop to develop the training which included Cherise Hairston, Susan Jordan, and Judy Saul. Erik also traveled to New York, New Jersey and Maryland to record video content with Baruch Bush, Joe Folger, Sheri Tardio and Mia Bowers. In addition to this, many practitioners sent in videos recorded on their cell phones. One of the goals for this training was to provide high quality video content that was not recorded on zoom.

    The institute hopes that this training will be the start of a developing network of dialogue practitioners around the world. This online training, which currently has registrants from 7 different countries, is a first step.

    Read more and register here:

  • September 08, 2022 9:43 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    A post by guest blogger and ISCT Fellow, Tom Wahlrab

    The mission of Welcoming America, and now Welcoming International, is working with communities to prepare for and help to integrate refugees and other immigrants. “Where We Belong” is Welcoming America’s theme for the 10-year anniversary of welcoming week. The ISCT has become one of the many official sponsors of Welcoming America’s “Welcoming Week.” 

    The members of the ISCT are in a unique position to respond when unwelcoming overcomes welcoming. As human migration continues to accelerate, stressful human interactions are often a result. Some of our members, while not necessarily formally associated with welcoming, are responding to individual and community needs, concerns and even conflicts associated with receiving newcomers. 

    As transformative practitioners, scholars and students, our members are rooted in the premises of a relational worldview. Our members offer mediation, dialogue facilitation, coaching, and personal response to conflict training. Our members strive to support people in regaining their personal strength and constructive responsiveness to others, so they can change and manage the quality of their interactions.

    The number of people migrating from their communities and countries is historically unprecedented. Evidence of conflict, or strained interactions between new-comers and receiving communities are inevitable. How people respond though can be positive and constructive. 

    The ISCT is glad to support Welcoming America and Welcoming International and we’ve asked our members to introduce themselves or their service organizations to their local welcoming initiatives.

    If you haven’t yet done so, introduce yourself and your Transformative practitioner services to the welcoming initiatives in your community. Making your services known to the welcoming initiatives in your community is why we are sponsors of Welcoming Week.

  • April 12, 2022 10:40 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    A Mediator's Reaction to the Invasion of Ukraine

    Guest blogger, Carlo Mosca is an Italian lawyer specializing in cross-border / cross-cultural business... and relevant disputes, of course. He is also a mediator, and the true culprit in popularizing the transformative approach in his country. It is from this dual perspective that he offered this contribution, in the wake of the recent facts affecting Ukraine. The focus is on the mediator third-party nature. 

    More could be said about this kind of high-intensity conflicts: their ineluctability, complexity, and even intractability. This will possibly be the subject of further inquiry. 

    The recent events in Ukraine made me think about mediation in high-level conflicts, and ask myself whether I could maintain equidistance in a case of armed conflict (the exercise is utterly theoretical, though, since independent mediators are very rarely asked to intervene in these situations – most often vested-interest mediators, or world renowned personalities not acting as field professionals are the ones who intervene). The point is that, from the information I've got, I see the Ukraine events as a brutal unjustified invasion carried on by the Russian army, and I'd be heartily pleased to see Putin and his acolytes eventually indicted as war criminals. These are gut feelings, though; since only investigations and historical analysis could tell us, perhaps, one day, how things went.

    Like most professional mediators, I'm 'obviously' neutral-minded when practicing as a mediator. This means that I've been trained in, and more or less successfully have been managing so far to remain impartial and equidistant from all the parties involved – i.e. basically treating all conflicting actors on equal footing. Most notably – no matter how disgraceful a party's position may appear to me. This is particularly important for those who, like me, believe in the regenerating power of dialogue, and the effectiveness of a non-directive, non-judgemental third-party intervention. So, my basic aim is to support (not to push) my 'clients' in their efforts to make decisions, and find their way in the midst of a conflict.

    Under normal circumstances, the worst that occurs is that I feel more commonalities with one party, and less sympathy for others. In principle, this may affect equidistance; in practice, though, nothing terrible happens – especially thanks to the non-directive general attitude I mentioned above.  High-level conflicts, however, may pose more serious problems, since they often involve some amount of violence. As a consequence somebody feels, or actually is. physically or psychologically harmed – and the mediator may experience sympathy, and antipathy at alarming levels. A war is certainly a high-level conflict, in the sense that security of persons and chattels are put at peril; and every person involved is under severe stress, as are a conspicuous number of indirectly involved spectators. So, a second issue – How to contain violence? – arises, in addition to the equidistance one.

    To be honest, in every mediated conflict, episodes of violence may occur. Any confrontation, indeed, appears to include an amount of violence. It can take the form of a simple verbal attack, or transcend into something more physically or psychologically aggressive. What should a mediator do, in this respect? 

    Mediation, as we practice it, certainly entails interventions that are peaceful by definition. So direct violence containment by employing coercive means seems out of question. However, mediation seems also 'naturally' based on the assumption that certain limits cannot be exceeded. I would say that each party assumes that his/her opponent/s, at the very least cannot employ means that may cause physical, or severe psychological harms. Once those limits are crossed (wherever their acceptable level might be set), there's simply no place for mediation. It becomes a police business. High-intensity international conflicts seem not to differ, in their basic dynamics, from any other conflicts – the point is that we regretfully lack a supranational police to resort to. Actually, the UN could play this role – but we all know how terribly difficult it would be).

    I've hinted to the fact that conflict dynamics are more or less the same, irrespective of the magnitude of the conflict itself. Let me explain in more detail how I see it.

    We can view conflict as an interaction (either verbal or not) where each subject positions himself according to the other's positioning, and in a way that is consistent with his narrative. (A narrative being the subjective reality that person is able to construct over any available data, including in particular her past experiences, her present physiological state, and her taken-for-granted cultural assumptions). Positioning is basically a communication event (we'd better talk of events, indeed, since positioning is always changing – so creating a series of communication fragments); and conflict interaction takes the form of a discourse (where various communication acts take place – you might see it as moves and countermoves, if you like, at the most elementary level). Particularly important is, in a conflict interaction, the 'perlocutionary' force of a communication act, i.e. its capability to determine effects onto the 'listener'. This drives his re-positioning, and in turn this latter asks for a 'speaker's new positioning. (I'm talking of speaker and listener in a figurative way, of course – so, bombing a target is a communication act, from this perspective, as is the relevant defensive or counteroffensive move). And all this is irrespective of ethical, or legalistic views.

    The interactive patterns of interpersonal conflict dynamics may be observed, and are often identical (net of the increased intra-subject complexity) also in inter-group, inter-community, and even inter-nation conflict encounters. With a major difference, though – the multiplication of subjects involved may accelerate the course, and magnify the dimensions of violent episodes. Like a nuclear uncontrolled reaction, violence in these circumstances often becomes so not just a police, rather a crowd control business. Eventually, that thing called war. All this is undeniable, and it also seems unavoidable, considering how despicable we all can be, as humans. 

    We know that a third party mediator may intervene in a conflict, either by invitation, or acceptance by the parties involved. What a mediator is expected to do is a matter of large debate: most hope for a change of status to be achieved (end of hostilities, reconciliation, settlement agreements signed, peace treaty made, ...); others are happy with something different (a better mutual understanding, a clearer view of the situation that may lead to more appropriate decisions, ...). In general, one might say that the mediation raison d'etre consists in providing some help, somehow, to parties otherwise facing each other directly.

    I, like many others operating as professional mediators, usually deal with conflicts involving other people by staying in the conflict, being part of it (although from a privileged not directly affected position). What I feel reflects an obvious truth – that even a mediator becomes a subject participating to the conflict dialogue (in the sense seen above). In more abstract terms, one might say that mediation becomes a component of the conflict. So, no wonder conversations can overlap with hostile actions, peace talks may occur in between armed attacks. An utterance at a negotiation table equals a commando raid, or stone-walling between a divorcing couple, to stay on safer terms. Being that conflict is not a status, but rather a process liquidly changing moment by moment, there is of course space for mediation even when bombs are dropped. In other words, as long as the interested parties require, or accept the intervention of a neutral, a neutral may help them dealing with their problems, and confronting each other.

    So, coming to the initial point – is there any factor urging a mediator to move from his neutral stance, when things get particularly obnoxious? We are human. I am human. And I'm wondering how my precious equidistance may maintain when its foundations are shaken at the base, by one party exerting an intolerable amount of violence over the other. That is what I'm experiencing these days, while I watch on TV children crying and mothers and elders fleeing under armed attacks. In the end, it's humanity under attack. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable that, if asked to mediate, I will be able to set aside any judgemental attitude. The fact is that I am aware I know very little of humans and their motivations, and that each party involved may really need a helping hand. Why not give it to her? Moreover, we should never forget that complex organizations (States included) are just conceptual constructions. A conflict dialogue is inevitably carried out by physical persons, each with their own unique characteristics.

    As for containment of violence, I fear a mediator can do nothing, apart from withdrawing from his office, or continuing to work in spite of all. It's simply not his business, and he has no resources to act as a policeman. (This of course applies to professional independent mediators. Others may do better – UN envoys, first of all. Also vested-interest mediators may well represent powerful principals that possess sufficient means to prevent, or stop violence – but this is another story).

  • March 14, 2022 9:46 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    Book Review by Dan Simon 

    Tara West has studied all of the approaches to mediation. Her experience with five of them has led to the best available resource for anyone who wants to compare approaches. And it’s a pleasure to read. It’s called The Mediator’s Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict. She describes evaluative, facilitative, transformative, understanding-based, and narrative mediation.  The extra “half” in the title refers to West’s observation that the evaluative approach is inconsistently defined, and has at least two different meanings.

    Part of what makes this book especially notable is how it describes transformative mediation. Accurately. Speaking of which, I should disclose that West is a close friend of mine, took my transformative mediation training, and just finished co-authoring another book, with me. And she understands the transformative approach.

    Among the insightful statements she makes about the transformative approach are “Of [evaluative, facilitative and transformative], only the transformative approach is a mediation model, meaning there is a foundational text that clearly spells out the theory, goals, values, and practices of the approach.” And West goes on to articulate those theory, goals, values and practices in an entire chapter devoted to the transformative approach. She devotes a chapter to each of the other four approaches, as well.

    The book conveys West’s love for mediation and encourages readers to find their own path to the approach they prefer. While West prefers to practice transformative mediation, her descriptions of the other approaches are fair, clear and accurate, as well. Anyone who wants a broad understanding of the different approaches to mediation will enjoy this book.

  • March 14, 2022 9:44 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    The ISCT is an organization dedicated to the study of conflict, and how conflict dynamics can be transformed from destructive to constructive – at an interpersonal level, but also when groups, larger communities, or nations are involved. 

    As an Institute, we are not involved in politics, nor are we geo-strategical advisers: the transformation we support is unarmed in nature, and the kind of support we promote is non-partisan by definition. However, what is happening now in Europe moves us to take a clear stance against the aggression the Ukrainian people are suffering as a result of a disgraceful decision made by President Putin and his allies. We also acknowledge the suffering this war is inflicting upon the Russian people.

    Our hope is that conflict may de-escalate soon, and talks among  leaders of good will replace the unprovoked attacks on a sovereign country and its civilians. We can do little now, of course, as an organization and individually to stop the slaughter and expulsion of children and parents from their motherland. Others could do it, possibly. And their success appears terribly crucial for the continuance of a world where one can live free of oppression and tyranny.

    In the long run organizations like ours may prove to be vital in order to reconstruct a torn social fabric, replace toxic narratives, and ultimately find a way to live peacefully side by side. We will work on that – not because we believe in harmony per se, but because we are convinced that the majority of the people of all the nations involved in this heinous war want, and have the capacity to live, a more decent life. 

    The ISCT Fellows and Board Members

  • March 14, 2022 9:44 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)

    Guest blogger, Erik Cleven, is vice president of the board of the ISCT. He is an associate professor in the Department of Politics at Saint Anselm College. He has worked with dialogue efforts in the former Yugoslavia and Russia and with Judith Saul has offered training in transformative dialogue in Kenya, Norway, Jordan, the Netherlands and the United States. He lives in Manchester, NH.

    When I first heard that Joe Folger was writing a novel about mediation I will admit I was skeptical. I thought it sounded like too narrow a topic to have much appeal, even to mediators. But when I started reading Memoir of a Misfit Mediator I found myself staying up too late at night because I kept wanting to read more. Joe’s book is certainly about mediation and explores several key questions about mediation practice, including the big questions of who we are as mediators in conflict and how we see, and what we believe about, the participants in mediation. But it is also a book about much more. The first person narrator, Kent Foxe, is dealing with a number of situations both professionally and personally that highlight key situations that any of us might find ourselves in. Tensions with family members, relatives with mental health issues that don’t necessarily have the awareness to make constructive choices, professional challenges and questions about where our responsibility lies in these situations. 

    As the novel unfolds, Foxe is challenged by a mentor he has attended a training with, Adam Maurie, to think more deeply about what it means to be a mediator. Maurie invites Foxe to visit a mediation center in Manhattan where he by chance observes Maurie’s nemesis, Thomas Binder. Binder believes that mediators need to maintain firm control of the mediation process and is so critical of Maurie’s more party-driven approach that he physically threatens him. While Foxe is experiencing this and thinking about who he wants to be as a mediator, we follow Foxe and his husband Gio as they deal with a crisis involving extended family members. Kent and Gio are compassionate and respectful of everyone in the situation, but they are not two-dimensional characters. They struggle through dilemmas and differences as we all do. As the story unfolds we see the importance of dignity and human agency for people in conflict. 

    I won’t offer any spoilers about the details of the story. The book has a lot to teach us about conflict and human interaction. The book never explicitly mentions transformative practice but those familiar with it will find a book that can open the values we hold as transformative practitioners to wider audiences in a nonacademic way without ever being overtly pedagogical or dogmatic. If you need a way to explain what mediation is to a family member or a friend, this book might be a perfect gift. If you are a member of a book club and you want a book that will spark discussions about human interaction and conflict, then this is a good pick. But this is also a compelling story with characters the reader will care about and which is just generally a good read.

  • December 10, 2021 8:52 AM | Lydia VanderKaay (Administrator)
    A version of this article also appears in Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic

    Guest bloggers, Robin Brzobohatý  and Martina Cirbusová, are certified transformative mediators in the Czech Republic. Robin mediates in the family mediation centers in Olomouc and Brno, and he is the Czech contact person for communication with the European Parliament mediator for resolving international parental child abductions. Martina is the head of transformative Mediation Center in Brno, where she leads a team of 14 mediators and she leads the Brno Family and Marriage Therapy Office. Robin and Martina work as lecturers, and facilitators of family conferences, mediators and methodologisst in many areas of interdisciplinary cooperation of subjects in family dispute resolution.  Martina has also trained mediators in the USA with Simon Mediation.  

    During the pandemic, many families have spent more time together than they were used to. Families have had to cope with difficult economic situations, home teaching, a new daily routines, and conflicts that arose from the tense atmosphere. Tensions between people, small misunderstandings, or significant conflicts can usually be managed with time and space. But when people are locked at home, conflicts tend to escalate. Most families share only a few square meters. 

    We want to introduce the possible impacts when family members decide to speak about the situation, as opposed to just hoping it will get better;  And we want to describe what happens when they also take the children’s perspective into account. The Family Mediation Center in Brno, which usually deals with family disputes, especially divorce cases, is now experiencing unusual clients. Whole families are asking for a place where they can have a conversation about their situation. 

    In one case in the spring 2020, our Mediation center received a call from a father (let’s call him Jack), who gave details about his family’s unpleasant situation at home, where all members could hardly speak to each other. The family consists of two adults (Jack and Jill) and two teenage children (Tommy and Jeri). The children are not only in a bad mental state, but Jeri’s physical health also seems to be affected. She is not eating very well and is losing weight. After the premediation talk with Jack, we offered him and his wife a chance to speak about their situation during a mediation session. At this point, it seemed like a typical mediation. Two angry parents argue about misunderstandings, purported injustice from the other, and blame for the current unpleasant situation. The conversation was based on accusations where each parent was trying to defend her/himself but simultaneously convince the other he or she needed to change something. They argued about which parent’s approach was more harmful to the children.

    From the perspective of transformative mediators, looking at conflicts as a crisis of human interaction between parties helps us look at disputes between the parties with no pressure to find the solution for them. From our perspective, the parties need help to overcome this crisis and restore a constructive interaction. The occurrence of conflict tends to destabilize the parties’ experience of both – self and others – so they interact in more vulnerable and more self-absorbed ways than before. People in a conflict tend to experience a sense of both relative weakness and relative self-absorption. These negative dynamics often feed into each other in a vicious circle that intensifies each party’s sense of weakness and self-absorption.[1] 

    In Jack and Jill’s family, their interactional crisis was intensified by the lockdown. They weren’t able to communicate together. But it is challenging not to communicate when  close together in one house 24/7 for several months. Trying not to say much makes things even worse because you seem to be detached. So, trying to stay hidden you are accused of not participating in family life. You try to apply some techniques from TV or Google, but then you are pushing too much. And you feel it is not your fault. It is hard to be a responsible parent for your children when they can observe every single moment of your struggle. Jack and Jill were convinced they were doing everything possible to protect their children from experiencing the harmful effects of this situation. There were conflicts between the parents and their children as well. But was the lockdown the reason, or not?

    Tommy and Jeri were fully aware of their parents’ situation. They felt the atmosphere of the cold war. Their approach was to disconnect from the situation, put on their headphones, turn on their computer, or deep dive into their homeschooling. The children’s decision was not to bother the parents with any of their problems, fears, or needs. They felt going to the kitchen or living room was like walking on eggshells. But the less they visited those rooms, the less they completed their household chores. That was the point when new conflicts in the family arose. So, it wasn’t just the parents trapped in the vicious circle but the whole family. And then Jeri’s health problems started.

    In our mediation center, we believe that despite the destabilizing impact of the conflict, people have the ability to rebound and recover from its alienating effects. People can make dynamic shifts along two dimensions – empowerment and recognition – and have the capacity to move back into their sense of personal strength or self-confidence (the empowerment shift) and their sense of openness or responsiveness to the other (the recognition shifts).[2] The challenge for this family was how to support the relational self-determination of the family members. But what kind of self-determination for parents might be there when the sympathy for their children’s real feelings and perspective were not part of the conversation, since the children were excluded from it? Self-determination can be effective only through the recognition of the perspective of other person – adults or children.

    So we started the mediation with the parents, but after the second meeting, we involved their children too. For the parents, the fact that we could offer help for the whole family was why they chose us. In our practice, children have their own support person, a child specialist, to whom they can speak separately. Subsequently, they have the chance to decide if they want to be a part of the mediation process on their own, or they  can choose to have their child specialist attend the mediation and speak for them. In this case, after the first meeting with the child specialist, the children decided to be part of the whole process with their child specialist. At the third mediation session, we were sitting at a round table of 7 people – parents, children, the child specialist, and two mediators. The child specialist presented what he was discussing with children and focused on the awful atmosphere at home, thanks to which the children were not able to speak with their parents. The children were worried that raising the issue would cause another conflict. Getting such information from the child specialist was the most intense part of the mediation. Even though the atmosphere was very emotional, all the family members agreed to do something about that and that it was the commitment of all family members, not only the parents. They were having a conversation about difficult topics, but they decided to go through them together to consider all perspectives, not only the adults’ views. 

    After this first experience, they came to the mediation session only together, as a family. The children always had the chance to speak with their child specialist before the joint meeting to tell him how the situation was then and if they still wanted to be present in the joint meeting with him. Overall, they spent five sessions with us. The first two meetings were only with the parents, the next three as a whole family.

    During the sessions, deep family matters were discussed, but the conversation was directed by the family members – the parents and the children. The mediators helped them strengthen every member’s voice so that they could talk about certain issues never discussed before in a constructive way. The children could explain why they were withdrawing from the shared space in their house, how aware they were of their parents’ conflict, and how cautious they were about making trouble. At the same time, the children could explain how hard it was for them and how much they needed their parents to be their parents. The parents described how they were struggling individually and how lost and helpless they felt. At the same time, they were able to assure the children of wanting to be their best parents and that they would work hard on it. Through the summaries, the family members were able to be more clear and oriented towards what had been going on, how particular situations were connected, and their options for a different approach. Through repeated check-ins on how and whether they wanted to respond or continue or decide, the control rested with the family for the entire mediation. It helped the family to restore its ability to regulate its functions, be responsive, and caring about every family member and the family as a whole. They decided to try to change the situation using particular goals they wanted to achieve from session to session. They were not successful every time or on the whole scale. But through the mediated conversation, they kept working hard. And they succeeded in the end. The security, connection, and belonging of the family were restored. The parents found their way to rebuild their relationship. The children started to believe once again they could ask their parents for help and support, even emotional support. After the worst year in their life, the children said that they spent the best Christmas ever together with their parents. That is what we believe is the power of conversation.

    When, at the end, we asked them to give us feedback on this experience, they said it was rough but were happy to have gone through this as a family. The parents agreed that without their children’s voice, they would have only guessed and supposed what was going on in their family. And they understood the situation much better than they had before the mediation. Only a family dialog or family mediation helped them make sense about what was going on, understand better what the other family members’ real needs were, say what they wanted to say, and be sure that the other party was listening. 

    In January 2021, at our final meeting, the family left our center with smiles on their faces, even though almost a year ago, they were lost and thinking about bad scenarios like the family breaking up. One of the most important outcomes of their meeting was the promise of more frequent and open communication at home. They also agreed to come back and have a conversation in mediation if their conversations were not working. 

    In this difficult time, a family mediation offers the chance to deal with conflicts and the opportunity to redefine the way makes decisions and has conversations. A mediation based on relational self-determination can help parties have a more constructive and less destructive conversation about challenging topics by encouraging them to shift from relative weakness to relative strength and from relative self-absorption to responsiveness. Secondly, by helping them make their own decisions and supporting self-determination and mutual recognition of each family member, including children.  

    1] See Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation (2005).

    [2] Id.

<< First  < Prev   1   2   Next >  Last >> 

Contact us by phone at 1+937-333-2360 or email at

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software