It became clear that we were studying different theories of conflict, and we were being trained in a specific theory, the transformative theory. It was not the same as other theories and the mediation practices they engendered. This new understanding of conflict authentically explained my own experience of conflict. The transformative framework was grounded in premises and principles, and came with a set of practices that were linked to them. We learned very quickly how the premises and principles informed mediation practice, that conflict was dynamic and wasn’t a linear process, and that there was a way to help parties make empowerment and recognition shifts that looked very different from how we had been practicing mediation up until that point.

The light went on for us: in order for empowerment and recognition shifts to occur, all decision-making had to be turned over to parties. Our role was to help parties by supporting their decision-making and perspective taking, therefore authentically rooting them in a process of self-determination. Although we had made our first attempts at emphasizing empowerment and recognition in 1998, what we learned in 2001 was completely new. 

We learned that what we had believed in, truly existed: the opportunity for things to change from the inside out -- first for each of the parties through an empowerment shift, then between them through a recognition shift, all with the mediator supporting but not shaping that process. The path, previously overgrown with strategies to break impasse, tools for the toolbox, and a focus on common ground, was cleared away. A new path was found that had a firm foundation in a relational view of conflict and mediation.

Once trained, Center staff embarked on a year-long process of educating stakeholders, utilizing the framework as we did so. Some of our mediators were interested to learn more about transformative practice; and system partners such as Family Court and Small Claims Courts began to hear us talk differently about mediation. 

In deciding whether or not we would transition the Center to a wholly transformative practice, transparency about each step was important. We invited Baruch Bush to the Mediation Center to conduct a series of workshops about transformative mediation for mediators and stakeholders. Interest ran high, as well as concerns for how to practice the model with Small Claims Court cases, with Family Court cases, and within other institutions. 

It was easy to say, “As transformative mediators we don’t move people to agreement or to reach resolution.” It quickly became apparent that if we were going to move the Center to practicing transformative mediation solely, we needed to develop language describing what we did in mediation, and what mediation offered, in order to have this new model of practice be accepted by our partners and stakeholders in the Courts, the Office of Probation, and schools. 

We also heard concerns that were raised about how information would be provided to parties, since that had been an important role that the Mediation Center played previously. Early efforts to explain our practice included language taken from The Promise of Mediation, such as “changing conflict interaction from negative and destructive to positive and constructive.” Since then we have adopted the key language of “constructive conversation.” 

Citations omitted.

Tip of the hat to The Community Mediator.

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