Book review: The Promise of Mediation

The Promise of Mediation book coverNote: I also posted this at my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

I read The Promise of Mediation: The Transformative Approach to Conflict, by Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger, because I am trying to understand why I believe in mediation. When I first became interested in it, completed my training, and started doing mediations, I did not think much about the values and world view underlying mediation. I just felt that it was a positive thing that I could be good at. I discussed my thoughts on why I became a mediator in more detail in my post last week on “Why Mediation?” (written before I finished The Promise of Mediation).

The Promise of Mediation sounded particularly interesting to me because it discusses “the potential that mediation offered to foster and support positive human interaction within conflict.” This book surpassed my expectations, providing me with significant food for thought on what mediation is, what it should be, and what the role of the mediator is. Bush and Folger do not just present a framework for the mediation process itself. They go far beyond that, discussing the values and worldviews that underpin both the transformative framework and the more common settlement-oriented framework. They delve deep into what mediation should be and what its promise is.

In the rest of this post, I will first present a summary of transformative mediation, contrasting it with settlement-oriented mediation, then discuss the presentation in the book, and lastly give some final thoughts. I will likely be posting more of my personal thoughts on the subject in a subsequent post.

Overview of transformative mediation

The transformative framework of mediation is based on a relational worldview, in which “social interaction is a process of discovering and becoming fully ‘who we really are,’ forging an identity that is not fixed or predetermined at life’s beginning.” In this view, conflict is not only inevitable, but can be a positive force: “The essence of this view is that conflict interaction – precisely because it occurs at moments of great challenge to the human sense of agency and connection – offers an unusually potent opportunity to strengthen and deepen both. Conflict interaction can actually enhance social interaction, as well as the human experience of both autonomy and connection in balanced relation.” Transformative mediation works within this worldview to “transform” conflict from a destructive to a constructive force:

The mediation process contains within it a unique potential for transforming conflict interaction and, as a result, changing the mindset of people who are involved in the process. This transformative potential stems from mediation’s capacity to generate two important dynamic effects: empowerment and recognition. In simplest terms, empowerment means the restoration to individuals of a sense of their value and strength and their own capacity to make decisions and handle life’s problems. Recognition means the evocation in individuals of acknowledgment, understanding, or empathy for the situation and the views of the other. When both of these processes are held central in the practice of mediation, parties are helped to transform their conflict interaction – from destructive to constructive – and to experience the personal effects of such transformation.

To achieve this transformation, the mediator is non-directive. His or her main role is to support the parties in going where they want with the conflict. The mediator helps the parties gain clarity through reflection of their individual views and feelings, and summary of their joint points of agreement or disagreement. He or she does not suggest options for “settlement” or carry the parties through a set process.

This view of mediation is very different from the settlement-oriented process in which I was trained. In that process, the mediator takes the parties through a set of steps with the specific goal of having them reach agreement by the end. He or she can at times be quite directive, keeping the parties “on track” and suggesting possible solutions to their problems.

In transformative mediation, settlement may be an outcome, but is not the main goal; the goal is rather for the parties to turn their conflict into a positive rather than a negative interaction. This view of mediation assumes that humans have the capability to work through conflicts themselves, and the mediator should support them in achieving that capability.

The most prominent place in which transformative mediation is currently used is the United States Postal Service REDRESS program, for conflicts within the USPS workplace.

Book presentation

The Promise of Mediation is well-written and describes the many new ideas with clarity. I feel that in reading it I have gained significant understanding of what transformative mediation is and why it is important. I have additionally gained a clearer understanding of what settlement-oriented mediation is, and am now able to think with greater clarity about what I am doing when I mediate.

The structure of the book is, for the most part, logical and progressive. Bush and Folger start by giving an overview of the four predominant views of mediation present in our society, summarizing the perspectives of each. In the second chapter, they dive in to the details of what it means to “transform” a conflict and what they mean by “empowerment” and “recognition.” After finishing this chapter, I felt eager to know exactly what it meant to do a transformative mediation, e.g. what the process actually looks like and what specific actions the mediator takes during it. However, there was one more chapter before they gave those details. The third chapter situates transformative mediation within the field and gives examples of the ways in which it is becoming more widely used and accepted. Although this was interesting, I felt that this content could have come later in the book, with the case study earlier.

The fourth and five chapters present a complete transcript of a transformative mediation, with commentary after each of six segments. It was extremely interesting and enlightening, and a highlight of the book for me. Finally, the sixth chapter addresses some myths and misconceptions about transformative mediation, and the seventh chapter discusses in detail the values and worldviews underlying both settlement-oriented and transformative mediation. These final chapters helped solidify my understanding that was growing through-out the book.

Final thoughts

The premises of transformative mediation resonate with me. Reading this book has renewed and inspired my belief that mediation does have the potential to change the world and bring peace. I am continuing to process this new perspective and figure out how it fits in to my own worldview about human interaction, conflict, and the role of mediation. I expect to be writing further posts on the subject soon.

If you are at all interested in mediation, conflict, or social interaction, I highly recommend The Promise of Mediation. Note that there are two editions, with different subtitles, one from 1994 and one from 2005. I read the 2005 edition, which was substantially revised from the first edition, and thus cannot say anything about the 1994 edition. For more information about transformative approaches to conflict, including a more detailed summary of the content of the book, there is an excellent collection of information about it at the Conflict Information Consortium: Transformative Approaches to Conflict.


2 Responses to Book review: The Promise of Mediation

  1. […] Promise of Mediation, by Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger, which I reviewed yesterday, offers the most positive outlook on human interaction that I  have encountered in […]

  2. […] couple years ago (wow, was it really that long ago?) I read the book The Promise of Mediation, about Transformative Mediation, and reflected on the topic a bit. I’ve been following a […]

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