The Forgiveness Concept

Adnan Abdalla in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D. for the Institute of Conflict Resolution and Communication Blog.

Once dismissed as an irrelevant religious concept in a secular political world, the concept of forgiveness has begun to be increasingly associated with conflict resolution and peacemaking around the world. Several states have recently acknowledged their wrongdoing, apologized to their victims, and asked for their forgiveness. There is a consensus between social scientists that the forgiveness concept encompasses the following three main points:

1-      The directional nature of forgiveness- the victim forgives the aggressor.

2-      The forgiveness ownership rights – belongs only to the victim.

3-      The violation of the victim rights is a prerequisite for forgiveness.

In our daily activities, each one of us encountered minimal decision situations where s/he forgives his son for being late, her husband for going over the budget, his friend for not showing up, or asked for forgiveness from anyone from an inner circle. In this context we use forgiveness, apology or pardon as a tool to facilitate our interaction with others human beings or to maintain a relationship that we value.

The experience of forgiving and asking for forgiveness is one of the most perennial of human experiences; our inability to live with others without offending, disturbing, or hurting them, compel us to find a way to maintain a good relationship with others, when we intentionally or accidently did something wrong. Seeking or offering forgiveness is one of the most effective ways to resolve a conflict. Most importantly, it often supports an intangible outcome of transformation. This is transformation that comes from empowerment and recognition of self and other.

Forgiveness is part of the human obligation towards social peace and survival because it is the only way to end the cycle of violence and revenge, otherwise we will not be able to cooperate and form societies. The notion that forgiveness requires a change of heart doesn’t mean that victims need to forget, or accept what happened to them. Forgiveness means that we are not going to allow the experiences of the past dominate our future. It supports relationships, trust, hope, and a new future.

Forgiveness is a non-transferable or negotiable right, which belongs only to the victim, and claiming it by anyone else is a violation of the victim’s right. Many people simply do not understand that forgiveness is the departure point for the victim from the past to the future, from entrapment to freedom. Forgiving a wrongdoer does not mean you forget what he did to you, simply because you can’t delete your memory.  The places, the colors, and everything related to the event or the individual will trigger some kind of reflection. However, as soon as you forgive and start your new life, the old experience and memories will slowly but surely fade in significance and a new alternative story will emerge that involves hope for a better future. The new interactions will frame new experiences. This is a clear example how we are architects of our own lives and relationships.

One of the main characteristic of forgiveness is the role it plays in helping victims get rid of their resentments and continue their lives, by not letting their resentment towards wrongdoing go beyond appropriate limits.  It is believed that if victims harbor resentment for too long, it will be so consuming that the victim will not be able to properly recognize and assess moral reasons. Forgiveness, then, might be best described as a virtue that allows us to keep our resentment within appropriate limits (McGary, 1989, p.343).

In sum, the concept of forgiveness is related to personal wellbeing, thus, the forgiveness concept should be seen in the context of human relations as a healthy alternative dispute resolution approach. In such, mediation may present a powerful form of alternative dispute resolution that supports a spiritual process that involves forgiveness where other forms of dispute resolution processes cannot.

Is this what we bargained for?

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D. written for the ICRC Blog”

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The humerous Nextel/Sprint commercial that illustrates “What  the World would be like if Loggers Ran the World,” provides a sobering reality of what may happen if people hand over the responsibility to others during divorse and during times of conflict in general. People have power, control, and predictability in mediation, which contrasts considerably to other forms of conflict resolution processes. There is a space and place for various forms of conflict resolution  during difficult times.  For example, legal counsel is essential to making an informed choice especially when people don’t understand the law and don’t know their legal rights, but what people need to understand is that getting legal advise or counsel in conjunction with mediation can be the most powerful process in the conflict resolution process. The two approaches combine expert advise that allow people to make informed decisions with personal choice that come from the people who understand their own lives and who can make decisions from the heart. Going to court  doesn’t provide an interest based approach. We have heard about the 3 brothers who all want the same “orange”. Until they figure out each other’s needs, it may be impossible to address this conflict effectively. See in mediation, people have an opportunity to not only discuss what they want, but reflect more importantly on what they need. “Wanting” (called a position) is generally very different from “needing” (called an interest), so an interest based discussion is so valuable in mediation.

The above commercial depicts Barbara Phillips’ assertion from her book The Mediation Field Guide (2001, p. xix). that legislative solutions do not meet the underlying needs or interests of parties. Similarly, Howard Irving and Michael Benjamin in their Therapeutic Family Mediation book claim that the use of an arbitration or litigation process disempowers the parties to make self-determined decisions that are in their mutual interests and these processes are poorly suited for family disputes that are deeply entrenched in family dynamics ( 2002). As Irving and Benjamin point out, arbitrators’ authority to adjudicate binding and final decisions that are no longer subject to negotiation, may leave the parties pondering on the question: “What were we thinking?” Effective mediation supports effective interaction and  communication, which is based not only on what people think, but more importantly on what they need. Mediation encourages new stories (alternative stories) to form, which allow people to see the conflict in a new light for the future. Mediation is the process of “promise” and “hope for the future”  that everyone is talking about from judges to attorneys who also in majority support it as a solid conflict resolution process that is here to stay and grow to further heights yet. U.S. News and World Report for the last 3 years has noted “Mediation” as among the top careers in the U.S. as well! If we follow mediation we may encourage people to avoid this vividly portrayed distribution of tangible assets, literally splitting in equal proportions, and encourage negotiation of intangible factors such as emotion, identity, consideration, validation, empowerment, self-determination, recognition, forgiveness, respect, understanding etc.


Bush, R. A. & Folger, J. P (2005). The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Irving, H. H. & Benjamin, M. (2002). The mediation field guide: Transcending litigation and resolving conflicts in your business or organization. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Phillips, B. A. (2001). Therapeutic family mediation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Mediator Code of Conduct Competing with Other Professional Codes of Conduct?


Melissa Zisler in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D. for Institute of Conflict Resolution and Communication Blog

 Yes, that’s right, the ethical debates will forever occupy the mediation world.  As mediation is growing in popularity throughout the nation, more and more questions arise.  Creating quite a buzz in the world of court mediators lately has been the issue as to whether or not it is appropriate for the mediator to respond to a defendants request for clarity of a judgment.

 According to MEAC, these are the appropriate measures to follow:

 1)Consistent with the standards of impartiality and preserving party self-determination, a mediator may provide information that the mediator is qualified by training or experience to provide.”

 2) “It is not appropriate for a mediator to ask a plaintiff’s counsel to provide legal information or advice to the pro-se defendant in the case.

 In regards to the first statement by the MEAC, included in the mediator’s code is Rule 10.370(a).  It states that the mediator has the right to offer information that they have been trained to provide.   As a mediator, your goal is to facilitate an agreement while maintaining your oath of impartiality.  Of course, as a mediator, you must be aware of your role and do not bypass it.  The bias or impartiality would arise if you continue past explanation, and offered your client your opinion as opposed to fact. Also, you want to make sure you are functioning as a mediator, not as the therapist, attorney or other professional.

 In regards to the second statement!  The proposed counsel could be advocating in their client’s best interest, as they are not held to the same impartiality stipulations as the mediator. 

 These ethical considerations will continue to arise.  It is healthy as mediators continue to dialogue on these matters.

Mediation Can Be the Career You Have Been Dreaming Of…

For the third year in a row, the career of mediator has made U.S. News & World Report’s list of 30 “Best Careers of 2009.”  The practice of mediation has become a fascinating career and it certainly has a place for dealing with most types of disputes. Dr. Alexia Georgakopoulos should know as she certifies mediators throughout Florida State. She is a primary trainer for Florida Supreme Court Certification Mediation Programs for both Family and County Mediation. You can read about her training programs under the mediation certification link at She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University. Also, she is the Director of the Institute of Conflict Resolution and Communication, which is a provider for mediation training and continuing mediation education programs.

Mediation is a humanistic alternative dispute resolution practice.  It promotes empowerment, self determination, and transformation.  The problem with mediation is that people in the public don’t realize how they can benefit from mediation, hence there may be a reliance for people to go straight to attorneys, litigation, courts, and judges to determine outcomes; however, Dr. Georgakopoulos believes that best decisions come from people who understand their own relationships, conflicts, and interests and mediation gives people an wonderful opportunity to resolve their “own” problems. “It is all in the communication and interaction. The mediator has to be the guardian of the mediation process and ensure that people communicate their interests and needs effectively.”  Students who are interested in learning about mediation often wonder what mediation entails and Dr. Georgakopoulos often responds by saying that takes a nuance understanding of both mediation process and the context.  Mediators like experts need to specialize and understand what they offer. That is why she recommends that people who are interested in becoming mediation get credentials, certification, and specialized training in the type of mediation that they would like to perform. In business disputes, a mediator needs to be educated in a variety of mediation theories, principles, and techniques from a variety of mediation models.  Important topics they should be aware of include the following: mediation processes, settlement composition, court processes, code of conduct for mediators, effective negotiation and communication, ethical principles, diversity issues, community resources, mediation business marketing, and conflict resolution management. Depending on the state, it is imperative that mediators understand statutes and rules.  For example, Florida has very specific statutes and rules that guide the code of conduct for mediators who take court connected cases.

In the context of family mediation, Dr. Georgakopoulos argues that knowledge about family dynamics is important along with mediation theories, principles and skills, as well as current research involving family mediation. Mediators need to be trained in various mediation strategies and techniques from a variety of models including transformative, narrative, and problem solving mediation. Topics that are central to family mediation include psychological issues in divorce and family dynamics, issues concerning children’s needs in the context of divorce, standards of conduct for mediators, family law (dependent on the specific state where divorce takes place), family economics, diversity issues, court processes, communication skills, community resources, referral processes and conflict management strategies.  A mediator above all other points needs to have a keen understanding of how to promote self-determination, commitment, and transformation during family conflict.

Then of course there is every other form of mediation under the sky from international diplomacy mediation, entertainment mediation, healthcare mediation, environmental mediation….etc. to list a few.  The point is that a mediator can not come into mediation with a blank slate because it requires knowledge of the site and context where the conflict in couched in.

With the complexity of conflict comes the task for mediators to learn and implement best practices in mediation. No single mediation model is sufficient or superior for conflict resolution; therefore, it is good to learn a variety of established models to enhance your mediator toolbox.  An important task for mediation specialists is to discover what types of approaches can enhance a mediator’s ability to successfully work with unique and diverse clients.

An important lesson in mediation education and development is to learn the most appropriate match between the conflict resolution approach, conflict, and people involved.   Given that people in conflict have different needs, different mediation techniques may be valuable for different people in conflict. It is important for a mediator to stay in touch with state of the art and time tested conflict resolution techniques that are grounded in theory, research and practice. Nevertheless, the beauty of mediation is that a mediator can and should draw from his/her own talents while craft interventions that are distinctive his/her style.

Mediation is an art or craft as well, and Dr. Georgakopoulos recognizes the truth in Aristotle’s argument that it requires 5,000 acts of practice to develop a skill into habit. It is her job to not only teach mediation students “what” is important to know, but “how” to use mediation skills. With mediation skills, mediators can promote fundamental shifts from destructive conflict to construction conflict. A mediator can promote movements toward cooperation, interconnectedness, respect, effective communication, authenticity, validation, compassion between disputing parties and all the while appreciate that the outcome is ultimately in the hands of the parties they themselves.

Dr. Georgakopoulos advises that practicum sites are a great place for students to work in sites that may interest them in the future.  These networking opportunities can be invaluable when it comes to time to find full  time careers. She is always receptive to working with practicum students and interns in a number of her sites, so she encourages you to contact her if you are interested. Also, mediation certification is an important step in enhancing your mediator toolbox.  See your state’s provider list for programs that are approved.  In Florida one can visit, go to Alternative Dispute Resolution, then read mediator qualifications, and finally review a list of providers who are available throughout the state. Of course, I encourage you to attend an upcoming training at The Institute of Conflict Resolution and Communication, which provides a number of training programs (see under mediation certification and continuing mediation education). The training has received excellent reviews and has an exceptional faculty team with professionals from a variety of backgrounds.

Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D., Dr. Georgakapoulos is currently an Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution and Analysis in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (DCAR) in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) at Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. For programs and degree information at SHSS please visit

Also, she is the Director and Primary Trainer for the Institute of Conflict Resolution and Communication (ICRC). ICRC is an educational provider for mediation certification, conflict resolution programs and communication training.  Alexia Georgakopoulos has extensive experience as an educator, trainer, researcher, and practitioner.

She is a Florida Supreme Court Certified County and Family Mediator, a primary trainer in County Mediation and Family Mediation.

The Amendment to the Florida Rules for Certified and Court Appointed Mediators: What does it mean and what is it?

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D….written for the ICRC Blog” 

What does the Amended Florida Rule for Certified and Court Appointed Mediators Mean to Mediators?

As, mediators, we must recognize and adhere to the essential requirement of mediation as the need of the parties to trust the mediator based on his/her honesty and trustworthiness. Therefore, mediators would agree that that marketing of mediation services must be based on honest and accurate representation of qualifications of mediators and the services offered. This amendment, by establishing the judicially required standards for marketing of mediation services in the State of Florida, has put forth requirements that would enable mediators to market their services in a manner that is conducive to the development of trust of the parties in a mediator that is based on honest and accurate representation of their qualifications and service. The requirements established under this amendment may serve as principles for mediators under other jurisdictions.  It  would be beneficial for all mediators to review and if necessary revise their marketing practice and information for complying with prohibitory judicial requirements of the following of three main topics of the amendment that are applicable to their practice: 1) representation and marketing of prior adjudicatory experience, 2) marketing based on certifications , and 3) marketing based on claims and promises of achieving specific outcomes or that diminish the important aspects of mediation in terms of party’s right to self-determination, the mediator’s impartiality or the dignity of the mediation process or the judicial system.

What is Scope of the Amended Florida Rule for Certified and Court Appointed Mediators?

Based on the proposed amendments submitted by the Florida ADR Rules and Policy Committee[1], on April 1, 2010, the Court amended Florida Rule for Certified and Court Appointed Mediators 10.610. By amending the Rule 10.610 from “Advertising to Marketing Practices” the Court expanded the rule’s judicial requirements for advertising and marketing of mediation practices as highlighted below:

  1. False or Misleading Marketing Practices. Prohibits marketing based on false or misleading information and requires an accurate and honest marketing of a mediator’s qualifications, services or the mediation process.
  2. Supreme Court Certification. Any marketing indicating that a mediator is “Florida Supreme Court certified” must include at least one area in which the mediator is certified.
  3. Other Certifications. Any Marketing information referring to a mediator being certified must be founded in the mediator’s successful completion of the established process for certifying mediators involving actual instruction. The mediator must also identify the area or field of certification as well as the entity issuing the certification.
  4. Prior Adjudicative Experience. Any marketing information that either states or implies that prior adjudicative experience in a capacity such as a judge, magistrate, or administrative hearing officer, makes the mediator better or more qualified is considered misleading marketing.
  5. Prohibited Claims or Promises. Prohibits mediators from making claims of achieving specific outcomes or promises that imply favoritism for the purpose of obtaining business.
  6. Additional Prohibited Marketing Practices. Prohibits mediators from engaging in marketing practice that diminishes the importance of a party’s right to self-determination or the impartiality of the mediator, or that demeans the dignity of the mediation process or the judicial system.

The Court’s commentary, while considering an accurate representation of the mediator’s judicial experience to be appropriate, states that when engaging in mediation, a former adjudicative officer should not lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance private interest in a manner inconsistent with this rule and prohibits the word “judge” with or without modifiers to the mediator’s name or depiction of a mediator in judicial robes.


[1] Established in 2003, the Florida Supreme Court Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provides the Supreme Court (Court) with recommendations relating to all legislation, policies and practices related to standards and requirements for the model of ADR and mediation practices.


Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion – 2010

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D….written for the ICRC Blog”

Context of Mediation Practice

The practice of mediation is influenced by continuously evolving social conditions, technological innovations, increasing potential for services requests for outside the scope of mediation or the qualifications of the mediator, and changes in the regulatory and judicial requirements. Under this evolving environment, a mediator has obligatory ethical responsibilities for insuring the party’s right to self determination; insuring the impartiality of the mediator; maintaining the dignity of the parties as well as of the mediation process and the dignity of the judicial process; not promising or making claims of achieving specific outcomes; and not providing services other than mediation or services that are outside the qualifications of the mediator. 

Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee (MEAC)

Ethics in mediation is a critical and evolving issue that needs to be continuously examined and the appropriately recognized authority needs to provide the guidance that is consistent with the law and the Court-approved standards for the practice of mediation. Appointed in 1994, as the part of the Florida Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) that was established by the Supreme Court of Florida, Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee (MEAC) is the Court recognized authority for issuing advisory ethics opinions to mediators. The advisory opinions of MEAC are included in the DRC newsletter and posted on the Court’s website at

MEAC January 2010 Advisory Opinion

This opinion demonstrates the value and the benefits MEAC provides to all mediators for addressing ethical issues related to mediation. In response to a question, submitted by a county and family mediator, of whether it is appropriate for a mediator to provide an explanation of a judgment that some mediators considered to be providing legal advice and other mediators did not, MEAC issued the following opinion.  

In the Summary, MEAC advised that, subject to the standards of impartiality and preservation of party’s self-determination, in accordance with Rule 10.370. (a), a mediator may provide the information the mediator is qualified by training or experience to give, that is consistent with Rule 10.370. (a).

The mediator’s role is to assist the parties in their efforts for identifying issues, exploring the options/alternatives and to facilitate parties’ actions for reaching voluntary agreements. According to MEAC, per Rule 10.220, a mediator is responsible for assisting parties in reaching informed and voluntary decisions while maintaining their right of self-determination. Therefore, per Rule 10.310(a), a mediator may assist the parties in gathering the information necessary for making an informed decision. A mediator is not allowed to offer personal or professional opinions, including legal opinions, with an intention to coerce or unduly influence the parties, or to decide or direct resolution of any issue. However, a mediator is permitted to respond in other ways such as conveying factual information provided by the Court or repeating instructions made by a judge, and reading and discussing language from the court forms.

Additionally, MEAC advised the mediators that when it becomes apparent that parties do not fully comprehend or appreciate the effects of an agreement on their legal rights or obligations, in accordance with Rule 10.420. (b) (3), they must advise the parties to seek independent legal counsel. Additionally, MEAC advised that in accordance with the Rule 10.420. (b) (3), the mediator should adjourn or terminate the mediation if the mediator believes that the case is unsuitable for mediation or that any party is unable or unwilling to meaningfully participate in the mediation process. Finally, MEAC advised the mediators that, in accordance with the Rules [Rules 10.310 (a) Self Determination, 10.330. (a) Impartiality, 10.370. (c) Advice, Opinions or Information, and 10.410 Balanced Process], it is not appropriate for a mediator to ask plaintiff’s counsel to provide legal information or advice to the pro se defendant in the case.

“Renegotiating the reality of post-divorce life: Transitioning from Troubled Relationship to Collaborative Partnership”

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D….written for the ICRC Blog” 

Family dispute mediators may find the application of Jayne Docherty’s concept defined in her book, Strategic Negotiation: Negotiating During Turbulent Times (2005) beneficial in helping couples negotiating post-divorce relationships for caring for their children. In this book, she illustrates the application of her concept in helping a couple that has decided to divorce after 24 years of marriage. This couple, instead of using a litigious approach involving attorneys, is negotiating their process on their own for cooperatively making parental decisions for caring for their 16 year old daughter. Mediators may find the following highlights of Docherty’s concepts useful in assisting their clients to use their self-determination to make collaborative partnership decisions and commitments focused on the future of their children.  

Negotiations in the Environment of Context Change – From Stable to Unstable

The decision to divorce changes the context of the couple’s relationship from a stable to an unstable setting. This change of the relationship requires the couple to negotiate with unclear negotiating rules and experience a negotiating context with disputed rules of behavior, competing norms of fairness, and uncertainty about their shared future as it relates to their children.

Assistance to Couples for Negotiating During the Unstable Conditions Caused by Divorce

By managing the turmoil in the context and the negotiating interactions, Mediators can use Docherty’s concept of negotiations in an unstable context to assist parties to focus on both immediate problems and long-term relationships, working towards creating and sustaining the will to support the negotiating process and the agreement reached by mutual self-determination. As divorce reflects conditions of an unstable relationship, the mediator would need to help the couple accept the reality that each party would have to recognize the other party as a legitimate negotiating partner. The mediator would need to help the parties to direct their energy toward creating conditions for cooperative negotiations of their issues and to develop a sense of a shared world and some agreement regarding the understanding of the reality of life.  The mediator can assist parties to agree on the negotiating context that is most relevant to their primary issues, their tacit rules, norms and expectations.  The mediator needs to acknowledge that the divorcing couples will find that “reality is not negotiated rationally, and they will not want to bargain their sense of their lives”.

 Assisting Couples to Self-Evaluate Their Preparedness for Negotiating a Shared Vision 

For assisting divorcing couples negotiating co-parenting issues, the mediator can help parties to check their preparedness for negotiating a shared vision and the context of their shared realties and meanings by self-evaluating themselves against the following checklist:

1)      Do they agree that negotiation facilitated through mediation is the best way to resolve their conflict?

2)      Do they recognize and accept each other as a legitimate negotiating partner?

3)      Are they committed to working together towards a shared vision of their future relationship as co-parents of their children?

4)      Can they agree to standards of fairness to resolve their disagreements?

5)      Can they agree on the meaning-making realties they see for the future of their children?

Mediator’s Support to Couples’ Strategic Negotiations during Turbulent Times of Divorce

The mediator can help the parties to realize that the reality of the changing nature of their relationship is what has brought them to the negotiating table. Within the framework of the changing relationship, the mediator can help the couples to recognize that as their relationship is in transition, they need to reshape the story of their marriage to work toward a shared vision of their future relationship as co-parents, and understand that unhooking of their identities from their marriage may create instability and disagreements over the following areas:

1)      Issue Identification – What is being negotiated and what is negotiable?

2)      Acceptable Behavior – What norms of behavior will govern the negotiation   process?

3)      Standards of Fairness – What standards of fairness will be used to resolve disagreements   over issues?

4)      Use of Outside Parties – What outside parties will be used to assist in resolution of any impasse in the negotiation?

In addition to helping the couple with the above areas, the mediator needs to help the couple avoid the possibility of blaming each other as being unreasonable, inaccurate or overly emotional by assisting the couple to get unstuck from their previous identities and the retelling of their stories. The mediator can facilitate the couple’s use of both instrumental language (the language of logic) and relational language (the language to express connection) for retelling their stories to provide a context for the meaning-making realties of their lives and for creating and sustaining a relationship to agree on the co-parenting issues and problems. The mediator can use narrative mediation techniques to assist the couple in telling the stories about who they are and who they would be in relation to each other as co-parents of their children.

Assisting Parties to Negotiate Strategically

The mediator can help each party to self-determine the scope and the limitation of negotiations in the context of the changed environment and the instability of their relationship and self-identify, using the following considerations:

1)      What personal relationships and co-parenting issues are they working out  through some legal issues of their divorce?

2)      Do they prefer face-to face communication to address the redefining of their personal lives after their divorce?

3)      How will they manage negotiations of the legal, financial, and emotional/relational issues of co-parenting?

In this manner the mediator can transform the divorcing couple from being stuck in negotiating the co-parenting issues from the perspectives of the past relationship to negotiating on the basis of their shared vision for the future of their children.  


Docherty, J. S. (2005). The little book of strategic negotiations: Negotiating during turbulent times. Intercourse, PA: Good Books

“Is There Another Way to Resolving Post-Divorce Co-Parenting Conflict”

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D….written for the ICRC Blog”

The Need to View Co-parenting Conflicts from a Different Perspective

Family dispute mediators have firsthand experience with fights, impasse and approaches taken by divorcing couples that seek a settlement that is more reflective of their emotionally-laden motives of penalizing and punishing the other party, neglecting the post-divorce cooperative partnership that is necessary for the welfare and the future of their children. Family dispute mediators also experience how divorcing couples approach the resolution of their conflict with a distributive negotiation consisting of a “win-lose” and a “zero-sum” (sharing of a “fixed-pie”) approach.  Therefore, there is a need for family dispute mediators to make divorcing couples aware that there is another way for them to resolve their conflict through integrative negotiations in which they can collectively achieve “win-win” solutions that they cannot accomplish independently on their own. To accomplish this objective the mediator needs to empower the parties to change their negotiations from “value claiming” (getting the most out of what they have)” to “value creating” (where both can achieve their goals and objectives while creating something they cannot do independently own their own). Family dispute mediators could benefit from using the integrative negotiation approach in helping their clients resolve post-divorce co-parenting conflicts (Reference: Lewicki, R.J., Barry B., & Saunders, D. M. 2007. Essentials of negotiation. McGraw-Hill).   

Negotiating Factors

Parties’ negotiations for resolving divorce conflicts take place because: 1) the parties need to divide their resources and liabilities, 2) the parties are transitioning into a relationship that requires them to do co-parenting that they could not do on their own, and 3) they have to resolve their problems associated with their expectations of their post-divorce relationship. In these situations, they look to the mediator to help them find mutually acceptable solutions to a complex conflict that is shaped by the context of their past relationship. In resolving their divorce conflict, the parties appear to emphasize negotiations associated with the division of tangibles such as the house, money and other assets. However, the parties overlook or minimize the importance of intangibles; such as the need to “ win” or to look “good”, the need to appear “fair”, and the need to defend an important “principle”; that drive the psychological motivations that influence the parties during their negotiations. These intangible factors undermine the interdependent and interlocking aspects of the parties’ post-divorce relationship that is essential to their effective co-parenting.  The mediator can assist the parties to coordinate their interdependence and differences in interests, judgments about the future, risk tolerance, and time preference to develop synergy for creating an effective post-divorce co-parenting relationship. Through this approach the mediator can facilitate transformation of the parties’ conflict style from either yielding or contending to a collaborative negotiating style.

 Role of the Mediator

By assisting the parties in using integrative negotiations for resolving their conflict, the mediator can encourage the parties to maintain a free flow of information and clear and accurate communication; enable them to make efforts to understand the other party’s real needs and interests and accept them as valid; facilitate the parties’ efforts for emphasizing their commonalities while minimizing their differences; and assist the parties’ search for solutions that meet the needs and the objectives of both parties. To assist the parties in using the integrative negotiation process, the mediator can help them execute the following key steps: 1) Developing a mutually acceptable definition of the problem; 2) Using practicality and comprehensiveness for stating the problem; 3) Identifying the obstacles in achieving the goal of solving the stated problem; 4) Depersonalizing the problem; and 5) Separating the definition of the problem from the search for solutions. Through this approach the mediator empowers the parties to identify the interests and needs of each party and to fully understand the problem for   developing collaborative and integrative solutions. 

In facilitating the parties’ use of the integrative approach, the mediator seeks ways to enable parties to set common goals and objectives; empower them to have faith in their individual problem-solving abilities; have belief in the validity of their position and of the other party’s perspective; and find ways to keep the parties motivated and committed for working together and trusting the other party.

In assisting the parties, the mediator can help them to understand their perceptual distortions including stereotyping, selective perception, and projection. The mediator should support the parties’ efforts to frame the conflict that minimize the emphasis on negative characterization of the other party and loss-gain perspectives while effectively balancing the interests, rights, and the power of each party. The mediator should facilitate the parties’ use of these frames to interactively negotiate and use the unity achieved from each of them getting their desires into the conflict frame to develop a shared vision of their issues and the processes for resolving them.  In this integrative negotiation process, the mediator should help parties in controlling irrational escalation of commitment to a course that would not be conducive to a productive co-parenting relationship, and to minimize the influence of self-serving biases on the integrative negotiations undertaken by the parties. With effective facilitation of these integrative approaches, the mediator would be able to empower the parties to develop an understanding that negotiating a mutually acceptable co-parenting relationship is the overarching goal of their negotiation.


Lewicki, R. J., Garry, B. & Saunders, D. M. (2007). Essentials of negotiations. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

“Beneficial Insights for Family Dispute Mediators from Sallyann Roth”

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D….written for the ICRC Blog”.
In January, 2010, Ms. Sallyann Roth, MSW, LICSW led a two-day workshop at the Consortium of Narrative Research and Practice, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Nova Southern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Ms. Roth, one of the founding members of the Harvard Public Conversation Project, is an associate of the Taos Institute and previously was the co-director of the Family Institute of Cambridge, MA. She is an internationally recognized speaker on conflict resolution and family dispute mediation. In this workshop, Ms. Roth discussed critical aspects of mediation of family disputes for overcoming estrangement.
In this workshop she discussed ways a mediator can overcome the commonly experienced “re-entry” problems and eliminate the “blame game”, things that are usually practiced by the parties involved in a family dispute. Her discussion provided insights on how mediators can help couples involved in a process of divorce to focus on developing solutions for the future of their children that they cannot individually do on their own. The highlights of Ms. Roth’s approach include the following:
1. Eliminating the re-entry problem: In her discussion she outlined her process for purposely working with each party individually before meeting with them collectively. She was also clear about how she let each party decide whether it wants to try to find ways to resolve the conflict and, if yes, the context and timing of the mediation events. Her process for individual sessions provided her clients the ability to select a communication process most suitable for them including in person, email or telephone communication.
2. Assisting parties to view the conflict from the perspective of the other party and to crystallize their own view, meanings, needs and interest in resolving the conflict.
3. Empowering the parties to take responsibility for themselves: she carefully empowers each of the parties to view the conflict as an individual. This approach facilitates the transformation of responsibility from “You”, “Him/her” to “I”.
4. Her approach is focused on “stance and attitude” of the parties and not on the methods and techniques of mediation.
5. In her approach, a mediator focuses on assisting each party to develop self-understanding and understanding of the other party through development of questions they would like to be asked by the other party and that they would like to ask the other party.
Family dispute mediators, especially those providing mediation services to couples with child custody and support disputes, can derive the following direct benefits from Ms. Roth’s techniques.
1. Assisting parties in taking the responsibility for making joint decisions for safeguarding the future of their children while they maintain what would otherwise be their separate lives.
2. Empowering the parties with the ability of moving away from fixed positions that may be founded in emotions such as hurt, anger, pain, shame or betrayal.
3. Enabling the parties to develop understanding of the needs and the interests of the other party.
4. Fostering a transformation of the stances and attitudes of the disputing couples.
5. Empowering parties to make commitments to take personal responsibility for finding their own solutions.
6. Transforming the view of the disputing couples from “value claiming” to “value creation”.
7. Enabling parties to develop a shared vision, a common understanding of meaning for the future of their children, a sense of the reality of their future lives while having the future of their children as the only common aspect of their otherwise independent lives, and to use this shared vision to initiate a collaborative agreement based on mutually agreed standards of fairness.
The approach of insisting on having individual sessions before having any joint sessions makes the parties self-reflect and the approach of asking the parties to develop questions they each would like to be asked by the other party. The questions they would like to ask the other party, changes the parties’ view of the conflict from an individual view to a collective view. The mediator’s role of empowering the parties’ self transformation is similar to Transformative Mediation as practiced by Bush and Folger (2005).
Bush, R. A. & Folger, J. P (2005). The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Roth, S. (2010, January). “From Discord to Dialogue” and the second day “Overcoming Estrangement” Workshop. Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Fl.

Eight Essential Steps to Resolving Divorcing Couples’ Conflict: Preserving Post-Divorce Co-parenting Relationship

“Dilip in cooperation with Alexia Georgakopoulos, Ph.D….written for the ICRC Blog”

Family dispute mediators have firsthand experience with how divorcing couples associate words such as fight, anger, pain, impasse, fear, mistake, avoid, lose, control, hate, loss, bad, and wrongdoing to describe their conflict associated with their divorce. To make co-parenting decisions that focus on the future of their children, these couples need to transform their perception of their relationship as a negative experience and/or mistake to view their post-divorce relationship for its positive potential for their mutual growth and improvement as co-parents who are committed to collaboratively empower their children to have a better future. Family dispute mediators also see how in divorce, conflicts become a battle to win and how couples use divorce settlements to do everything they can to blame the other party for everything and to penalize and punish the other party as a consequence of the resolution of the marriage. Family dispute mediators may benefit from using the Dudley Weeks’ concepts of The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution (1992) in their mediation services to divorcing couples for assisting them in resolving their conflicts, especially disputes related to co-parenting.
The Eight Steps of Conflict Partnership Process
If one accepts the concept of parenting as a partnership then post-divorce co-parenting can also be viewed as a partnership of individuals who share desire and need to care for their children that requires a collaborative partnership focused on the welfare of the children among individuals who otherwise will live separate individual lives. With this framework, family dispute mediators may find that their abilities to enhance the skills of divorcing couples in resolving their conflict would be improved by adopting Weeks’ Conflict Partnership Process consisting of the following eight steps: 1) Create an effective atmosphere, 2) Clarify perceptions, 3) Focus on individual and shared needs, 4) Build shared positive power, 5) Look to the future, then learn from the past, 6) Generate options, 7) Develop “doables”-stepping-stones to action, and 8) Make mutual-benefit agreements. The adaption of Weeks’ Conflict Partnership Process will benefit mediators in assisting the divorcing parties to view their relationship as a combination of commonalities (their interest in their children’s future), differences (their desires for their children) and shared needs (their need to support their children effectively) and assist them to transfer their relationship patterns to deal with differences and conflicts to nurture their mutual development in becoming better co-parents.
Beneficial Use of the Eight Steps of Conflict Partnership Process
Weeks’ process can help the mediator to assist the conflicting parties in clarifying the perception of the conflict, self-perception, and the perception of the other party, and to readjust the lenses of their minds. Using the Weeks’ concept, the mediator can enable parties to focus on individual needs and the needs of the relationship – shared needs. The mediator can assist the parties to develop and to build on their own positive self-power, positive self-power of the other party, and shared positive power. Weeks’ concept of Conflict Partnership Process can be used by mediators to help the parties learn from the past and understand the parts they played in the past conflicts. They can use this understanding to focus on the present and the future by not letting the past impede conflict resolution for achieving mutual benefits from the future relationship. Additionally, the mediator can use Week’s concept to assist the conflicting parties in their efforts to generate options that go beyond preconceived answers and extend into imaging of options minimizing the reflection of the past and that sincerely include the other party’s options. Using these options, the mediator can assist them to develop carefully selected “doables: the stepping stones”. Finally, the mediator can help parties in developing “mutual-benefit agreements” and in keeping the Conflict Partnership Process alive after the accomplishment of their mutual-benefit agreements.
Mediator’s Use of the Eight Steps of Conflict Partnership Process
It is critical that the mediator assures the parties that their use of his services is not an indication of their inadequacies in resolving the conflict on their own, but is a reflection of their desire to achieve a more effective resolution than they can develop on their own. In cases where the parties are stuck in unrealistic demands of the other party, the mediator can assist the parties to move beyond demands to focus on needs and mutual agreements. Similarly, when mutual emotional wounding from the past relationship makes parties unwilling or incapable of moving beyond refighting past battles and taking steps for the present and towards the future, the mediator can individually assist the parties to realize that to develop a mutually beneficial relationship they should not let the past dictate their future. In helping divorcing couples with their conflicts, a family dispute mediator may find Weeks’ following two phase approach and recommendations useful.
Phase One: Individual Sessions
The mediator should clarify and get their agreement on the role the mediator will serve. In these sessions, the mediator should focus on learning about the conflict and parties to the conflict from each individual party’s views and perceptions. To accomplish these objectives, the mediator needs to ask questions to develop the understanding each individual parity’s needs, each individual party’s view of their collective needs and their shared needs, the individual party’s relationship needs, each individual party’s views on improving the relationship, and the individual party’s potential misperceptions. With this understanding, the mediator can introduce the concept of “Conflict Partnership Process” and encourage the party to focus on mutual-benefit options and doables.
Phase Two: Joint Sessions:
The mediator needs to carefully accommodate critical preliminary matters to set the stage for assisting the parties in their journey toward developing a Conflict Resolution Partnership. These preliminary matters include the mediator helping the parties in their self-determination, selection of time and place, and agreement on acceptable standards of behavior and communication process. The mediator may think of an opening statement that sets the tone and creates an atmosphere of partnership that focuses on mutual benefits and commitment to identifying doables. The mediator needs to use facilitation to empower the parties to clarify their expressions and statements and to focus on nurturing shared positive power.
Weeks, D. (1992). The eight essential steps to conflict resolution: Preserving relationships at work, at home, and in the community. New York, NY: Penguin Putman Inc.