The intensely-felt emotions that come with conflict often make it difficult for parties’ to see the other’s perspective and empathise with them. Greater mutual understanding can only be reached through communication. Yet as judges, mediators, facilitators, and innovators well know, bringing parties to the table to talk through their issues is only the first step. Once the conversation starts, blaming and defensive tactics can take hold and reduce the chance of understanding the parties’ needs and arriving at a solution that adequately addresses them.
Building understanding by establishing the needs and goals of the parties involved in a conflict or dispute is essential groundwork for reaching a mutually satisfying solution. It requires constructive communication techniques such as active listening1, summarising, and reframing. Such techniques help meet a basic human need to be heard and have a voice throughout the resolution process.
Often, parties build understanding through negotiation: a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. While negotiation is most commonly achieved by the parties themselves, it can also be facilitated by a neutral third party in the form of mediation. Mediation uses the same questioning and communication methods as interest-based (integrative) negotiation.
Understanding requires constructive communication about emotions and interests as well as facts. To facilitate a personal exchange of this kind, both parties must feel safe and respected.
One method for achieving this is interest-based (integrative) negotiation.
A few examples of these are active listening, summarising, and reframing.
Parties to a protracted dispute may begin to feel that their disagreements are unsolvable and therefore not want to continue the conversation. Disagreements about the outcome (what or how much each party should get) in particular may make reaching an understanding without the support of a neutral third party difficult.