UnderstandingUncovering and recognising emotions, needs and interests

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.

Why is this a fundamental dispute resolution practice?

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.

What are the active ingredients of understanding?

A relational environment that promotes dialogue and information-sharing.

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.

Focusing on the needs, interests, and emotions of the other party.

One method for achieving this is interest-based (integrative) negotiation.

Questioning and communication methods that combat bias, irrational behavior, and help parties more precisely define their needs.

A few examples of these are active listening, summarising, and reframing.

What are people actually doing to make this happen?

Parties are listening to each other and engaging in interest-based negotiation, mediation and other forms of constructive dialogue. Parties that choose not to meet are taking time to reflect on their own needs, and how they can be met.
Arbitrators, mediators and facilitators
Arbitrators, mediators and facilitators ​are helping parties understand their own needs as well as the needs of the other with questioning and communication methods based in social psychology, such as summarising and reframing.
Arbitrators, mediators and facilitators
Judges and justice leaders
Judges and justice leaders are creating opportunities for parties to communicate safely and constructively with one another outside the adversarial courtroom setting.
Judges and justice leaders
Innovators are creating online platforms that facilitate interest-based negotiation, mediation and other forms of constructive dialogue between parties.

What indicators can be used to monitor this practice?

Procedural justice (voice, respect)

What makes understanding difficult?

Behavioral barriers

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.

More Resources

  1. Harry Weger Jr., Gina Castle Bell, Elizabeth Minei, Melissa Robinson, “The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Reactions,” The International Journal of Listening (2014)