November 4, 2010

Subtly provoking positive language and amplifying rapprochment in solution-focused mediation

One domain in which the solution-focused approach is used is conflict management. Solution-focused professionals are asked to mediate between conflict parties. Sometimes there may be a conflict in a team in which case the solution-focused professional may have many conversation partners at once. Sometimes there may be two conflict partners such as colleagues, neighbors or a married couple.

Many, if not all, of the solution-focused principles and techniques are useful in these types of situations. Some specific examples of particularly useful interventions are:
  1. Usefulness questions ("How can we use the available time as good as possible", "Was it useful to talk about this?") 
  2. Desired situation questions ("How would like the situation to become?", "What will be the first small sign that will tell you that things are starting to move in the right direction?")
  3. Acknowledgment: ("Okay, I understand", "Of course, that must be hard")
  4. Mutualizing: ("It's clear to me that both of you really want to solve this problem in a good way but still need to find a way to do that. Is that true?)
  5. Exception seeking questions and past success questions: ("When did this problem not occur? ", "When have things been a bit better?"
In addition to these familiar interventions solution-focused meditors are keen to amplify rapprochment between their conversation partners. They notice even the smallest signs of benevolence, willingness to cooperate and progress and amplify these positive elements by asking curious questions about them ("You just said you know John does his best, too... I am curious about that. Can you explain that to me? How do know he does his best, too?"). Not only do solution-focused mediators notice these positive signs well, they also are subtly provoking positive language. The solution-focused mediator subtly bends the client's language from negative to positive. Often whenever one conflict partner has said something positive and concrete, the mediator might switch to the other person and invite him or her to respond. Here is a brief example.

Bill:
John is so unreliable.  He never meets his deadlines!  It’s driving me so mad.
SF mediator:
Ok. So I understand it is important for you that John meets his deadlines? Could you explain that?
Bill:
That’s simple. If he does not meet his deadlines, I can’t either. I am next in line. My work depends on him being on time.
SF mediator:
Oh, I am beginning to understand. So John’s work being on time is really important to you?
Bill:
Yes, it is really important.
SF mediator:
John, I understand your work is very important to Bill. If you finish your work on time, he can too. What are your thoughts when you hear this?
John:
Like I don’t try to be on time! I work really hard and try to do my job the best I can.
SF mediator:
Ok, so you are really trying to meet your deadlines, don’t you?
John:
Sure, I do. It’s just that I have a terrible computer and lousy technical support. That is why I can’t always meet my deadlines.
SF mediator:
So you are really trying to meet your deadlines but can’t always deliver due to computer problems?
John:
Exactly.
SF mediator:
Bill, I understand that John is aware of how important him meeting his deadlines is for you and is really trying his best to meet them.
Bill:
Well, I know he is doing his best.
SF mediator:
Really, you know? How have you noticed that?
Bill:
He is always working really hard and late. He must do his best.
SF mediator:
Okay, I think I am beginning to understand the situation a bit better. Is it useful to talk about it like this?
Bill:
To me it is. I did not know about the computer problems. Perhaps I might help out there ...
SF mediator:
Oh yeah? How could you help?

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