The title of Canadian mediator Ben Hoffman‘s new book is Peaceweaving. I find the word ‘peaceweaving’ descriptive of work I sometimes do inside large organizations. Destructive conflict creates a hole in the organizational fabric and mediation between the parties is not enough to repair the hole. Peaceweaving entails working more broadly in the organization, particularly within the hierarchy that has brought in the mediator.
Parties are usually frightened and in pain, and are naturally looking for relief. Further encounters with the other party are rarely a first choice option. Each party may hold some or all of the following attitudes:
- The organization has failed to protect my rights
- This problem has gone on for many years and someone should have done something about it a long time ago
- The real difficulty is that the other party has a mental health challenge and mediation will not work
A mediator must gain the trust of the parties, and with them, build a process that will facilitate their communication. She or he must create a vision of a respectful dialogue that has the potential to evolve into a more constructive association between the parties.
However, working with the parties is not likely to be adequate. Effective engagement between them also depends upon the attitudes of those who oversee or share the responsibilities of the parties. The way these other individuals use their power in relation to the mediation is crucial to its success. And so the peaceweaving begins.
How does the organization view each party’s contribution to the dispute? If one party is favored, she may have less reason to take responsibility for her role in the escalation of the conflict.
How open is the organization to acknowledging that better management could have nipped the problem in the bud? If they are not willing to improve the quality of supervision, the reemergence of the problem is likely.
What expectations of interpersonal responsibility exist in the culture? For example, is it acceptable to hold the attitude that, ‘Everyone has trouble with Rachel,’ or is there an expectation that one must find a way to work with all personnel.
If mediation fails to reach a consensus, what will the organization do next? If it does not commit to something, the parties are left negotiating in a vacuum.
In short, the power structure of the organization must explicitly or implicitly communicate attitudes that will encourage the parties to engage with each other constructively and vigorously.
By questioning practices and collaborating with the hierarchy I find myself able to initiate the communication of a message to the parties, arrange for support such as coaching, have policy applied in a particular manner, or suggest a new practice. Frequently these peaceweaving activities involve sharing perspectives of various individuals in the organization with others in the organization.
It is a light-touch, covert mediation through which scaffolding threads are stretched across the hole in the social fabric of the organization. With mediator support, it will be up to the parties to complete the mending process in mediation.
Please feel free to comment.