Interpersonal Psychological Damage caused by Conflict and the Healing Power of Mediation – Part 2

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight 

Mediation for prevention of conflict

Conflict is inherent in every human being due to the simple fact that everybody perceives reality from his own perspective, based on culture, beliefs, history, and very personal point of view. 

Interpersonal conflict happens because it is “a cognitive-emotional process in which two persons perceive incompatible goals within their relationship of interdependence and the desire to resolve their differences of power.” (Redorta, 2014).

There are multiple sources of conflict. For Freud, there is a conflict between desire and prohibition, so there is an inner fight of duty. For Darwin, the conflict remains between the person and the environment in a battle to survive. For Marx, there is a conflict between social classes, and the fight is for equality. According to Hobbes, “in the nature of man, we find three main causes of dissent or conflict; the first is competition, the second is distrust and the third, glory”. (Redorta, 2001).

However, when conflict escalates, the devastation that it can cause over peace can be regrettable. The 2020 Global Peace Index (GPI)  establishes that the countries that belong to that study became less peaceful for the ninth time in the last 12 years. There are some key findings regarding conflicts that this report mentions, such as: (i) the ongoing conflict had the most extensive deterioration of the GPI domains, by 6.8 percent between 2008 and 2020, (ii) the number of demonstrations, general strikes, and anti-government demonstrations worldwide increased from 2011 to 2019, (iii) as COVID-19 spread across the globe, the governments imposed restrictions on movement to contain the pandemic. The pandemic and resulting government responses have reduced protests around the world.

The same report mentions that COVID-19: (i) will cause substantial changes in how society operates, and entities conduct their business in most countries, (ii) the crisis and the social isolation response expects to send a large number of countries into recession in 2020. The travel and tourism industries are likely to incur severe contractions, (iii) it threatens to increase stress on the health system of people all over the world. 

This current situation is a general overview of the challenges regarding the increasing conflicts that our global society faces. Slaikeu and Hasson point out that “predictable conflicts,” added to a “weak system” in conflict resolution, inevitably result in “high costs.” These authors mention that the conflict causes are many – from a simple conflict of interest and poor communication to malicious acts. (Moore, 2006).

Society can see the need for preventive measures to avoid the escalation of conflicts. The United Nations has established its commitment to move from a culture of “reaction” to one of “prevention.”  

The United Nations, through its United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has said that nowadays the conflicts have muted into complex systems because of the multiple and competing interests which have the potential to generate lasting turbulence and harm sustainable development of the society and in consequence peace. So, UNDP responds to this challenge through the prevention side and focuses on three prevention and peacebuilding areas, which are: (i) conflict analysis and assessment, (ii) infrastructure for peace, and (iii) dialogue and Mediation.

The Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defines prevention as: “(i) preparation and provision that is made in advance to avoid a risk, (ii) provision of maintenance or something else that serves a purpose, (iii) concept, usually unfavorable, that one person has of someone else or something…”. The Oxford English dictionary defines prevention as “the act of stopping something bad from happening”. The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “intended to stop something before it happens”.

Effective prevention requires to act before conflict increases. According to the document named Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, which was worked by the United Nations and the World Bank Group, prevention is a long-term process to reinforce and guide a pathway toward peace. Significant changes need to happen in the way national, regional, and international actors operate and cooperate to identify and address the risks of violent conflicts before they transform into a crisis. Unfortunately, preventive actions usually focus on accompanying the crisis instead of managing underlying risks.

The study explains three core principles of structural prevention, which are: “(i) prevention must be sustained over the necessary time to address structural issues comprehensively, strong institutions, and adapt incentives for actors to manage conflict without violence. It is not a separate effort. (ii) Prevention must be inclusive and build partnerships across groups to identify and address grievances that enforce violence, (iii) prevention must proactively and directly target patterns of exclusion and institutional weaknesses that increase risk. Successful prevention depends on pro-active and targeted action before, during, and after violence. Modern conflicts arise when groups contest access to power, resources, services, and security; alongside efforts to mitigate the impacts of violence and de-escalate conflict, preventive action must actively and directly target grievances and exclusion across key areas of risk.”

The United Nations Charter defines mediation as a necessary form for the peaceful settlement of conflicts. It says that “Mediation is a process whereby a third party assists two or more parties, with their consent, to prevent, manage or resolve a conflict by helping them to develop mutually acceptable agreements. Mediation’s premise is that in the right environment, conflict parties can improve their relationships and move towards cooperation. Mediation outcomes can be limited in scope, dealing with a specific issue to contain or manage a conflict, or can tackle a broad range of issues in a comprehensive peace agreement.”

Revilla (2004) quotes Karen Grover Duffy and defines Mediation as “the intervention in a conflict of a neutral third party that helps the opposing parties to manage or resolve their dispute. The mediator is the neutral third party who, through different communication techniques helps the parties in conflict to reach a consensual agreement to resolve the dispute.

Revilla (2004) points out that mediation “is an innovative system of understanding human relations, a system that does not analyze, judge or sanction, but rather makes possible conflict resolution effectively without coercion, through pacification. ”

Moore (2006) says that “mediation is the intervention in a dispute or negotiation, of an acceptable, impartial and neutral third party that lacks an authorized power of decision to help the parties in dispute to voluntarily reach their own mutually acceptable settlement.” He points out that for Mediation to exist, the parties involved must necessarily begin to negotiate. Therefore, Mediation is a negotiation assisted by a third party who is knowledgeable about the techniques and tools necessary to ensure that the people in conflict can reach satisfactory agreements. It is fascinating to understand that without negotiation there could not be Mediation, and this makes sense from the moment we know that the mediator cannot compel the mediates to sit at the mediation table. Hence the only way to get to that table is through negotiation.

Likewise, he points out that the third party’s interventions crucial since they may be able to modify the power dynamics of the relationship in conflict. Moore (2006) quotes Rubin and Brown (1975), who have indicated that an independent third party’s presence turns out to be beneficial in resolving the conflict.

The parties’ acceptance of this impartial third party is essential so that the parties are willing to respectfully and thoughtfully listen to their suggestions. For Moore, the mediator’s neutrality means that the mediator cannot expect to obtain any personal benefit from any of the parties in conflict derived from their participation in the mediation process.

Nohlan-Haley (2008), postulates that mediation is an extension of the negotiation process, where the parties use a neutral and impartial third party for the resolution of their conflict. She points out that the World Trade Organization (WTO) uses Mediation through the dispute resolution program and that the European Union has implemented a directive that requires member states to adopt mediation programs to resolve international trade conflicts. The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) has adopted a model of international Mediation and Conciliation.

Mediation has proven to be a pacific and prosperous way so that parties in a conflict build their solutions. But also, mediation has resulted in being an effective way to prevent escalation of disputes. There are some examples to be noticed, such as:

  • Toro Co. A critical successful case of using Mediation as a method of prevention of litigation conflicts. The company implemented an internal prevention mediation program to mitigate litigation cases. The implementation results state company could reduce lawsuits and their associated costs, as well as the uncertainty of not knowing how much money they would have to pay for legal expenses each year. Therefore with the preventive mediation program, the company has managed to generate an annual budget to control its costs regarding conflicts and solutions.

As stated by Andrew Beyers, Litigation Director of Toro Co., “prior to the implementation of mediation in 1992, the average cost of litigation was more than $47,200 US dollars and the Company handled six to eight conflicts annually with an 82% success rate in court. After the implementation of mediation, the 905 disputes faced between 1992 and 2000 were resolved with an average cost of $20,250 dollars in a maximum of four months. The program was very successful because it established a new way to resolve disputes.” (Drew Mallick, 2009).

  • The US Postal Service also worked on an internal prevention program to resolve disputes with its employees called REDRESS (“Resolve Employment Disputes, Reach Equitable Solutions Swiftly”). According to the Institution, when the parties in the conflict can participate in a transformative mediation session, better communication is developed. According to Pam Zuczek, the person in charge of the REDRESS program, Mediation achieved an 80% rate in terms of conflict resolution. He states: “What happens is that employees become more generous; they begin to recognize the other party and realize that their behaviors and attitudes affect the other person and are willing to change their behavior. “
  • During the so-called “Problem of the Year 2000” or “Y2K”, a dozen multinational companies including Bank of America Corporation, General Mills Inc., Phillip Morris USA, The Coca-Cola Company, Bell South Corporation, among others, in a preventive way agreed to use Mediation instead of litigation to resolve disputes arising from computer failures.

Bühring-Uhle (2006) mentions that American companies have also established corporate programs for prevention using alternative dispute resolutions reinforced through training for the employees of organizations to see it as a standard business practice. Some companies have even appointed an “ADR Officer” whose tasks are to establish processes to find conflicts early and conduct reviews of long-term contracts to alert about potential disputes.  A point of great importance is to involve senior management in conflict resolution policy.

These are best practices from successful examples from the business point,  where mediation benefits can be used at an early stage in order to prevent the conflict’s escalation. 

Conclusion 

Conflict is inherent in every life due to the simple fact that we all perceive reality from our perspective with our own cultural and very personal points of view. However, when conflict escalates, it can destroy lives. The interpersonal psychological damage is a deviation to the individual’s health, and therefore is a blockage to a potential fit in interaction with the parties. Nowadays, it seems to be so much chaos around us in many parts of the world. Covid-19 has shown how close we all are, and it is creating and will continue to create variable conflicts around the globalized society.  

For effective prevention, society is required to act before conflict increases. Its peaceful methods recognize Mediation, and because people can communicate assertively to find a solution for their conflict. Emotional intelligence plays an essential role in the different techniques and tools during the mediation process. Mediation prevention programs have a vast potential to help parties in conflict mitigate stress and cortisol running through their bodies. 

The examples mentioned in this document show that Mediation can be part of the cure to prevent conflicts through the analysis, assessment, and design of a preventive program.  It can work in every subject matter that prevention of conflicts may seem necessary. 

The Global Index of Peace shows enormous challenges that the world is facing, so there is no more time to lose. The reality shows us that it would be an excellent idea to start doing or reinforce the preventive programs, including the mediation process to resolve conflicts before they escalate and generate more violence in society. 

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Renfrewshire Council. (2020, January 1). Psychological harm. Retrieved from Renfrewshire Council: Renfrewshire Council

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Bühring-Uhle, C. (2006). Arbitration and Mediation in International Business. Estados Unidos: Kluwer Law International, p. 309. 

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Mallick, D. U.S. Corporations Should Implement In-House Mediation Program into their Business Plans to Resolve Disputes. Harvard Negotiation Law Review. http://www.hnlr.org/2009/03/us-corporations-should-implement-in-house . Accessed on July 2020.

Nohlan-Haley (2008). Alternative Dispute Resolution in a nutshell. Gale Cengage.

Redorta, J. (2014). Cómo analizar los conflictos. Barcelona, España: Espasa Libros, S.L.U.

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