In conflict, most people feel misunderstood, at least by their opposite. The traditional way of resolving differences is through efforts at persuasion rather than understanding. Even when one wins in court, he or she may feel vindicated but not necessarily understood. Mediation can allow for increased understanding – the parties of themselves and, hopefully, of each other.
When parties to conflict feel so misunderstood, receiving authentic understanding can be enormously valuable in creating the climate for them to work together to resolve their dispute. The mediator’s authentic effort to understand each party, done well, can lead to both parties feeling understood — at least by the mediator. Being understood by the mediator is valuable in and of itself. There is also the possibility that the parties may be able and willing to try to understand each other.
Misunderstanding fans the flames of conflict. Understanding can begin to quell them, and allow for something deeper between the parties to arise. As Thich Nhat Hanh has expressed it, when it becomes possible for each party to a conflict to see that the other is also suffering, the anger can dissipate.
Easy to say. Much harder to do–not just for the disputants to a conflict, but for the conflict professionals as well.