By Gary J. Friedman and Katherine Miller
Contracting is a decisive moment in the conflict mediation process. At this critical point, two parties at odds with one another and a mediator will enter the room like fighters entering an arena. Both sides have an agenda, emotions, and the drive to win out for their cause. Some will be looking for a fight, others for the fastest way back out the door. In this, at times hostile moment, lines are drawn consciously and unconsciously around the battle most participants assume is about to take place. It can be tempting for conflict resolution professionals to step in the middle like a referee, quickly laying down the ground rules and commanding each side to a “good, clean fight.”
With the Understanding-Based Model, the reality can be much different. The empowerment mediators bring to this critical juncture can be instrumental when we take time to thoroughly explore the deep-seated emotions and dynamics at play, establish ground agreements instead of rules, and allow both parties to address pre-existing traumas. We can become a catalyst for change and guide participants to where they understand and support how the process will unfold – a crucial and critical principle in embracing the human issues at the heart of the conflict. With that key, we can open doors to a mutually beneficial and lasting solution built on an understanding instead of an adversary. Whether our clients choose to walk through that door is up to them.
By unlocking the potential of a thorough and conscientious contracting session, we can help individuals know they have a voice while fostering confidence and clarity in the steps to follow. The result is a calmer experience for everyone involved, where agreements are shared, and disagreement is allowed and embraced as an essential element in resolving conflict.
In How Can Contracting Take a Whole Session, Katherine Miller and Gary Friedman outline a fundamental four-step process to help remove assumptions, decrease tensions, and move from a hostile environment to mutual respect and understanding.