‘That should be easy’, you may think. ‘Of course the parties accept that they have a conflict. That’s why they came to a mediator. Let’s move on.’
But the parties accepting that they have a conflict and accepting the tension that goes with their being in conflict are different. Indeed, much of what parties do when they are in conflict is to deny the tension that goes with being in the conflict. And they do so by blaming the other. He or she (the other party) is simply wrong and must change … or at least change his or her position. Then it will be over. Right / wrong. Yes. Tension? No.
And the mediator too can very much want the conflict to go away. Let’s resolve it. Or at least let’s go around it (or over or under) by some technique such as having the parties in separate rooms so that they (and I, the mediator) do not have to live with their tension.
But, as we view it, the first step for the mediator is to accept and acknowledge that the parties are in conflict. And for the parties to accept that discomfort “You disagree. That may be hard to sit with. But sitting with it – acknowledging it — is the first important step in seeking to go beyond it.”
In this way, this principle is closely related to Principle 2: responsibility — the primary responsibility for resolving the dispute is with the parties. We may be tempted as we sit in the mediator’s chair to take responsibility for solving the problem in order to end or avoid the conflict that is in the room. In fact, the parties may want and even implicitly or explicitly ask us to do so and yet we advocate resistance to that plea. Solving the problem for the parties, assuming that would be possible, disempowers them from finding a way to solve the problem together and likely leads to future conflicts between them.
Try it yourself. Instead of seeking to make the tension of being in conflict go away, and do all the things we might do to hurry up its going away, simply allow it. This is an easy one to practice (in terms of opportunities). We don’t have to wait until we are in the mediator chair. We have tensions every day, and every day we may seek to deny them or choose one side of the tension in the effort to make the other side wrong, and thereby make the tension, go away. The other possibility is simply to allow the tension. Embrace it. And recognize, and possibly say, “There I go being human again.”