Conflict Mapping – When Your Emotional GPS Says You’re Lost

By Laura Melton Tucker, October 21st, 2010

Listen to this entry.

When a friend called to say she wanted to purchase a mediation for her friend on the brink of a divorce, I responded enthusiastically…until she informed me her friend would be coming alone.  I stammered, “Um, gee, mediation is between two parties.  I’m not a counselor, you know.”  Reaching, I threw in a joke to underscore the absurdity of a one person mediation: “I guess I could mediate between your friend’s head and heart.”  My friend didn’t laugh. I regrouped. “How about I meet your friend for coffee instead? I’ll tell her about mediation and we’ll get a chance to get acquainted as friends.”  “No,”  my friend responded.  “She already knows about mediation.  I want you to be professional about this and meet with her.  Send me a bill.  I’m giving her your number.”  Click.  I sat holding the phone, perplexed.  Now I had my own conflict to resolve – how to do right by my friend and adhere to my mediator training and standards of good practice.  Thanks to a seminar I attended months ago, I had an idea about what might work for this solo client.  When the client called, we talked briefly, and after clarifying that I’m not a counselor, I offered her an alternative.   With my guidance, I would help her “map” her marriage conflict.  The process, I explained, could help her grow more “clear, calm, confident, focused and decisive,” – the benefits of transformative mediation as defined by Bush and Folger.  She liked the idea.

A method first suggested by Paul Wehr, conflict mapping lays out a framework for breaking down the components of any conflict whether international or local, among a  community of people or between two.  The mapping process looks at the history of the conflict, lists the parties involved, the context of the problem and its triggering events.  Conflict mapping inquires into the parties’ style of conflict (avoidance, control, cooperation, compromise) and the dynamics of the conflict.   Once the nature of the conflict is mapped, the parties may feel a new sense of clarity about the root causes of what once felt too complicated and emotionally charged to unravel.  Mediators may meet separately with each party to map their view of the conflict, and then bring the parties together for a comparison of one another’s conflict maps.  When the maps are lined up side by side, points of entry into the conflict with opportunities for possible resolution may reveal themselves.

In the case of my solo client,  I suggested a road map for our conflict mapping session.  She told the story of her conflict and then together we began to look at its causes and consequences.  The real treasure mining for my client came when I showed her a four-square chart of fundamental human needs.  I use the acronym DISC to list them:  dignity, identity, security and control.  The chart unleashed a rush of insight.  In each square she was able to list ways that the marriage wasn’t working to meet her needs.   To gather more insight, she filled the same chart from the pespective of her husband, to inquire into how the marriage might be failing to meet his needs for dignity, identity, security and control.

The takeaway is that conflict mapping can be a useful tool for mediators in some circumstances. At the end of our session, this lovely, kind, thoughtful friend of my friend had settled on several issues for further conversation with her husband. Her conflict map revealed patterns of interaction within the marriage that may or may not be fixable.  And yet, seeing the conflict mapped out before her, she seemed less perplexed and more prepared to return to her husband and resume the conversation.  From this mediator’s perspective, it was a good day’s work.  As I explained to my client at the beginning of her session, conflict can be a good thing when it allows us to adapt to new situations and invent new approaches to problems.

2 Responses

  • pam d. says:

    You have sound! Cool!

  • Leah says:

    Terrific, Laura! Thank you for once again delivering such rich, meaty content. I can see so many applications for conflict mapping – I’ll be reading this again and referring others to it!

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