Transformative Mediation

excerpted from The Transformative Framework

The transformative framework was first articulated by Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger in The Promise of Mediation: Responding to Conflict through Empowerment and Recognition (Jossey-Bass, 1994).

The transformative framework is based on a Relational view of the world: the view that people are autonomous beings who are at the same time fundamentally connected to one another, and who are constantly striving to balance their autonomy with relating to others. This worldview can be best understood as a contrast to the prevailing Individualist worldview of our society, in which people are assumed to be separate and self-interested, motivated only by the prospect of maximizing their individual gain.

The transformative framework is relevant for many types of conflict intervention processes, including interpersonal, small group, and organizational applications.

According to this framework, a conflict represents first and foremost a crisis in human interaction – a crisis with a common and predictable character. Specifically, the occurrence of conflict tends to destabilize the parties’ experience of both self and other, so that each party feels both more vulnerable and more self-absorbed than they did before the conflict.

Further, these negative attitudes often feed into each other on all sides as parties interact, in a vicious circle that intensifies each party’s sense of weakness and self-absorption. As a result, the interaction between the parties quickly degenerates and assumes a mutually destructive, alienating, and dehumanizing character. For most people, according to the transformative theory, being caught in this kind of destructive interaction is the most significant negative impact of conflict.

However, the transformative framework posits that, despite conflict’s natural destabilizing impacts on interaction, people have the capacity to regain their footing and shift back to a restored sense of strength or confidence in self (the empowerment shift) and openness or responsiveness to the other (the recognition shift). Moreover, these positive moves also feed into each other on all sides, and the interaction can therefore regenerate and assume a constructive, connecting, and humanizing character. The model assumes that this transformation of the interaction itself is what matters most to parties in conflict – even more than resolution on favorable terms.

What is the role of the mediator?

  • As applied to third party intervention, the framework is the basis for the transformative model of mediation. In this model, the mediator’s goal is helping the parties to:
  • identify the opportunities for empowerment and recognition shifts as they arise in the parties’ own conversation; choose whether and how to act upon these opportunities; and thus change their interaction from destructive to constructive, as they explore specific disputed issues.

Success is measured, in transformative mediation, not by settlement but by party shifts toward strength, responsiveness and constructive interaction. Effective practice is focused on supporting empowerment and recognition shifts, by allowing and encouraging party deliberation and decision-making, and inter-party perspective taking, in various ways.

If mediators do their job, parties are likely to make positive changes in their interactions with each other and, as a result, find acceptable terms of resolution for themselves where such terms genuinely exist. But the possibility is also left open that parties may voluntarily choose, and be satisfied, to leave the mediation with new insights on their choices and new interpersonal understandings but no agreement, or even to take the conflict to a different forum such as litigation. Settlement remains a distinct possibility – choice available to the parties depending upon how their own goals and insights develop through the mediation conversation – but is no longer the single outcome privileged by the mediator or the mediator’s single measure of a successful mediation.