Narrative and discourse setting mediation scene

Narrative and discourse setting mediation scene



Narrative mediation is founded on the premise that there are many ways to view conflict.  In order to have an active and result oriented mediation role, the mediator must know the background of the issue; parties must cooperate in telling the story so that the mediator can have better options to propose because mediator cannot make decisions and can neither impose his/her decision but propose options and advocate living together without stress and burdens.

Generally, when people hear the words “narrative mediation” they say something like “Oh, that’s where we each get to tell our stories” While this is true, the word “narrative” used here actually refers to something more than this definition. Narratives in this context are further defined as: the stories we tell ourselves and each other about; who we are?  What is important? And how we should live and behave?

Our personal views are influenced and often reflect larger and more widely held societal beliefs about what is important, valuable and true. These narratives are powerful in shaping the way in which we view conflict.  Narrative practitioners not only explore individual descriptions of the conflict story as presented by the parties, but seek also to explore the ways in which our lives are either enriched or constrained by these larger dominant social narratives. In this way, issues of power imbalance are likewise acknowledged and examined.

The mediator assumes multiple identities in mediation, as chairperson, manager, guide, conductor, leader, controller, umpire and police officer. All these roles of influence are based on the distinction between process and content, unreliable and misleading as that distinction is: the mediator is responsible for conducting and managing the process of dispute resolution, while the parties are responsible for making decisions on its substantive content.

Pre-mediation stages

In approaching the initial stage of mediation in a family context, the mediator should foresee and plan to understand the role he/she must play in order to understand the background of the dispute which felt the necessity for mediation.  The roles of mediators before the commencement of the mediation meeting is paramount important and here the focus are on their roles during the mediation meeting itself, and also in relation to post-mediation activities. Clearly, the more work that has been done prior to the meeting, the more the mediator will be able to abbreviate some of the stages without a major threat to the process. In order to understand the full narrative, mediation has the following typical stages including but not limited to:  meeting, greeting and seating; mediator’s opening statement; parties’ initial statements; definition of the problem; generating solutions, negotiation and problem solving; final decisions and closure and post-mediation activities.

In the early stage, mediators should also indicate what would be considered suitable forms of address, in particular where it seems appropriate to use first names. It is also the time to establish any constraints for the meeting: time commitments, breaks for the parking meter, limits on mobile phones, and the like. The question of small talk at this stage will depend very much on questions of culture, time and personality. Where it is appropriate in terms of those three factors, small talk can personalize the relationships between the parties and the mediator and assist the parties to settle in. In Afghanistan where citizens practice unique culture and majority of them are Muslims some of the family issues/disputes are kept secret and parties in conflict do not wish to share them in public or with mediators because of honor, dignity and reputation damage. So in that case, it is extremely difficult to intervene and in many instances the dispute remains for many years which sometime naturally resolve due to family members’ internal influence or sometime it turns into enmities.

To understand the full story and go into the bottom of the issue so that the mediator is able to settle and facilitate; it should be clear and understandable in positive, goal-oriented language. By projecting a positive tone for the mediation, a productive atmosphere can be created. This does not mean that the mediator should promise a favorable outcome, but to be hopeful about what mediation can deliver.

Nature of mediation and role of mediator

A mediator must clear his position to the conflicting parties very clearly in order to win the hearts and minds and confidence because the acceptability of mediator by parties is of great value. This will help both sides; the mediator to understand from A to Z the story which is known as the narrative as well as to the conflicting parties to openly and with confidence tell the story and explain the situation. In most cases the conflicting parties know the solutions but due to some reasons they cannot propose them. They must understand that the decision power and the acceptance of the proposed solution are their sole responsibility and authority. Every mediator’s opening statement needs to be adapted to what is suitable to the parties, the dispute, the circumstances of the mediation and other relevant factors.

Mediation is a structured opportunity for those with a problem to make decisions about it themselves. My role as the mediator is not to make those decisions for you; nor is it to tell you what decisions to make or to advise you on the law or on technical matters. Mediators’ role is to assist parties engaged in conflict along the way in their own decision-making. Sometimes emotion or poor communication makes it difficult for people to deal with problems. The mediator’s role is to guide them down the path of decision-making and help them to avoid the obstacles and pitfalls.

The party statements

In most mediations the parties, and/or their representatives, will be invited to make a statement early in the proceedings. Here the mediator hands over to the parties and they have the dominant role in the process for the first time, but in a controlled and structured way. To understand the root causes of the problem and go into the core of the issue in order to get out the toast out of the solid mixtures of destructive elements which caused discomfort, the parties must give clear statements and must cooperate with mediator. Otherwise the mediator would be unable to propose acceptable solutions.

Purpose of the party statements are paramount important and it should be because to allow each party to make their first contribution without interruption or confrontation and to satisfy their need to have their say and be heard; to provide information to the mediator about the parties’ concerns, particularly where the mediator has had no prior contact with the parties, as a basis for understanding the dispute and developing an agenda; to provide a basis for the mediator to acknowledge what the parties have said so as to satisfy their need to be listened to and know that they have been heard; to provide an opportunity for each party to hear the other’s presentation in the latter’s own words and thereby understand what their current concerns are; to give everyone the ‘big picture; to give each party an opportunity to assess the credibility, sincerity and other qualities of the principals and decision-makers; to confront each party with some aspects of the other’s case, in order to create doubt about their own position; to achieve a ‘day in court’ benefit for the parties; to allow venting and for cathartic benefits; to give the mediator a sense of the dynamics – who leads, who influences and who is respected; to allow the parties to acknowledge, if appropriate, the relevance of their relationship.

It is not within the purposes of the party statements to encourage discussion, negotiation or altercation between the parties at this stage, nor to encourage the parties to propose and accept solutions.

The party statements should deal with broad themes. This means that they need only be brief. These requirements should be explained to the parties, and where the statements become long-winded, repetitive or excessively detailed the mediator should refer back to these constraints. Loquacious parties might need to be reassured that matters of detail can be dealt with comprehensively at later stages of the mediation.

This topic raises the question of the extent to which mediation clients should be able to ‘tell their stories’. There are many advantages in encouraging storytelling by clients. It allows them to present things in their own words, it discloses relevant details, it allows the listener to identify the speaker’s interests, and it provides satisfaction for the teller. It can also help to clarify or overcome misunderstandings, miscommunication or misperceptions. On the other hand, stories tend to focus on the past and the differences in perceptions about when and how the conflict started. Stories also tend to reinforce blame and other negative judgments and they may have no impact on the other negotiating party. The teller of a story tends to cast himself as the hero and the counterpart as the villain or problem-maker, sometimes referred to as the ‘stereotype bias’. Most storytelling is about linear recollections about the past, whereby the party casts him- or herself as the defender and the counterpart as the aggressor. Frequently, there is no acceptance of any contribution made by the party to the problem.

Lawyers and courts tend not to allow free storytelling and rather encourage structured disclosures from clients. In mediation there should be more scope for storytelling. However, this need not all occur in the party statements. Our own preference is to keep the opening statements relatively short and to allow further storytelling when parties exchange information and views on the issues identified as part of the agenda.


While mediation is primarily concerned with the present and future, if the parties exchange their understandings and perceptions of past events it may be useful in clearing the air, correcting misunderstandings and opening the way for dealing with current and future issues. This involves encouraging storytelling, as referred to above. Each party can explain their motivations for past conduct and the significance to them of important events. Where emotions are high there may be considerable venting of feelings as parties communicate with one another about the past. It can help to identify important interests.

For example, mediators might say to parties in workplace disputes: (Tell me a little about how the workplace was for each of you before the problems began to arise,  Likewise they may say in a family dispute; Tell me first of all about the children, can you each give me a thumbnail sketch of each child )

However, mediators are advised to limit the time spent on discussing past events so that things do not become too protracted and complex. Such exchanges will often not lead to agreement about the past. Mediation is not good at discovering the ‘historical truth’, nor is that its purpose. Accordingly, where there are several grievances over historical events, the mediator might advise the parties to select a few to deal with (one of each party say), before closing the book on the past.



By Broad reach training and research:

Managing the Mediation Process, Mediator Skills and Techniques – Triangle of Influence, Published on 01-Dec-2009 Jurisdiction: United Kingdom

By international story telling center:

by Tom Stringer March 2004

UOC materials




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