Tag Archives: Mediation

Quick Review: Culture, Conflict, and Mediation in the Asian Pacific

I have been reading Bruce E. Barnes’ Culture, Conflict, and Mediation in the Asian Pacific and found it unbelievably helpful as one who has been working in Asian contexts for the last decade and who currently is engaged regularly with people from over a dozen Asian nations.

The book is an exploration of how culture has influenced dispute resolution practices throughout Asia. There are chapters for each main country in Asia and they include Hawaii as well for integrative reasons.  Each chapter uses some of Hofstede’s cross-cultural indexes in different areas to provide a basic framework for the discussion and then the author unpacks the history of conflict resolution practices within those nations and how they may or may not have changed due to political or national changes.

For example – I didn’t realize China had such a rich history and interesting systems of mediation built into the framework of their history and culture and it was fascinating to see how Confucianism shaped conflict practices in different ways in China, Korea, and to a lesser extent Japan.  There was so much that really helps you understand more nuances of approaches to negotiation, conflict, or how to handle disputes.

The book provides a lot of comparative analysis between nations in some ways too so you can see how Japan is different from other Asian nations or how the Philippines or Indonesia is different.  In the west, most people now understand that “saving face” is a big deal, but this was a great resource to explore how those dynamics are different in different Asian countries and what the background influences culturally and historically might be.

The biggest takeaway from this book though relates to third-party strategies to conflict. Henry Cloud posted on facebook a couple of weeks ago a quote that said, “Direct communication is the best way to go through life.”  He went on and elaborating on things related to emotional and relational health. I think there are ways that this statement is true, but the book reinforced the reality that there are many ways in which indirect conflict resolution is healthier and in fact – better.

This is a worthy conversation – but I’ve seen too many white or American leaders write off, dismiss, wear down, or shame Asian-American or Asian leaders who were trying to resolve things genuinely, but that just weren’t respected or judged because their approach was different. Some of those things are not healthy, but not as much as what an average white American might think.

There are many ways where an indirect and third-party system of dispute resolution is very much compatible with the Scriptures and it’s worth a lot of reflection and cross-cultural dialogue about these situations and practices. You may find that it may offer a helpful corrective to some assumptions about certain Biblical passages related to conflict or at least it may expand the possible range of meaning and application.

I have been working through different strategies of how to apply some of the wisdom gained in this book, especially when matched up with insights from Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures and Cross-Cultural Conflict.  At the heart – it’s about a relationship first approach to conflict which I have come to increasingly value instead of the propositional truth or logic approach to conflict resolution.

Quick Review: Conflict Coaching

I’ve been working through the textbook Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies and Skills for the Individual by Tricia S. Jones and Ross Brinkert over the past few weeks.  It was written about 15 years ago when conflict coaching was just starting to become more popular in the dispute resolution world.

Jones and Brinkert introduce their Comprehensive Conflict Coaching Model, which has a lot of narrative dimensions to it as well as a lot of components that are quite helpful to negotiation, conflict coaching, and mediation. The general flow of the process begins with discovering refining the story in a conflict and then proceeds towards deeper reflection about story through the lenses of identity, emotion, and power. That provides the foundation for crafting a better story in a conflict situation and working skillfully through relationship building forms of communication.

The dimension of the model I find most helpful is the intentional process of helping facilitate reflection in identity, emotion, and power. This is what makes or breaks conflict in my opinion and lack of reflection in these areas is often where people get stuck.

Like many narrative or secular dispute resolution models, there is no treatment of themes like forgiveness, confession, or apology. There is only conversation about how to shape a better story with others, which I believe metaphorically is a great way to envision an alternative future. But that future has limits without heart change and the dynamics of reconciliation. I believe combining heart work and Biblical approaches to reconciliation with this type of narrative framework for working through conflict can be very powerful, but there are problems if we just try to move forward without dealing with hearts.

That being said, this is a tremendous resource for people who want to do a deeper dive into conflict coaching and mediation. There’s a lot of great research and scholarship pulled into this that makes for a lot of great research-based insights and learnings.

 

 

Quick Review: Narrative Mediation – A New Approach to Conflict Resolution

I finished this week John Winslade and Gerald Monk’s Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution.  This book is grounded in social constructionist theory and postmodern philosophical assumptions. I’ll share a few thoughts on what was helpful and where I found some problems.

The approach is fundamentally influenced by the assumptions that behavior and meaning are shaped by discourse and socially constructed narratives. Conflict is not something that is intrinsic or caused by who someone is per se but driven by discourse and the socially shaped meanings as they act and are acted upon.

A big part of the approach is “externalizing the conflict,” which basically can be summarized as avoiding judgment and making the conflict itself “the bad guy.” The goal is to eliminate all guilt and shame so a positive alternative story can be discovered and developed.

Some strengths of this approach – one is that it can help in scenarios where people feel significantly attacked or threatened as a mediator seeks to restore a sense of safety and trust. There are some great components of the approach with different types of questions that can approach a conflict a bit more indirectly or in ways that allow really defensive people to find their way back. Another strength is there are some great methodological categories for finding your way through a conflict towards an alternative story. There are some things I really found interesting and helpful from a tactical and strategic standpoint.

But it was fascinating to read a book in which there was 250 pages of mediation yet there was not even a whisper or allusion to the concepts of forgiveness, confession, apologies, repentance, or reconciliation. This isn’t a surprise given the underlying philosophical assumptions, but that’s the giant and glaring weakness to this approach. It does not get at the heart. This approach more guides people how to manage conflict and get out of it and move on with your lives and hopefully with a chance at restoring the relationship. However, there is no attention to heart issues and the kind of sin and character elements that drive and perpetuate conflict.

That being said, I found a lot of the tools in the book helpful from a tactical or strategic standpoint in different potential situations, but I just don’t share the fundamental assumptions of the authors and some of their broad philosophical commitments to their process.  But the idea of helping people develop a better story together that is characterized by peace is great. Worldview is a big piece here and this is why having a metanarrative to me is the most important component for a narrative approach to mediation – because it points to the grand story and that includes themes that ultimately lead to better stories like forgiveness, sacrifice, and love.  To try to form better stories without connection to that bigger story leaves conflict resolution and mediation with limited possibilities where some of the deepest forms of transformation are neglected.

But – I think there is a lot tactically here that could be of help mediating in multi-ethnic situations or in indirect cultures because the strategies and tools are designed to save face for everybody at all times. That’s part of the problem, but there are areas of training  embedded in this that would help someone doing this outside the West.

 

Quick Review: Cross-Cultural Conflict

This past weekend I read Duane Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. There doesn’t seem to be a kindle version of the book, which would be a shame. The book has some great stuff and in some ways is a forerunner to the recent honor-shame “movement” in missions and Christian scholarship.

This book offers some basic primers on cross-cultural relationships, especially honor-shame dynamics in collectivist cultures such as in Asia and Africa. The focus is still on helping Western missionaries think more cross-culturally and contextually in terms of relationships, conflict, and ministry so there is a lot here designed to help Westerners self-reflect about their own cultural biases.

There’s actually a lot of common ground between this book and Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges, which I shared some thoughts on last week. That book has benefitted from a couple decades of additional scholarship, but Elmer’s book includes some fantastic insights on collectivist culture and dynamics.

There are several chapters that deal with indirect approaches to dealing with conflict but goes much more in-depth than Georges does in his relationships chapter in his book. In addition to discussing patron-client dynamics in a chapter on the one-down position, Elmer also offers some great stuff on storytelling as an indirect strategy for resolving issues in honor-shame contexts. Of great help to me at a time where I am studying mediation was Elmer’s chapter on mediation and the mediator with an honor-shame culture in view. The role of a mediator is really interesting as expressed in different cultures. Each culture celebrates some forms of mediation and rejects others it seems. Mediation in Asia from what I’ve experienced tends to function very differently than mediation in the United States.

Elmer also unpacks a great negotiation, honor-shame conflict case study from Joshua 22. I’ve heard some helpful things on this case study before, but I enjoyed Elmer’s treatment of it.

One additional benefit of Elmer’s book here is that there were numerous examples drawn from the Philippines, where I currently live and serve, which I found actually really helpful. There’s a lot here that I can draw from for my current context.

So while there is a lot of commonality with Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, this book goes a bit more deeply into the arena of conflict especially as the title suggests.  I’m really glad I read it.  I was fascinated by the reviews – some of which are highly positive and some are negative. It’s clear that some people really have a hard time looking at conflict, relationships, and the Scriptures through an honor-shame lens.  There’s so much to be gained.

 

Quick Review – Dignity: The Essential Role in Resolving Conflict

This month I read Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays In Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks.  It relates to some of my current coursework, had high ratings on Amazon, and the forward was written by Desmond Tutu so I figured it was worth reading. I don’t give this book the 5-star rating many on Amazon do.  I don’t even give it the 4-star rating, but I’ll unpack the highs and lows of this book below to me.

First, there’s a lot of great stuff here in the book from a research standpoint. I will be using this as a resource to find different relevant research to the world of conflict resolution, negotiation, or mediation. There’s a lot of helpful research cited.

Second, the author writes many times how she has developed a “model” of dignity – “The Dignity Model” of conflict resolution. However, it’s nothing remotely resembling a model. It’s just a list really of behaviors that can increase dignity or diminish dignity in others and ourselves.  In some ways it’s a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for treating people with dignity. But it’s not a model and I thought it was strange how often the author referred to it as such. It’s like calling the 10 commandments or even the book “everything I needed in life I learned in Kindergarten” a model.  There isn’t any conceptual framework in the model – just descriptions of how to treat people with a view towards increasing dignity.

Third, the whole approach is based heavily on evolutionary psychology and 19th-century psychologist William James. I don’t share the same fundamental worldview assumptions as the author so that’s a factor here, but I can still see value in unpacking things with a socio-historical perspective.  What’s hard for me is when the cavemen come out and we start talking about evil behavior and violence as “outdated survival strategies.” That’s just so empty to me and left me very unsatisfied.

This book goes beyond conflict resolution to really try to frame a human rights argument that at one point the author refers to as “God-given.” And in so doing, there has to be some effort to tackle the problem of evil and human darkness or “sin.” The worldview here attempts to build a case for dignity as a human right while also building a case for how fallenness in humanity is a result of a loss of dignity and the impact of these “outdated survival strategies” on an interpersonal, communal, or societal level.

This really is a secular humanist effort to build a theology of dignity without God.  It is a secular attempt at a theology of “the image of God” in humanity based on evolutionary principles and contemporary attitudes.  But the reality is the overwhelming majority of the book in its principles and its model would be obvious extensions of the Christian doctrine of Imago Dei and reflects really blatantly at times a New Testament ethic – just without reference to God.  So that’s the elephant in the room with this book – it represents a longing to treat people in light of innate God-given value and unpack what that looks like. But it tries to build that ethic on a foundation of evolutionary principles.  If there had been an attempt to acknowledge and integrate that these “ideas” were not “new,” but reflected in human history in other belief systems I would have done a lot better with the book. But there was a component of academic snobbery in asserting the “newness” of this approach when in fact – there wasn’t much new about it all.

Another criticism is the framing of “Dignity.” I think the word is good attempt to capture a governing principle here, but it’s a bit sloppy in its usage. The author uses the word dignity as a general concept that overlaps with dimensions of honor and shame, concepts of intrinsic worth, identity, and how Christians think about the “image of God.” There were points where the language of dignity as used ran into problems. There was also so many more opportunities to explore the dynamics of honor and shame, but they were treated with minimal effort.

So it may sound like I’m very critical – and in the ways I am I believe the book deserves the criticism because it really pretends as if whole bodies of knowledge and insight out there don’t exist. That to me is not good scholarship. However, the author and I probably share a lot of common values and perspectives. We just have a very different foundation.

It does bother me how many 5-star reviews there are, which reflects that people are highly interested in this topic and looking for solutions to the heart issues that plague mankind. But there are better paradigms that address the human heart and the human condition – but it takes the humility of faith to explore them. It seems like the fundamental effort of the book is trying to preserve “God-given” value by distancing fallenness and any concept of “sin.” The Christian worldview allows for both intrinsic value and completely sinful depravity – it just requires needing something outside of ourselves for redemption.  The tragedy is how Christian doctrine has been corrupted and abused for depraved purposes and power agendas – the merits of theology has lost credibility through leaders and societies seeking personal advantage.  But the theology is still there to be engaged and it’s foolishness for people to reject where such ideas are unpacked in favor of trying to “re-create” something similar on their own.

There’s tons of value here though and conversations and illustrations of how to treat people with dignity and what tends to lead to breakdowns in relationships and conversations. So it’s a worthy resource if you want to go deeper into the conversation about what is required to create environments in which human identity and worth is valued, respected, and preserved, then this can help challenge and refine some of your thinking.