The Art of Possibility in Restorative Mediations

The Art of Possibility in Restorative Mediations

The Art of Possibility

“Time and time again, conflicts are resolved through shifts that are unimaginable at the start”.  Nelson Mandela

The Nature of the Shift

To transition people who are steeped in the need to blame or who have a need for vindication, a shift is required. This is a shift which:

  • is not shallow – it needs to go to the root cause of the conflict;
  • is radical – it requires an ‘inside-out’ transformation;
  • involves an acknowledgement of past and present behaviour in order to build a new foundation of trust;
  • is only possible between equals, irrespective of reporting lines; and
  • is transitional – it lays a realistic foundation for human behaviour to gradually change over time.

Barriers to the Shift

People feel resistant to the shift due to:

  • feeling unsafe to speak up or preferring to maintain (and endure) the status quo;
  • fearing the consequences or repercussions of speaking up;
  • being too attached to their versions and perspectives;  and/or
  • being too attached to being right or a need for vindication.

What is needed to overcome the Resistance to the Shift?

To overcome resistance to the shift, people need to:

  • feel safe to speak up;
  • feel heard and supported in their emotionality;
  • be willing to explore the subjectivity of their assumptions and perspectives;
  • be willing to reflect on their contribution to the escalation of the co-created conflict; and
  • trust the boundaries prescribed for the ‘no fault/no blame’ combined process – to know that they will not feel attacked or blamed during the process, and nor can they attack or blame the other.

The Art of Possibility in Restorative Mediations

The restorative mediation process involves a shift from an instinctual need to blame to self-reflection, empathy and compassion.

The process asks people to:

  • let go of the need to shun, ignore or shame the other and to let go of the need for revenge or retribution;
  • recognise or remember the positive attributes and value of the other person;
  • accept that there is no need to hide their weaknesses or mistakes;
  • realise that there is no need to put on airs or pretend to be someone they’re not;
  • know that it’s safe to abandon pride and ego in the interests of moving forward; and
  • realise that they are being provided a remarkable opportunity to self-correct, without any repercussions.

As a mediator, the individual sessions of a restorative mediation are by far the most challenging part of the process for me.  Because of the radical shift I am asking people to make, each individual session can take up to 3 hours.  I also only put people together in the combined process the following day as the opportunity to reflect overnight is crucial.

This shift is obtained through a therapeutic approach which, at its core, involves the Art of Possibility.  The underlying questions which enable this are:

  • will the outcome of an investigation really bring them long-term relief? (Irrespective of whether the allegations are substantiated or not)
  • what is getting in the way of their ability to move forward?
  • do they really want the mediation to succeed?
  • are they able to ‘bracket’/suspend their cynicism/scepticism to give the mediation process a fair go?

Often I am met with resistance by participants to this approach, and on occasion I have needed to suggest to a participant that they are most welcome to tell me at the end of the process that it was an absolute waste of their time.  Until then, I ask them to engage completely with the process and be willing to be surprised!

Almost always the combined process results in feelings of softness and compassion towards the other.  There are often tears and hugs during the process and tremendous feelings of relief once behaviour is acknowledged and gratitude expressed.  For me, I am mostly left feeling in awe of our seemingly unlimited capacity and courage to be vulnerable and forgive.

prison bars
"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didnít leave the bitterness and hatred behind, l'd still be in prison"
- Nelson Mandela
How We Use This Principle