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Principles of Conflict Mediation   

How can you help friends, co-workers or family resolve their conflicts and disagreements? The stress and pain involved can become so strong that people cannot bring resolution on their own. They may have tried to go to the person directly themselves, (as Matthew 18:15 exhorts us in cases of one person sinning or doing wrong against another). However, this may not have worked, and possibly it has even made things worse, because of miscommunication, inability to listen, and breakdown of trust.

One process that can really help is mediation, in which a third party, impartial and accepted by both sides, facilitates a conversation between them. This is to help people talk and listen to each other with the purpose of creating greater understanding and agreement.  It is not the same as arbitration, in which a third person or group hears both sides and then decides the outcome to which the parties are bound to agree.  In successful mediation, it is the parties in conflict themselves who come to an agreed solution.

Like life and leadership coaching, in which many have been trained in YWAM Europe, mediation is largely about asking good questions and listening, as well as holding the space as a safe place in which both parties can express themselves freely but with respect for the other.  I have seen mediation work where both parties step down from their heightened Positions of being ‘right’ and begin to really listen to the other side. Suddenly space opens up for a real sharing of what could be called common Interests, shared concerns and similar values. This gives room to get to the bottom of what may be the person’s real Need, which may not at all be what they came in the room thinking about.

For example, I once did a community mediation between an elderly couple and their upstairs neighbours, a single mum, with a teenage son. The conflict over the son’s behaviour, and the couple’s harshness towards him and his mum, went from (positions), ‘Stop destroying my fence with your son’s football’ and ‘ Stop being so horrible to my son,’  through to (interests), ‘We both hoped for friendship when the mum and son moved in,’ to, (needs) ‘We are all lonely and we need to be friends, so let’s negotiate how we can consider each other’s needs.’ They walked home together out of the neutral mediation location, with a common understanding of how they would relate in the future.

So here are some practical mediation steps to help us as we navigate this challenging area of resolving conflict, with a lot of prayer, of course!

It is often better to work with a co-mediator if possible, especially where there are more people involved, like two couples, or a group.

Mediation steps—-

  1. Have a meeting with each party in the conflict on their own, to hear their side of the story, and their hopes for the mediation process. This is normally confidential unless they give you permission to mention during the mediation session something they shared in the one to one time. Take notes, which will be shredded/deleted after the process has ended.
  • Invite both parties to a mediation session which can be arranged for a suitable day and time for everyone. It should be as soon after the one to ones as is reasonable, but leaving it too many days or weeks between meetings, makes the process very drawn out, and extends the stress and anxiety. However, this depends on the context, and availability of all concerned.
  • Find a neutral location, not one side’s office or lounge. 
  • Share the ground rules you ask everyone to follow, and get their verbal consent to them, so that you can intervene in a gracious way if those rules are not followed, (especially interruption!) 

                      —Listen  to the other without interrupting, or thinking about    

                          what your response will be when you get to speak. 

                     — Everyone will get their opportunity to speak.

                    —- Try to take responsibility for one’s own responses/feelings

                           e.g , ‘ I feel angry when….not, ‘you make me feel angry when.’

                    —-  No personal attacks on the other’s character or motives 

                                                                                                         (1 Corinthians 13).

                   —- There will be time for breaks for tea etc.

  •  Invite someone to start, often that will be the person who asked for mediation (Person A), but check with the other person, (Person B) that they are happy for person A to start.
  •  In order to have a sense of safety, each side may prefer to start off talking to the mediator and not looking at the other side. Then, as they begin to feel heard, they will start talking with each other directly which is to be encouraged and facilitated.
  • Mediator looks out for common interests that both sides might share, and asks open ended questions that helps them to talk more about them.
  • Allow people to express feelings, emotions in a safe way that does not hurt the other side. Deep conflict does not get resolved at a head level but a heart level, and that usually takes some self -awareness from all concerned, and ability to reflect on how they are feeling.
  • Look out for what is underneath the positions they state, to the

                needs that they cannot do without. You might ask that question,        

                ‘What do you really need?’, or, ‘What can you not do without?’

  1.  In coming to an agreement, it is helpful to write up a memorandum of understanding, which both sign and take away. This is not a legally binding document, but it does mean that they both have a shared written agreement that they can remember, and have the same memory of what was agreed. It reflects what took place in mediation But is also future focussed, as an agreement about how they will relate.

Coming to agreement can take more than one meeting, and in our YWAM context, with a high value on relationships, this may be complicated and takes a lot of listening, humbling oneself, and being determined to do all we can to maintain or arrive at unity, no matter what level of leadership we might carry.  

Ephesians 4: 3 exhorts us all to ‘make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’

A question to ask, when thinking about a conflict, is how important is the issue at stake, and how important is the relationship? 

Finally, reconciliation is a God given grace, where true peace of heart, mind and spirit takes place. John Paul Lederach (see resources) says that reconciliation is a place where truth, mercy, justice and peace meet, and that conflict can have revelatory and reconciling potential when those four aspects of God’s character are embraced. But that is another subject!


 A great manual from the training I did with the Mennonites is,

‘Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual, Foundations and Skills for Constructive Conflict Transformation.’ by the Mennonite Conciliation Service. (2000)

Possible website to explore:- https://www.placeforhope.org.uk

Peacemaker ministries in the USA.  https://www.peacemakerministries.org

Some universities run mediation training degrees, and local mediation agencies in the UK run training weeks.

Lederach, John Paul ‘Journey toward reconciliation.’ Herald Press, 1999, p.59, 61.

Sue Pratt: I am British, and worked in social work and church youth work before joining YWAM in 1986, doing my DTS in Amsterdam, and outreach to Liberia, West Africa. I helped pioneer YWAM in Liberia until 1996. After that I have worked in Switzerland, Spain, Scotland and England, focussing on leadership development, conflict mediation and debriefing. I now live in a village near Harpenden.  

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