All disputes have a common theme: one party demands something which the other party is unwilling to give. All disputes involve injury to feelings. Few disputes will be without significant emotional content. It is invariably a psychological or emotional Barrier that creates the blockage to settlement. If every conflict were approached from a purely unemotional, rational, practical, pragmatic or commercial standpoint, without external influences or other constraints, very few disputes would continue in existence. To remain in conflict with another defies rational scrutiny; to continue in a commercial dispute resists economic analysis. It can rarely be in the commercial or practical interests of any party to be in or to prolong conflict with the other.
Corporations can suffer injury to feelings as much as individuals. "Who do they take us for?" "Who do they think they are dealing with?" These are examples of 'corporate self-esteem. The allegation of "fault" is also highly emotive. To allege a breach of contract or an act of negligence precipitates deep feelings of hurt and anger; to deny fault creates equal irritation, annoyance, distress and frustration.
Most parties in dispute, whether multi-national corporations or simply individuals, have a multitude of covert reasons for being in dispute, and so they come to mediation with hidden agendas and ulterior motives. Frequently, the parties may not even recognise that the real dispute is hidden and covert, and very different to that which is overt and expressed. They may not understand or recognise their own true underlying motivations: they may believe they are simply seeking proper redress or compensation, whereas in fact they are expressing anger and hurt, and a desire to see the other party punished and humiliated by being obliged to pay out large sums of money. They may be motivated by a desire for approval in order to maintain their self-esteem; or their actions may be driven by fear, whether of manipulation or degradation, or some other attack upon their self-esteem.
Mediators trained in the psychotherapeutic approach to conflict resolution are well placed to recognise and understand this psychological underpinning of conflict, and best able to deal with the strategies that parties adopt when attempting to extricate themselves from the dispute. Mediators seek to produce a paradigm shift in attitude in the parties before them - just as the counsellor seeks to generate a shift in attitude towards life generally, so the mediator works towards a shift in the parties' attitude to the specific dispute in question. The dispute cannot be changed, but the parties' attitude towards it can. It is only when this shift in attitude is achieved that the parties will be ready to accept solutions which they might previously have rejected.
It is not easy to change people's attitudes, especially in the short space of time that a mediator has for mediation, and particularly if as so often happens, those attitudes have become rigidly sedimented. Mediators are armed with the knowledge and the skills to achieve this to the parties' best advantage, so that each party may feel that they have arrived at a settlement with which they can readily live, and which is 'good enough' for them.
[For a more in-depth consideration of the benefits of a psychotherapeutic approach to mediation, see the chapter "Why Psychotherapy" in "Mediation - A Psychological Insight into Conflict Resolution" by Dr Freddie Strasser & Paul Randolph (Continuum 2004)]