Mayer notes that “if we avoid engaging the emotional dimension, then we are likely to end up with a more superficial and
brittle outcome.” It seems to me that the important word in that
sentence is not “brittle” but “superficial.” The problem is not only
that a resolution that does not take sufficiently into account the
emotions of the party can break down easily, like a fragile bridge
washed away in a flood. It is that the resolution may not reflect
the deepest and truest interests or perspectives of the parties,
and may therefore not be as good a resolution as could have been
achieved by integrating the emotional and rational dimension.
NEUTRALITY AND ADVOCACY
Mayer has thought and written about neutrality for many years,
including in his 2004 book, Beyond Neutrality: Confronting the
Crisis in Conflict Resolution. Not surprisingly, his discussion of
neutrality and advocacy is rich and subtle.
Conflict specialists know that there is something
amiss in our reliance on neutrality as a fundamental
self-defining feature. We are not neutral, at least in
any clearly definable way….Still, there is something
about the idea of neutrality that is essential to our
understanding of how we can help people in conflict,
especially if we are functioning as third parties. Even
when we act as coaches, advisors, or advocates, we
value being objective and impartial, just as we do in
the role of avowedly neutral third parties.
But complete neutrality is neither desirable nor possible:
[O]ur clients expect us to have opinions, values,
views, and ideas, and they need to believe that we
are committed to helping them accomplish their
most important goals. And they are right to want
this. Our work as interveners requires that we learn
to function as both advocates and neutrals to fulfill
our commitment to our clients and to promote a
constructive approach to conflict.
Nor is it sufficient to identify some areas as appropriate for neu-
trality and others for advocacy:
Some argue that we should remain neutral about
the substance of a dispute but should advocate for
a constructive process. … But this as well is a flawed
distinction. Process and substance are inextricably
intertwined. All of our interventions have an impact
on both process and substance. We cannot make the
tension between our functioning as advocates and our
role as neutrals go away by relying on this distinction. …
[W]e can be neutral in the sense that we do not
intentionally at to further one party’s interests at the
expense of another’s, but we are advocating at every
step of the process, and not just about process. …
Because process and outcome are intertwined,
whenever we advocate in one area, it has implications
for the other.
The solution to the paradox is what might be called “neutral
advocacy” (though Mayer does not call it that), advocacy in the
service of both parties.
Advocacy that has an integrative orientation is
characterized by efforts to promote the goals of a
client or cause through working cooperatively with
others—trying to figure out what needs to be done
for one party so that the other party’s needs are also
likely to be met. The attitude here is less adversarial
and more problem-solving in nature.
One flaw in this chapter, it seems to me, comes from what I see
as the confusion of advocacy skills and advocacy as a role. Advocacy skills (essentially, persuasive communication) are used by
lawyers and others, are highly relevant to mediators and other
conflict resolvers, but they are also relevant to teachers, physicians, financial advisers, and other experts who seek to guide
non-experts in making decisions. The employment of advocacy
skills does not seem inconsistent with a position of neutrality.
Advocacy as a role (the word comes from the Latin ad vocare, to
call to one’s aid, as a lawyer is called to plead on behalf of a client)
always has a cause or a client, which is what distinguishes it from
explication or analysis, and what creates the paradox.
I agree with Mayer that a conflict resolver is inevitably advocating
for some things, including “for disputants to address key interests,
for agreements to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances, and for people to frame their proposals in a way that is
more likely to result in an equitable solution.” The conflict resolver’s
interventions involve advocacy of steps that help the parties (both
of them) achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution.
PARADOX OR POLARITY?
Not all the dualities strike me as truly paradoxes, in the sense of
something that is true in spite of seeming contradictory. Competition and cooperation are alternative strategies, but the fact that a
communication or interaction can be cooperative (or competitive)
to a greater or lesser degree does not make them paradoxical, as
I see it. I would also suggest that community and autonomy (“our
feeling of connectedness to others and our sense of ourselves
as separate and individual,” in Mayer’s words) are frequently in
tension, but in the way that competing values or goals are often
in tension. Autonomy is about differentiation, not differentness—
the power to act and think independently, not how different our
actions and thoughts are from those of others. The altruistic act
of a hero may be represent autonomy regardless of whether it
is in service of a community. Rather than paradoxes I would call
these polarities, from which a one-or-the-other choice is rarely
possible, let alone constructive.
These quibbles aside, the chapters on competition and cooperation and on community and autonomy, like the others, offer subtle
discussion and thought-provoking examples that make them well
worth reading. The Conflict Paradox represents the valuable integration of another duality, theory and practice, in a way that everyone
involved in conflict resolution will find useful and stimulating.