on May 2, 2000
It has been quite a while since I have been excited about a book in our field. With so many new titles popping up in the standard cataloges and the shelves of bookstores, you would think there would either be 1) more to be excited about, or 2) nothing new to get excited about. Not until Bernie Mayer's brand new "The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner's Guide" have I felt the resources of paper and ink, and human time and energy were well worth it.
This book covers all the things I have wanted a conflict resolution book to do. It covers all the key pieces and concepts of conflict and conflict resolution; it understands and articulates the distinction between conflict resolution and mediation; it speaks to the concerns that have been raised about social justice, power, culture, and the nature(s) of mediation.
When I have taught in the past, and in my current course in conflict management and mediation, I end up using a chapter from here, an article from there, and creating additional writings and handouts as there has not been one title that has given a good description of conflict resolution principles, used good examples from different arenas, and addressed information and questions about mediation. Bernie has done this for me -I mean us- here; the book is readable and understandable, and uses illustrative case examples to help make points clear.
In addition - and this really knocks my socks off - it isn't another how-to book for those looking to do better in their mediation business; yes, the understandings of conflict presented here will help them do that as the author explains. But what I am so, so happy about is that it is from that place where conflict resolution and the work we do in it isn't just about a profession and a business, but the meanings and values that are at the heart of it. In Bernie's words: ". . .In its earlier days it was easy to think of conflict resolution as a social movement, and to focus on demonstrating its relevance and effectiveness, creating new applications, and promoting a common set of practice principles and procedures. Now that the field is more accepted and institutionalized, it is easy to lose sight of the foundational values of our work. . . As we practitioners move from the initial excitement of creating a new field of practice to the less dramatic but equally important challenge of deepening the field's foundation and institutional structure, it is crucial that we retain a clear view of the core values of our work."
It is this 'deepening' that has caught my attention and gotten my praise. In my courses I have been talking about power sources, how the dominant culture effects the work and its appropriateness and inappropriateness, even using examples of the Roma and Kosovo. And here they are all in this book.
Bernie is also upfront about not wanting to be "overly prescriptive about what conflict resolvers should do" (he in fact concentrates on the useful ways "thinking about conflict and its resolution") or present set, rigid theories. Instead he allows the reader to take it all in and reflect on their own work and experiences and he hopes "this will stimulate readers to deepen their own thinking or to put forward their own ideas, sometimes, perhaps, by way of disagreeing with mine." Others have spoken somewhat similar words; this time you believe it.
I hope I am asked to teach again next spring. Now I have the book I would have written had Bernie not already done it.
on June 24, 2002
To understand conflict, attention needs to be paid to the differences in ways individuals approach it. The way people handle conflict is definition of who they are and how they relate to others. People approach to conflict derives not only from their upbringing and how they have been taught to deal with conflict, but their culture plays a key role. Conflict often is generated when people feel disempowered. Power is the currency for conflict whether its exercise is intentional or not; when people are in conflict their power is in play. The choice in conflict is not whether to use power but how to use it. When people try to meet their needs in face of resistance, they are exercising power. The success of conflict depends on part on how much power they are able to muster and how wise they are in using it. The use of power can escalate or deescalate a conflict. It can create resistance or overcome it. People can employ their power to create momentum for constructive dialogue and collaborative negotiations; or they can use it to beat others down and to prevent co-operation. Everyone has a choice of how to use power or how to respond to power; the one choice participants don't have is not having any power at all.
This is a very theoretical study on conflict and its resolution. Unlike other texts this delves into the core of conflict and explains it to the detail.
on April 17, 2004
Mayer, a longtime professional mediator, discusses ways that conflict resolution specialists can productively think about conflict and resolution in order to help them be effective as negotiators, facilitators, mediators, and communicators. The first four chapters present concepts that are helpful in understanding the process of conflict. The remaining seven chapters discuss the resolution process in detail.