Mediating Value Conflicts

Date01 March 2014
Published date01 March 2014
Mediating Value Con icts
Rosabelle Illes
Naomi Ellemers
Fieke Harinck
Mediation has developed into an established discipline consisting of a
variety of tactics that may be employed when intervening in diff erent
types of confl icts. One particular type of confl ict that has been identifi ed
as diffi cult, if not impossible, to resolve is value confl icts. Research dedi-
cated to developing interventions aimed at resolving value-based dis-
putes is limited. To address this gap between research and practice, we
interviewed professional mediators to gain insight into the techniques
employed when intervening in value confl icts.  is preliminary explor-
atory study resulted in several propositions.  e analysis of the tran-
scripts is presented, and plans for future research are discussed.
mediator was called to assist in a dispute between neighbors.  e gentle-
man next door had been complaining about loud noise persisting through
late hours of the night. His neighbors, a married couple, were not responding to
his requests to “keep it down.”  e mediator listened to both sides of the story. As
the parties exchanged their views, the confl ict became less about noise distur-
bance and more about their diverging values. It seemed the gentleman next
door was not only complaining about noise disturbance but was in fact report-
ing a case of physical abuse. He wanted to put an end to the beatings that his
female neighbor had been undergoing by the hands of her spouse. In his country,
this was not a common practice, but where his neighbors come from, women
have a diff erent role.  e neighbors diff ered in cultural beliefs about gender
equality.  e gentleman wanted justice for his female neighbor, who in turn
preferred the gentleman to remain uninvolved. As for her husband, participating
in mediation could not be further from his interests. With ideological diff erences
C R Q, vol. 31, no. 3, Spring 2014 331
© Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21089
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
at the center of the mediation table, the mediator is faced with a classical case
of a value confl ict.
Mediation is defi ned as a form of intervening in confl icts where a neu-
tral independent expert guides the communication and negotiations
between parties in order to reach agreements about desired behaviors and
a mutually benefi cial optimal solution, both based on parties’ actual inter-
ests (Brenninkmeijer 2009). Parties who fi nd themselves in an escalated
confl ict may opt for the assistance of a professional mediator. In general,
mediators are equipped to intervene in diff erent types of confl icts. One
specifi c type of confl ict that has been identifi ed as particularly diffi cult, if
not impossible, to resolve are those involving diverging values (Prein 2009).
Value confl icts occur when people disagree on an issue due to the diff erent
values that they hold dear (Druckman, Rozelle, and Zechmeister 1977).
An example of such a confl ict is illustrated in the anecdote, from actual
experience, at the start of the article. Here, a mediator was asked to inter-
vene in a dispute involving the value of gender equality. By guiding the
parties through the structural process of the four phases of intake, explora-
tion, negotiation, and documenting the agreement (Brenninkmeijer,
2009), the mediator may assist the parties in resolving this dispute. How-
ever, the manner in which practitioners guide parties from the intake to the
agreement phase in any confl ict is far from uniform. With approximately
twenty-fi ve identifi ed mediation styles (Kressel and Wall 2012) and more
than one hundred mediator tactics (Wall 1981), experts may choose to
intervene in value confl icts in a variety of ways.  e question is: Do parties
in a value confl ict eff ectively respond to the numerous interventions, or are
there specifi c techniques that may be particularly productive or counter-
productive in fostering resolution when mediating value confl icts?
e preliminary research we explore in this article forms part of a larger
project aimed at verifying and, where necessary, designing sustainable
interventions that can be adopted by professional mediators when encoun-
tering value confl icts.  e lack of systematic procedures to intervene in
value confl icts may result in trial-and-error approaches to the point where
solutions may seem to be more rooted in luck rather than the result of care-
fully diagnosed confl icts. By fi rst interviewing professional mediators in
the fi eld, we aim to gain insight into the mechanisms involved in the devel-
opment, escalation, and resolution of value confl icts.  e objective of this
study is to document mediators’ experienced results of employing media-
tion techniques when intervening in value confl icts. Based on the fi ndings,
we seek to conduct empirical studies to further identify techniques that are

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