Conflict Resolution Examples and Strategies
This is the second of a two-part discussion of the Christian basis for and approach to mediation. The first part focused on the city clerk in Ephesus defusing a mob by understanding the facts of their grievance and using the facts to lead them to realize that the gathering was unnecessary and could violate the anti-riot ordinance. We learned from the event that a key aspect of mediation is to assess the facts and use them to guide the disputants to a peaceful understanding. Also, a mediation should identify the available options for ending the dispute and potential consequences of continuing with it.
In this final installment of the discussion, we examine two cases that highlight potential difficulties with assessing the facts and presenting them to the disputants. In a case mediated by Solomon, there was no independent witness to verify conflicting accounts of the facts by the disputants. In contrast, the facts were clearly identified at the outset for the second case; however, the mediator needed special communication strategy to present the facts to the disputant in a way that defined a path to resolution. The cases help illustrate special skills that a mediator may need in searching for an acceptable resolution of a conflict.
Solomon’s Mediation and Judgment
Solomon mediated in a dispute between two prostitutes [1 Kings 3:16–28]. Because he was the king, his ruling in the mediation led to a judgment backed by the force of law. Two women appeared before him with a dispute over who was the mother of a baby. The women lived together and both had babies at about the same time. One of the babies died one night. In the morning, each woman claimed the living baby was hers. There was no witness, as the women lived alone and, by implication of the account, did not interact much with any neighbors.
Solomon determined the baby’s mother by tricking the women into revealing who had true love for the baby. The real mother was willing to sacrifice her claim to parenthood in order to save the baby: “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” [1 Kings 3:26].
The case illustrates an important principle that a mediator may at times need special skills, in addition to Spiritual guidance, in order to determine the facts of a dispute. It is important to know the facts in order to guide the disputants to better understanding. Therefore, a mediator has to be able to determine the facts to reach satisfactory resolution. Having identified the baby’s mother, Solomon ruled the baby should be given to her. The ruling won him great respect all over Israel.
Joab’s Mediation of “David versus King David”
David’s third son Absalom was banished from home because he killed his senior brother Amnon (David’s first son) for raping his sister Tamar. Absalom had been away for three years and David, as a father, yearned to see his son [2 Samuel 13:38–39]. But David the king did not want to lift the banishment. Therefore, the facts of this case were known readily. However, the challenge was how to present the facts to the king to convince him that lifting the banishment was right.
David’s commander Joab recognized the conflict, wanted to help David, but apparently did not think confronting him directly would be effective. Therefore, he hired a wise woman from out of town and with her devised a strategy for confronting David with the facts. The woman presented herself to David as a widow, had two sons, one of them killed his brother, and her kinsmen wanted to kill the remaining son to avenge his brother’s blood [2 Samuel 14:5–7]. She asked the king to “…invoke the Lord his God to prevent the avenger of blood from adding to the destruction, so that my son will not be destroyed” [2 Samuel 14:11].
The king accepted to grant her request. Then the woman used the opportunity of his acceptance to turn her appeal into a general principle for the king to consider. She asked the king to consider using pardon to save a family from internal vengeance even in a case of fratricide. Further, she asked him to apply the principle to end the banishment of his son Absalom [2 Samuel 14:13–17]. The king appreciated the woman’s argument. After confirming Joab’s role in the presentation, he accepted the appeal and authorized Joab to bring Absalom back.
Potential Challenges in Mediation
The three cases discussed in this two-part study illustrate generally the variety of challenges that could be encountered in a mediation. In Solomon’s case, the challenge was with fact finding. He had to device a special strategy for finding the facts but had little problem with presenting the facts to the disputants. At the other extreme, Joab’s mediation of “David versus David” provides an example of a case with no significant fact-finding challenge but requiring an innovative communication strategy to present the facts to the disputant. The case mediated by the Ephesus city clerk, discussed in Part 1 at THIS_LINK, falls in the middle in that there were challenges with fact finding and with presenting the facts to the disputants. The mediator will be better prepared to deal with the challenges if they are identified early in the process.
Approach to Christian Mediation
Christian mediation starts with being motivated to make peace among the disputants, having recognized the dispute and disputants’ need for peaceful resolution, and feeling a sincere desire to do what you can to help them. Your attitude to the disputants conveys to them that your only motivation is to guide them to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. If they accept you as a mediator, then you are ready to proceed to the next step.
Next is fact finding. Determine the facts of the dispute: what the disputants know, their understanding of what they know, any misunderstanding by the disputants, and how the misunderstanding differs from the fact.
The next step is to plan your communication with the disputants. What do you want to tell them? What purpose do you want to accomplish with each communication item? The purpose may be to clarify a fact, modify an understanding, provide new understanding, identify give and take options, or explain potential consequences of proceeding with aspects of the dispute. Define your communication strategy, i.e., how you want to convey the information to the disputants.
The final step is to talk with the disputants, either together, individually, or in small groups, as determined by the mediator.