Scholar mediators Winslade and Monk wrote an important book called “Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution” (Jossey-Bass 2000). They later revisited that book with the even better “Practicing Narrative Mediation: Loosening the Grip of Conflict.”
The books present an interesting approach to help navigate conflicts and arguments.
Although titled as a mediation book, the contents have general application to mediation, collaborative and, even, conventional litigation based family law work. You might even find it has application in other commercial and social spheres as well.
Narrative mediation builds upon the idea that people experience situations, disagreements, challenges and conflicts as if they are stories. It is important that we understand that referring to stories is not intended to diminish the importance of the situations, nor the impact that they have on people who are passing through such situations.
Instead, the story model is designed to enable us all to engage more fully and safely with what is going on.
These stories, or narratives, that we experience exert very strong influence over us.
Once we have subscribed to a certain interpretation of what is happening we can find it very hard indeed to divert ourselves. As a result we can become increasingly entrenched within the story we have adopted. When that happens we tend to interpret everything we see as conforming to the selected narrative.
This can result in some interpretations becoming considerably bent out of shape in order to make it fit.
We might also find that we grab some minor detail and hold that up as if it demonstrates something, or reinforces the narrative we are committed to, even when it does not.
As an example, I recently told a story about the early years of my marriage.
We were living in our first home as newlyweds. It was a cold and damp Victorian terrace, two up two down.
My wife had recently told me that one of her family friends had said to her that she could “Do better” than to marry me! In fairness to her, this was in response to me having moved 200 miles away from my then girlfriend.
The story, or narrative, that I was tied to was shaped by that conversation. The story was that my wife could have done better and that I was not good enough.
Every night in that house (notice how I have now slipped into storytelling mode?) my wife would say “It’s getting cold tonight isn’t it?”
Because I was so subscribed to my story (“Could do better/He’s not good enough”) the message I heard was very different. The message I heard was;
“You have dragged me 200 miles away from my family to live with you in this cold damp house. You’re not good enough. You cannot provide me with a warm, large-ish house like my parents.”
This was all obvious and made perfect sense to me.
For people going through separation this can have real consequences. Every comment, letter, email, everything that is said, and even the things that are not said, are given a meaning and context which is shaped and moderated by the narrative that we have subscribed to.
The real value in Winslade and Monk’s work lies in revealing ways in which we can start to recognise these dominant narratives and the steps we can take to relinquish some of the control that they exert over our interpretation and the decisions that might otherwise flow from that.
For more information on the tools and techniques that the team at Family Law in Partnership employ to help clients navigate the divorce and separation process, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Neil Denny