During the course of mediation, parties typically experience what I call the IDR cycle, a cycle of overconfidence (inflation), disappointment (deflation, often with outrage) and realistic resolution. The existence of this cycle has been confirmed, both in the United States and abroad.
The following discussion on the IDR cycle is a compilation of excerpts from training materials developed by the Project to Train Intercultural Mediators for a Multicultural Europe, a project funded with support from the European Commission.
The IDR Cycle
It has been observed that many conflicts go through a cycle of psychological inflation, deflation and realistic resolution (IDR). It is caused by the tendency to take conflict personally and consider the outcome of the mediation as a reflection of one’s own identity.
So what happens at each stage of the cycle?
The Inflation/Overconfidence Stage
At the outset of the mediation process, parties are generally overconfident or “inflated.” A reason for that is that interpersonal conflict is often experienced as threatening the value and even the existence of the self. As a defense to the anxiety this causes, parties tend to self-inflate, i.e. to reassure themselves that they will manage successfully. Adrenal surges caused by perceived threat also contribute to the initial inflation.
During this phase, parties usually have non-realistic expectations. They overestimate the strength of their case, seem unwilling to face adverse facts or deny their own vulnerability. They do not take into account the agenda of the other side, and all of this leads to the next stage.
When each party begins to realize that the other side exists as an independent agent who envisages a different outcome and proposes a different solution, disappointment and deflation settle in. During this phase, parties may feel insulted by the offer or the position of the other side. They start to feel less certain that they will achieve their desired result, and often blame others because things are not going as they “should.”
At this tender phase, mediators should exhibit sincere respect towards their clients, as this will soothe the feelings of insult and deflation. At the same time mediators need to remind parties that the decision-making process has to be kept as objective as possible. Overreacting to the negative feelings caused by the conflict impedes the resolution process.
When parties manage to develop a sense of self-and-other they also succeed in settling their dispute. They abandon the expectation to achieve only their own ideal result and are eager to accept a practical and realistic solution. Often this coincides with recovering from the sense of injured pride and disappointment. They no longer view the outcome of mediation as a reflection of who they are.
To learn about the European TIME project, please visit http://mediation-time.eu/images/TIME_O5_Trainer_Course_Module_3.pdf.
Next month’s article will contain a discussion of impasse in the IDR Cycle.
About the author:
Elizabeth Bader, who has been a lawyer for over 30 years, has successfully mediated variety of cases including complex, multi-party litigation. Her award-winning insights and publications on the psychology of mediation have won her high praise within both the legal and psychology professions. She is a mediator for the Bay Area Mediation Services .