Appreciative inquiry as a dispute resolution strategy: Bryan Hansen, Assistant Director Werner Institute
In my course regarding consulting and systems design for conflict resolution specialists, I devote time to looking at the utilization of the appreciative inquiry method within the assessment phase of the conflict management system design process. Simply stated, Appreciative Inquiry is an approach that attempts to study what is working within an organization to help overcome some of the challenges the organization is facing. This approach contrasts that of the typical problem-solving method which tends to be our default when challenges arise. In his article, Appreciative Inquiry as an Organizational Development Tool, Charles Martinetz describes the difference between the problem solving and appreciative inquiry methods as follows (Martinetz, 2002):
The steps in problem solving are as follows:
1. Identify the problem.
2. Conduct an analysis of the causes.
3. Analyze possible solutions.
4. Plan some action or treatment.
The steps in AI are different:
1. Appreciate and value the best of what is.
2. Envision what might be.
3. Dialogue about what should be.
4. Innovate and create what will be.
Coming from the field of dispute resolution, we can clearly see how the power of reframing the situation from a problem that needs to be solved and extinguished into a challenge that will be overcome by seeking out our strengths can really play an important role in ensuring that the change or interventions developed will be effective and sustainable.
Therefore, something I have been thinking a lot about with my mediator’s hat on and want to propose as a potential discussion topic is how this methodology could be related to the work we do in the mediation room. Specifically, I work with a lot of families as they are going through divorce and often the dialogue includes accusations of what problems the other person has in terms of their ability to raise their children. This often leads to a contest of who can prove the other person is less capable than the other and the objective of keeping the children’s best interest in mind is left behind.
I feel transforming the conversation into one that looks at the strengths that exist within each parent, the idealized vision of what caring for the children entails, and what potential plans could be made leveraging the identified strengths could lead to a collaborative dialogue that does maintain the children’s best interest as the top priority.
I understand this may be difficult to bring into the room right off the bat with the fresh emotions attached to the divorce process; however, I feel there is potential in introducing it into the process at some point. I would be very interested to hear what others think about this. Please feel free to share your thoughts in this forum.
Martinetz, C. (2002). Appreciative Inquiry as an Organizational Development Tool. Performance Improvement. Volume 41, Number 8. September 2002. ISPI.org.
Bryan Hanson, the Assistant Director of the Werner Institute received his Master of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, his graduate certificate in Organizational Conflict Management from John F. Kennedy University and his Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Communications from Minnesota State University - Mankato.
Bryan is a practicing mediator with well over a hundred hours of training in various mediation contexts. He is an approved Parenting Act mediator and Specialized ADR mediator by the state of Nebraska. Bryan provides many workshops regarding conflict engagement skill development for various organizational contexts. Bryan also is an experienced facilitator and has provided his services to assist organizations with visioning processes, the development of strategic plans, and other collaborative processes that necessitate the voice of multiple stakeholders.