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Mediating Conflict (Becker)

The goal of the mediating essay is negotiation. The task of negotiation is to resolve conflict to the mutual satisfaction of all parties involved in a dispute. In order to achieve mutual satisfaction, you will need to go beyond asking both or many sides in a dispute to "give a little." Theoretically, negotiation builds upon the shared values and interests of the disputing parties; therefore, will need to go beyond simply representing the perspectives of both (or many) sides in a dispute and reveal those underlying values and interests of the opposed parties in order to build consensus. If you, as mediator, can demonstrate to both (or many) sides what these parties have in common, if you can help the disputing parties understand each other, you will be better able to offer them a solution which is based on agreed-upon principles.

The mediating essay, therefore, should deal with a controversial issue that is causing a demonstrable problem. It should present the disputing parties in terms of their underlying interests and values, as well as clearly explaining the perspectives each party holds on the issue at hand. That is, as mediator, you should be able to explain not only what each party believes, but also why it holds that belief. In order to avoid gross generalizations about any party's perspective, the parties should be represented by real people's words--that is, each side should have, if possible (and it is not always possible), a real representative rather than just being called "the opposition." Finally, the compromise position should clearly satisfy at least some of the underlying interests of all parties. As mediator, you may find it necessary to explain why the compromise cannot satisfy all interests and persuade the audience that as many as possible are being considered. Knowing your audiences well will serve you here to know how best to appeal to them persuasively. Please observe the suggestions about persuasive appeals in the persuasive essay assignment sheet.

Focus and coherence, as always, are necessary in the mediating essay, though we have discussed the options for delaying your thesis (your compromise position) until the end of the essay. Whether you shape the essay deductively or inductively, the reader should be able to follow the essay easily and walk away from it clearly knowing its purpose and main idea. Development in the mediating essay probably concerns problem definition, explanations of disputing parties' positions and underlying interests, and a clear discussion of how the compromise position satisfies the needs of all parties. Voice is crucial. The mediator must maintain a fair and, as far as possible, impartial tone, although it may be to your benefit to acknowledge your biases up front in order to be honest with your audience.

Good luck.