Excerpt from Fredrike Bannink’s book:
Handbook of Solution Focused Conflict Management

In solution focused conflict management, the focus is on what those concerned would like instead of the conflict itself. Solution focused conflict management targets how parties can get what they want (a future focus), rather than on the conflict itself and what has preceded this (a past or present focus). Haynes, Haynes, and Fong also state that a mediator can only mediate in the future tense (Haynes et. al., 2004). They propose that a mediator uses future-focused questions to initiate change: “Most clients are highly articulate about what they do not want and equally reticent about what they do want (Bannink, 2010b). However, the mediator is only useful to the clients in helping them to determine what they do want in the future and then helping them decide how they can get what they want. It is difficult for the mediator to help clients not get what they do not want, which is what the clients expect if the mediator dwells with them on the past” (Bannink, 2004, p. 7).

Solution focused conflict mangement has proven to be effective in domestic situations, contract negotiations, and even in criminal mediations. In these scenarios, non-traditional agreements are more easily developed. These situations are usually accompanied by a great deal of emotion from the clients involved. As a result, words of validation and giving apologies may carry significant weight. Foa and Foa developed a theory about the kinds of compensation that are considered appropriate as repayment for certain kinds of concessions (Foa & Foa, 1975). They identify two dimensions: concreteness (tangibility) and particularism (the extent to which the value of the resource depends on the identity of the person who delivers it). Love and status are particularistic resources; goods and money are nonparticularistic resources. In their studies, they showed that a form of compensation is more appropriate the closer it is to the resource received. Thus goods can properly be exchanged for money and status for love. But money cannot properly be exchanged for love or a good relationship. Therefore, in personal injury mediation, powerful tools for improving or ending a relationship in the best possible way can be a personal meeting with mutual acknowledgement and understanding or one in which apologies are offered.

Solution focused conflict management may be fertile ground for creating positive emotions and thus finding creative solutions because the issues at hand are more complex than just simple dollar figures (Fredrickson, 2009). Clients can be helped to realize that no conflict can be simply defined as a matter of dollars and cents.

by Fredrike Bannink
Bannink, F.P. (2010a). Handbook of Solution Focused Conflict Management (Cambrigde MA: Hogrefe Publishing).
Bannink, F.P. (2010b). 1001 Solution Focused Questions. Handbook for Solution Focused Interviewing (New York: Norton).
Foa, U.G. & Foa, E.B. (1975). Resource theory of social exchange. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.
Fredrickson, B.L. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown.
Haynes, J.M., Haynes, G.L. & Fong, L.S. (2004). Mediation, positive conflict management. Albany, NY: State University of New York.

Fredrike Bannink has worked as a mediator since 1998. She received a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the University of Amsterdam and became an NMI-certified mediator from the Dutch Mediation Institute; additionally, she serves as a mediator for the Amsterdam District Court. She is the co-founder and past-chair of the Foundation for Professional Neighbor Mediation Amsterdam (SPBA). She has authored many books and articles on mediation, leadership, and psychology. Bannink is also a personal coach for managers as well as a trainer in the field of psychotherapy, education, coaching, leadership and mediation/conflict management since 1980.