This article is derived from Fredrike P. Bannink’s book Handbook of Solution Focused Conflict Management (2010), Cambridge MA: Hogrefe Publishing.

“Winning will depend on not wanting other people to lose”
~ R. Wright. Nonzero. History, Evolution and Human Cooperation

The evolutionary process within the administration of justice leads to forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Using mediation, conflicts can often be resolved rapidly, economically and at an early stage, with a satisfying outcome for the clients involved. From the perspective of “game theory” mediation revolves around a non-zero-sum game (“win-win”), whereas a judicial procedure revolves around a zero-sum game (“win-lose”). “Win-win” means: you swim together. “Lose-lose” means you sink together; “win-lose” means: you swim and the other party sinks, and if the other party swims, you sink. Mediation can help to form or strengthen relationships encouraging trust and respect or, alternatively, to end relationships in as pleasant a manner as possible.

The solution focused model was developed during the 80’s by De Shazer, Berg and colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, USA. They expanded upon the findings of Watzlawick, Weakland and Fish (1974), who found that the attempted solution would sometimes perpetuate the problem and that an understanding of the origins of the problem was not necessary.

Propositions of De Shazer (1985) are:
• The development of a solution is not necessarily related to the problem (or conflict). An analysis of the problem is not useful in finding solutions, whereas an analysis of exceptions to the problem is.
• The clients are the experts. They are the ones who determine their preferred future and the road to achieving this. De Shazer (1994) assumes that problems (or conflicts) are a sort of subway tokens: they get the person through the gate (to the table of the mediator) but do not determine which train he will take, nor do they determine which stop he will use to get off.
• If it is not broken, do not fix it. Leave alone what is positive in the perception of the clients.
• If something works, continue with it. Even though it may be something completely different from what was expected.
• If something does not work, do something else. More of the same leads nowhere. Building solutions is different from problem solving. According to the cause-and-effect “medical” model, one should explore and analyze the conflict in order to make a diagnosis, before the “remedy” can be administered. This model is useful where it concerns relatively simple problems, which can be reduced to uncomplicated and distinct causes, for example simple medical or mechanical problems. A disadvantage is that this model is problem focused. If the conflict and its possible causes are studied, a vicious circle may be created with ever increasing problems. The atmosphere becomes loaded with problems, bringing with it the danger of losing sight of solutions. “An analysis turns a focal point into a whole field by looking in detail at what has been focused upon and breaking down into even smaller areas each of which can become a point of focus… . It must be emphasized that analysis is by no means the whole of thinking, and analysis by itself will not solve problems. In the past rather too much attention has been paid to logical analysis as the only required tool of thinking” (De Bono, 1985, p. 171).

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by Fredrike Bannink

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.