Using Graphics to Mediate Conflict

Using Graphics to Mediate Conflict

I'm sure you've heard that conflict is a normal, healthy part of being human. If handled well, where both (or all) parties remain calm and talk through their disagreement, are willing to compromise to reach a goal everyone can live with -- yes, this is healthy.

How often does it happen, though, in real life? Let's take the example of a couple divorcing. Emotions are high. Both sides have been advised by their lawyers to go for as much as they can get. From here, compromise quickly begins to look like caving in, and attitudes harden.

Imagine the two parties standing on top of their own respective icebergs -- where the tip of the iceberg, just above the waterline, is the emotive content of their disagreement. Hidden below the surface are the myriad systems--many of them entirely subconscious--that determine the positions of the parties.

Diagram showing two jagged edges of a single iceberg with arguing divorcing couple. Values way below the surface converge.

Lisa Arora is a visual practitioner in Vancouver who trained as a mediator following her own divorce. She uses the iceberg model to help the parties understand that they do have some things in common, often the well-being of their offspring. If she can show this on the wall during a mediation, the parties have already come to a position of agreement before the negotiating starts. It's a clever, interesting and creative way of to move people out of conflict and into solution.

I got into graphic recording at the suggestion of my mediation teacher, who thought it would be a good fit for me, given my background in graphic design and my interest in conflict resolution. I use both these tools to help individuals understand their biases and why they might not be shared by a person who is perceived as an adversary.

If you are in conflict with someone, try sketching out all your positions and assumptions. It might help both of you move forward.