Bringing mediation skills into the workplace: can we call this ‘conflict literacy’?

This is the second paper from those presented at the 4th ADR Research Network Roundtable (#ADRRoundtable) at the University of NSW, Sydney last month. We are keen to share the wonderful and challenging ideas discussed. At our roundtables and in this blog we aim to advance the dispute resolution field by presenting high quality, critical dispute resolution scholarship. Next year we’ll be meeting in Hobart, Tasmania and if you’d like to join us (and perhaps visit the equally challenging MONA) , we will be posting information about how to be part of the next meeting here on our blog.


Please feel free to comment here on or over on Twitter @ADRResearch.


This post and the next one feature discussion of the important area of workplace dispute resolution. Today’s post is by Olivia Davis. Olivia has worked in ADR since 2001 and is currently Quality Manager for the Financial Ombudsman Service. She is completing a Master of Dispute Resolution at UTS and is interested in bringing ADR skills into the broader workplace context.



We can measure an individual’s literacy level, but can we measure their ability to deal with conflict productively? This post discusses the concepts that need to be considered before developing a methodology for measuring ‘conflict literacy’.


Bringing mediation skills into the broader workplace context enhances workers’ ability not only to deal productively with conflict, but to cultivate positive relationships, negotiate more persuasively and include multiple perspectives when problem-solving. Key skills from the mediation skill set are listening, questioning, reflecting, reframing, and summarizing, as well as the ability to manage emotions and power imbalances, and reality-test proposed outcomes. The literature around ‘conflict competence’ adds to this list the skills of multivalent thinking, emotional intelligence and impulse control.


The contribution of this post is to combine current thinking about definitions of literacy with current thinking about conflict, to develop a new concept that is more nuanced and complex than ‘conflict competence’, as it is outlined above. To arrive at an understanding of what is meant by the term ‘conflict literacy’ as proposed by the author, the phrase is broken down and each word looked at separately.


The word literacy is commonly attached as a suffix (eg; media literacy, financial literacy, scientific literacy, computer literacy etc) to a particular field as a shorthand way of indicating an individual’s level of knowledge about, and ability to navigate, that particular subject area effectively. As technology and social media have pervaded our daily lives in ever-increasing ways, our understanding of what it means to ‘be literate’ has been forced to expand beyond the simple ability to read and write, to include such skills as the ability to critically evaluate sources of information, filter for relevance, understand which signifiers are valued, as well as produce relevant content. Literacy has always been about the ability to participate effectively in a social environment, but it now has a ‘meta’ aspect which demands that we be able to interrogate the frame the environment sits within, and critique our role as co-creaters of that environment.


Looking at ‘conflict’ it is notable that current thinking sees conflict not as something to be avoided or suppressed – or even resolved – but rather as an energy force that is part of the human experience, and is ever-present, whether latent or manifest. Conflict theorists have applied the principles of complexity science to better understand the dynamics of conflict, how to harness its energies and how to intervene effectively. Complexity science sees all elements in a system as having mutual causality; everything happens in a context, and there are no clear-cut ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’. More complex perspectives allow participants to evade the tyranny of binary oppositions and create more satisfying agreements.


The term ‘conflict literacy’ combines all these concepts; it is more than ‘conflict competence’, and goes further than the parameters of the mediation skill set. Is conflict literacy achieved by bringing mediation skills into the workplace? The answer would have to be: not on their own, no.​

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About Dr Becky Batagol

Dr Becky Batagol is a senior lecturer in law at the Faculty of Law, Monash University. In 2017, she is the President of the Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network. She is a researcher and teacher with a focus on family law, family violence, non-adversarial justice, dispute resolution, gender, child protection and constitutional law. Becky is the co-author of Non-Adversarial Justice (2nd ed, 2014), Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law? The Case of Family Mediation (2011) and the author of many academic articles. Becky is the chief-editor of the ADR Research Network blog and tweets regularly under the handle @BeckyBatagol.

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