Mediation places a high value on good faith and willingness as the foundation to successful outcomes. In the training manual for the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County, much effort is spent in establishing that voluntary participation and good faith are necessary for mediation to be successful, specifically that the potential participants are coming to the negotiations with good faith (DRC, 2003). The DRC defines good faith as having an open mind and willingness to compromise. The importance of good faith cannot be underestimated, and entire negotiations can be scuttled because one party in the dispute is not negotiating in good faith.

Senge, among others, has pointed out how damaging hierarchy can be to the emergence of dialogue (1994). In dialogue, when so much is dependent on the willingness of the participants to come together without hierarchy, a lack of good faith is an implicit, often silent claim of superiority. This superiority is an assumption of a hierarchical relationship between participants. Therefore, good faith is the antithesis of hierarchy and is a necessary condition to be met before dialogue can emerge.

The DRC (2004) recognizes that non-negotiable issues are a form of bad faith, and are reason enough to disqualify a dispute for mediation. I have made the explicit connection here between bad faith and the presence of hierarchy. I suggest that hierarchy is an example of bad faith because in my experience hierarchy is based on inflexible demands and pre-conceived notions.

A corollary to this notion is that those participants with bad faith will become frustrated and angry with dialogue as a process specifically because their inflexible demands and pre-conceived notions are questioned. So, not only will a dialogic process have to deal with the time and effort of addressing the bad faith, but will further have to confront therapeutic issues on behalf of the participant with bad faith.

The first level of bad faith is the inflexible topic. The second level is dialogue around an inflexible topic that is disabled by the bad faith of a participant. It seems to be a simple reflexive truth that the participant with bad faith will feel they have become a target within the group attempting to engage in dialogue and this feeling of being a target is a third level. A fourth level of bad faith now exists in the group attempt to address the bad faith of a participant because the group has entered into a hierarchical relationship with one member. The suggestion here is that bad faith in dialogue leads to even more bad faith in the whole. It seems obvious why bad faith is such a core issue in determination of what disputes may not be amenable to mediation – bad faith from participants requires a response from the group that is also in bad faith. Therefore, it is important not to confuse the dialogic mode of communication with a social construct built in layers of bad faith around it. However, from this example it should be clear that bad faith presents a significant difficulty to dialogic communication.

Posted by John Bell on December 10, 2006
Tags: The Fifth Principle of Dialogue

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