A Journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution



Kenneth Cloke’s Book

“Conflict represents a lack of awareness of the imminence of death or sudden catastrophe”

So writes Kenneth Cloke, in his book, Mediating Dangerously. This past week, Cloke presented a 2 day conference in Ottawa during a joint session of the Centre for Conflict Education and Research, the Ontario Association for Family Mediation and Family Mediation Canada. The title of the conference and of his more recent book is, The Crossroads of Conflict: A journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution. For Cloke, mediation is as much about reflecting on your own conflicts as it is solving the clients’.


Cloke is a lawyer, mediator, consultant, author and educator from California. He was the only speaker for the 2 days and despite his small stature and soft spoken voice, the audience of 60 was fully engaged. On the jacket of Mediating Dangerously, Cloke states that although the inevitable pain and stress of conflict can lure mediation professionals into taking the easy route to a quick compromise, the role of the mediator is not simply to settle conflicts or fashion agreements but to create choices. This means going further, taking risks, and exploring dangerous territory to locate the centre of what isn’t working. For him, it takes great courage, honesty and self-knowledge on the part of the mediator to open a Pandora’s Box of fear, resistance revenge etc and the defences and rationalizations that keep individuals and organizations locked in conflict.

This Crossroads of Conflict is an “effort to reveal the hidden dynamics and underlying unity that lie at the heart of conflict resolution”. For Cloke, the “heart” of conflict resolution is skilfully moving the client from impasse, through solution, compromise and transformation to the final dimension of transcendence.  This progression requires inward reflection on the part of the mediator and the client. Cloke provides numerous lists of questions that allow the mediator to probe deeper and deeper into the conflict. Both books provide an interesting read.

Having now completed 2 LL.M (ADR) courses, I have a clear sense of the theory of conflict resolution as an academic study and have been involved in enough mediation to see how some of that theory is applied. But Cloke’s framework around which he builds his arguments created “ahha” moments for both neophytes like myself, and seasoned professionals. In short, to be skilful at managing others emotional rollercoaster’s, mediators have to have well developed EQ’s and have mastered the management of their own emotions.

Cloke finished with an impassioned plea for mediators as professionals to use their conflict management skills for the greater good. He heads the group Mediators Without Borders… yes another without borders group, but a quick look at the international projects they are involved with speaks for itself.

From this budding mediator’s perspective, success as a mediator starts with reflecting on one’s own emotional journey.

Elizabeth Hyde, B.Ed., LL.B, LL.M (ADR) (cand.) and is an accredited Mediator, and the newest associate of Riverdale Mediation.