3) In the transformation of the conflict

ConflictA third possibility points to a fascinating use of ECM, i.e. as transformation tool in and of itself. If the situation of the conflict intervention allows it, the basic rules of mind mapping can be communicated to the conflict parties and they can create their own mind maps for working on the dysfunctional system. Tony Buzan proposes that each party creates, at least, three different maps:

  • a map for the negative aspects of the relationships,
  • a second one for the positive aspects, and
  • a third one for requests towards possible solutions.

Here it is paramount to remember that elicitive conflict transformation cannot tie promises of solutions to any of these creative methods, but the creation of such maps can very well foster:

  • hope for a deeper understanding of the conflict situation by the parties,
  • empathy for the concerns of the other parties,
  • increased creativity in the development of alternative courses of actions, and
  • enhanced capacity for resonance and insight into the urgency of a homeostatic equilibrium.

In this line of thinking, this third use of conflict images can already serve as a methodological technique that fosters a transformative process. The conflict energy on all layers can be used for the constructive reshaping of relationships and for the transformation of the conflict, both rationally and transrationally.

Let us illustrate this working method by broadening Buzan’s Interpersonal Problem Solving with elements of Nonviolent Communication that have proven useful in our practical experience. First, from the side of the facilitation it is important to create a discrete working environment in which there is an attractive space for encounters, yet in which also every party has the space to work by itself undisturbed. Besides, this method requires sufficient time, several hours, in which the encounters without outer influences can take place. Open-ended meetings, if possible, are recommended. 

In a first step, each party alone spontaneously draws a map, which starts by expressing which unpleasant or disliked feelings are produced by the dysfunction in the relationship. To draw a key concept in the middle of the sheet can help bringing the uneasiness to a clear expression. The facilitator has to pay attention that the starting feeling is actually a feeling and does not describe a critique, denunciation, and projection or diagnose. The feelings inventory by Rosenberg can be clarifying in this respect. Based on this disliked feeling, each party draws for itself a basic ordering of ideas, which can describe its unmet needs and that can be spontaneously associated with the starting word. These ideas are to be ordered freely and connected with branches to the key starting feeling. Colors and symbols support the clarity and expressive force, for which the parties need to have sufficient time for the map creation. 

For each new denomination of unmet needs a new hierarchy and more concrete forms of a further field of basic ordering ideas can be added. The number is, theoretically, unlimited. Yet, in order to keep the overview, parties ought to stay focused on the essentials. On a third level events, factual claims, subjective observations or opinions can be listed. At this level, the party presents the narrative of the conflict from its perspective. To follow the 6-W checklist can be helpful in providing the context and maintaining the focus when drawing the map: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. 

Map Disliked Feelings

Download here the mind map “Disliked Feelings

After each party has drawn its disliked feelings map and taken a break, the following step is structured in the same manner, yet it deals with the welcoming or pleasant aspects of the relationship. First, we ask about a positive feeling that serves as starting point for the map. Such positive feelings tend to express met needs. In a similar vein as with the disliked feelings, however, we are looking for feelings for which the other is not responsible, but whose responsibility lies within oneself.  Since we are dealing with parties to a conflict, very likely parties might have difficulties recognizing and expressing such positive feelings. Therefore, more time might be necessary for this second than for the first map.

Map Liked Feelings

Download here the mind map “Liked Feelings

After another break, the parties get to work on a third and last map. At its center, we place a request that might enable transformation. In this case, we make the contrary argumentation: the basic ordering ideas derive from the satisfied request of an expected satisfaction of the thus-far unsatisfied need. From this also inferences about own one’s behavior are derived, in a way that the satisfied request can be fed back into the relationship as a pleasant change. This third map describes wishes, imaginations, hopes, expectations, promises and no facts. Here, it is important to remember that requests are not demands, orders or conditionings. A request allows the other party to reject it.

Map Request

Download here the mind map “Request

After the parties have completed the three maps, a structured discussion on them can take place. The facilitation has as its main task to communicate and create the basic outlook following Active Listening after Carl Rogers. While one of the parties shows and explains its first map on Disliked Feelings, the second party listens with ‘an open heart’ and does not speak itself. The listening party has a sheet and markers and draws its own understanding of what has been heard and seen in the other. After the first party is finished with the explanation of the first map, the second party takes over, the roles are switched and it explains its first map too.

After a short break, the maps of the Liked Feelings are discussed, which tends to lead to a change in the mood and atmosphere, yet at this point it is also crucial to be attentive to authenticity, honesty and completeness in the statements of the speaker. Especially, we try to avoid complements that hide the party’s authentic feelings, needs and perceptions. After the discussion of the Disliked Feelings maps, discussing the Liked Feelings maps tends to increase a more mature consciousness and awareness of the conflict through recognition and compensation by the other party.

After a second short break, finally the same method is used to exchange the maps of Requests, which carry the hope and expectation in case of their fulfillment. Through the respective explanations, individual requests can be apprehended and common options that enhance the horizons of intelligibility for both parties can be sketched. Out of individual separated requests, common relational requests can ensue.

Last but not least, the facilitation clarifies the results under consideration of all maps that have been discussed. Attention on the decision and agreement for all possible courses of action need to be maintained. In a successful scenario, until the end of the encounter multiple acceptable courses of action are discussed and consensually selected. 

The strength of this tool of elicitive conflict transformation lies in the following aspects:

  • it creates openness in the parties, which otherwise is difficult to enable
  • different perspectives on the dysfunctional aspects of the episode are allowed and brought to light
  • it fosters honesty between the parties
  • it takes the parties to look at the dysfunctions behind the episode in a more profound and self-determined manner, and
  • it promotes the self-awareness of the own parties and deconstructs obstructive projections on others

While the ideal type of this exercise concerns two parties to the conflict, the structure can be broaden to include more parties. For this, the facilitation needs to attend to the structural, time and content-wise feasibility of the method. Likewise, pending on the group context or the political conflict at stake, this method can also be used by representatives of parties, e.g. top leaders whose decisions frequently have wider consequences for others, yet who are themselves persons who – under appropriate circumstances – can engage with this elicitive method. 


Individual Orientation Guide Team Organization
Individual Orientation Guide Team Organization