You are at: [Mediation Services] [  > Index  > The Resolution Cycle] [Mediation Books]
New material will be at

The Resolution Cycle and Mediation

The Resolution Cycle and Mediation
By Stephen R. Marsh

The "resolution cycle" is the cycle of emotional states experienced by parties to mediation. In response to stress, severe trauma or conflict (including that found in mediation), human beings go through the emotional pattern known as the resolution cycle.  This cycle is also known (depending on the discipline) as the trauma or grief cycle. Most professionals know of the cycle from studies in grief and are aware of the basic elements, namely: shock/denial; bargaining; guilt; fear; depression; anger; acceptance/resolution. However, the resolution cycle is present in every sort of significant, severe, conflict, stress or resolution -- including intractable conflicts (such as Bosnia) and involvement in the legal system.

This cycle works in groups and organizations and nations as well as in individuals. When countries are presented with the threats that send them to war their populations experience shock and disbelief. They then attempt bargaining and experience guilt, fear and anger. Finally, win or lose, they go through acceptance and resolution. Even a "short" war such as the United Nations war with Iraq will trigger all of these emotional states.

Thus the cycle does not "just" apply to severe grief or severe conflict. The stress of changing jobs, obtaining even an agreed divorce, an automobile accident or even relatively mild health problems can trigger the same cycle. Leaving addiction, while a very positive event, also creates similar stresses. The resolution cycle is a part of normal human life, and is a significant part of many negotiated conflicts.

Reflect on your own observations: at one time or another, parties to negotiations invariably go through the first parts of this cycle: shock and denial; bargaining (with each other, God, nature and other forces); guilt; anger and depression. They may go through these steps in almost any order, and may go through the steps more than once. Consider though, that without help they often do not find the last stage of acceptance/resolution -- regardless of whether they "win" or "lose" the conflict. Without resolution they have not come to a true end to the conflict regardless of what has been negotiated or how the mediator (if any) considers the matter resolved.

There is a good reason that mediators often fail to help parties progress through the resolution cycle during the process of mediation. Many mediators are unaware of the resolution cycle. The reason that many mediation and negotiation professionals are unaware of the cycle is because it is easy to miss witnessing the entire chain of emotions and mental states that the parties are experiencing, especially when dealing with sophisticated clients or in formal settings. It is easy to fail to realize that it is a repeating cycle that is common to life.

Consider. In a formal setting, the parties have generally finished with shock and denial by the time they have hired attorneys. By the time of mediation, the bargaining process has broken down or deadlocked (otherwise the parties would not need a mediator). Anger is controlled and fear or guilt hidden in the formal presence of a third party.  As a result, all many mediators often see during mediation is a slice from a day in the journey towards resolution.

A cross-disciplinary approach that recognizes that this cycle is present in many negotiation settings can aid the mediator or facilitator. By being aware, those who guide parties in alternative dispute resolution can work through not only the legal and resource issues, but the human matters as well. Paying attention to the normal emotional states that make up the resolution cycle -- and remembering that it is a normal cycle and a process common to conflict and stress -- lets a facilitator or a mediator bring a better perspective and a focus to dealing with the strong feelings experienced and related mental states felt by the parties. An alert mediator can then help the parties in preparing to deal with the emotional issues inherent in conflict and in seeking true resolution and acceptance.

Understanding the human cycle of shock/denial; bargaining; guilt; fear; anger; depression; acceptance/resolution is an important step towards mastering the art of mediation and becoming better equipped to resolve institutional issues, mediate inter- and intra- group conflicts, and to engage in court annexed dispute resolution procedures.

[related essay at]

Copyright 2000 by Stephen R. Marsh [home]

Mediation Essays

Mediation Topics

Mediation Centers

Advanced Topics

Bulletin Board

ADR Links

More ADR Links


E-Mail to Author

Author's Home Page

Search the Site

This Website is by Stephen R. Marsh
Contact Information at: