Jay Rothman, "Reflexive Dialogue as Transformation,"

Mediation Quarterly 13:4 (Summer 1996) pp. 345-52.

Summary by Tanya Glaser.

Copyright 1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium


Rothman describes his approach to intervention in identity conflicts as facilitating reflexive dialogue. He sees reflexive dialogue as a form of transformative conflict resolution.

Reflexive dialogue is "a form of guided and interactive introspection by which disputants speak about themselves in the presence of their adversaries, and about their needs and interests viewed interactively through the prism of the conflict situation."[p. 347] Exploration and clarification of the disputants' own needs and interests is empowering. Pursuing this introspection through interaction with the opponent fosters recognition.

As with the transformative approach, reflexive dialogue de-emphasizes the goal of settlement or problem-solving. Rothman says, "The goal of reflexive dialogue is to help disputants and third parties identify identity conflicts and engage proactively in a creative conflict management process at the midpoint between these extremes [of avoidance or escalation]"[p. 345]

Identity conflicts in particular are highly subjective. These conflicts are not based primarily on objective facts or historical events. Rather, identity conflicts are based in the disputants' feelings, interpretations, and in the meanings they ascribe to various events. Through facilitated reflexive dialogue, Rothman first seeks to clarify the subjective core, or inner meaning, of the conflict for both sides in the dispute. He then seeks to bridge the disputants' separate subjective realities by helping them to develop a shared, intersubjective reality. Such shared realities may then serve as bases for cooperation.

In reflexive introspection, parties "inquire foremost into what the conflict 'out there' means to them 'inside,' and how their own internal processes and priorities have negatively shaped and can be channeled to positively reshape the course of that exogenous conflict."[p. 347-8] Rather than merely react to the opponent, parties learn to examine their own reactions, seeking to better understand their sources.

When successful, reflexive dialogue leads disputants from blame to recognition of mutual responsibility. Disputants may move from an "us versus them" mentality to an appreciation of how "we" together have and continue to shape the course of the conflict. Rothman describes the development of a type of analytical empathy, "in which the other is viewed as 'like self' with respect to motivations, needs and values."[p. 352] Finally, parties become more aware of their own failures and imperfections, and hence less self-righteous and more tolerant of the opponents' faults.