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The Six Rs for Changing MInds and Overcoming Resistance

This article borrows from Howard Gardner's book, "Changing Minds" (2004). In order to get people in conflict to cooperate or collaborate sufficiently to settle or resolve their differences, and perhaps achieve reconciliation, it is necessary that they change their minds. The reason they are in dispute is because they are of two different minds about a particular thing, which is what they are fighting over. People do not change their minds easily. Some people are prepared to be burned at the stake, literally, rather than change their minds, or admit to a change of belief. People cling to the artifacts of their own minds with great stubbornness. This is called resistance. When a mediator seeks to bring parties together, she will encounter resistance. If there were no resistance, if changing minds was easy, there would be no need for mediators.

Howard Gardner has identified six R's, which are helpful in helping people to change their minds. They are: reason, research, resonance, re-description, rewards and real world events.

Reason is employed by way of the use of argument in order to persuade.

Research is used in order to collect facts, also with the purpose of persuading, often a mediation is a conflict between competing facts.

Resonance appeals to the feeling part of the human personality. Does a proposal feel right? Some people rely heavily upon resonance, and prefer it to a reasoned and researched position. Orators and advertisers seek a message that will resonate their audience.

Re-description can be profoundly effective. Matters are often expressed in the negative, but when changed into a positive form of expression, convey a completely different and more attractive meaning. Mediations are often a persistent attempt to re-describe the problem in order to make solutions seem more attractive.

Rewards are an important part of any negotiation, and are usually accompanied by penalties. This is often known as the "stick and carrot" approach.

Real world events can have the effect of changing parties' perceptions completely. Such events may be quite trivial, like going out for lunch. After lunch, what was said in the morning and rejected out of hand may, with the benefit of the simple event of several hours passing and a meal, seem much more attractive.

The ever-present problem of the mediator is that parties do not want to budge, but unless there is some change they start to get impatient. So the job of the mediator is to continue to make some progress, so that there is a perception of movement. This is necessary in order to keep the parties at the negotiating table. So it is helpful to the mediator to be able to play upon the six R's, developing a facility with each one, in order to keep the parties going through the process in a productive way. Ultimately, the matter must be resolved, not by the mediator but by the parties themselves. The combined focused attention of their minds is what will accomplish the result that they have come to mediation to achieve. The mediator, by using the six R's, helps to maintain the process to its successful conclusion.

Charles B. Parselle is a mediator, arbitrator and attorney. He graduated from Oxford University's Honor School of Jurisprudence and is a member of the English bar, then was admitted to the California Bar in 1983. A practicing attorney, he is a prolific author and sought-after mediator. To consult him, please contact him through his website:

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