If then else: The computer programmer's approach to mediating conflict

How our brain works cannot easily be mapped into a computer.  Ironically, the workings of a computer can be applied to our daily thought and practice, and lead to re-wiring of our brains.

One of my earlier careers was as computer programmer, coding IBM software applications.  If there was one programming technique I used more than any other it was probably the IF THEN ELSE statement, IF x THEN do y ELSE do z. It’s all so convenient, given the binary, on/off, nature of computer processing.  And so it goes with our wired brains, too… a gazillion IF THEN ELSE neural connections.

Visualizing IF THEN ELSE

As a visual aid to programming, coders sometimes draw up flowcharts.  At its most basic, a single IF THEN ELSE:

We use IF THEN ELSE all the time, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not…

Working with IF THEN ELSE in mediation

Computer programmers, of course, aren’t the only ones who think in terms of IF THEN ELSE or draw flowcharts.

Using IF THEN ELSE in an intentional way can be crucial to success.  IF THEN ELSE can be used as a hard rule or held out as a general guide; e.g.,

  • If we find resolution in the next 15 minutes, then I will write up an agreement otherwise (else) I will terminate the session.
  • If they say their principles are preventing them from resolution, then I will ask them what happened in the past when matters of principle arose or (else) I will say I understand your principles are important to you, remain silent for a bit, and then re-direct/resume the conversation flow.
  • If they say they are authorized to make decisions on behalf of their co-operative, then I will ask them what type of decisions they are authorized to make else we will continue (do nothing may be part of your IF THEN ELSE).
  • If I think they are lying, then I will triangulate, through questions, to confirm or deny my assumption, or (else) I will caucus with them and be more direct

Pre-process your IF THEN ELSE

By working out your IF THEN ELSE responses to routine situations, ahead of time, before you actually need them, you can:

  • reduce the impact of surprise, to yourself and others mitigate a negative response to uncertainty
  • free more internal resources, your focus, for what matters most in the mediation leaving the routine to your automated, intuitive (IF THEN ELSE) response

Build capacity via IF THEN ELSE

Purposeful application of IF THEN ELSE is a vehicle for building not only your capacity to resolve disputes, it is also a vehicle to build dispute resolution capacity in public jurisdictions and systems.

In my opinion, IF THEN ELSE is a core component of self-diagnostics and early conflict intervention, and is seriously underutilized, especially given the technologies available today.

Gazing into the future, the gap between IF THEN ELSE potential and application may be less of an issue in an age of The Singularity and automated mediation?

How about you?How much do you make of use of IF THEN ELSE, in an intentional way?  Leave a comment.

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