If there is a mismatch of wisdom between the parties and the mediator or among the parties, the process may clash and burn. However unless you know a bit about the characteristics of wisdom, you may not recognize that this kind of clashing instead of matching is the problem.
We have been creating a method of assessing cognitive development matches and clashes in mediation (both between parties and between parties and the conflict professional) and I have been happily surprised to see in my research how closely aligned cognitive development is with wisdom. They share such characteristics as the ability to take multiple perspectives; comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity; strength of analysis and conclusion; degree of self-awareness; and patience, presence and poise when an answer is not immediately evident.
For those of you interested in wisdom, I recommend an article by one of the top wisdom researchers Monika Ardelt. From "How Wise People Cope with Crises and Obstacles in Life" (ReVision - citations omitted):
Wisdom is often believed to be the quintessence of successful human development. Wise people are considered to be exceptionally mature, integrated, satisfied with life, able to make decisions in difficult and uncertain life matters, and capable of dealing with any crisis and obstacle that they encounter. in fact, successfully coping with crises and hardships in life might not only be a hallmark of wise individuals but also one of the pathways to wisdom. According to Pascuale-Leone, ". . . ultimate limit situations that cannot be undone and are nonetheless faced with consciousness and resolve—situations like death, illness, aging, irremedial oppression or loss, extreme poverty, rightful resistance or rebellion, guilt, absolute failure, danger uncontrollable fear, etc. lead to the natural emergence of a transcendental self, if they do not destroy the person first."
The cognitive wisdom dimension represents a deep and clear understanding of life and the desire to know the significance and deeper meaning of life, particularly as it relates to intrapersonal and interpersonal phenomena and events. That requires knowledge and acceptance of the positive and negative aspects of human nature, of the inherent limits of knowledge, and of life's unpredictability and uncertainties. However, a deep and unbiased understanding of life is only possible after one "has seen through illusion" and transcended one's subjectivity and projections to perceive reality as it is. That is the task of the reflective wisdom dimension. ...
In addition to the cognitive, Dr. Ardelt also breaks wisdom into reflective and affective elements, as you will see in her article. Click to read the rest. More here.
If there is a mismatch in the mediation room between degrees of wisdom, the results can be counterproductive at best. When one or more of the parties is wiser than
the mediator, is it not his or her obligation to refer the parties to another mediator? I think so. Some parties will be more highly developed than some mediators and for those mediators to move forward anyway is not in the best interest of the resolution. The mismatch is analogous to one between coaches and clients described by Otto Laske in "Why Does Your Maturity Matter?" (Choice). Dr. Laske writes:
Coaches typically don’t know their adult-developmental level, in terms of either their emotional or thinking maturity. Many coaches don’t realize their lack of insight in this regard. However, I consider knowing one’s developmental level to be an ethical obligation of every coach.
As good as your intentions may be, if you don’t know your developmental stage, and the client does not know hers either, you are in an ethical muddle. You owe it to your client to refer her to a more mature coach, not because of lack of expertise or pragmatic issues, but because you cannot guarantee not to do her harm.
Can a mediator do harm? Yes, if he or she is in over his or her head due to level of cognitive development or degree of wisdom. Fortunately, we each can achieve new levels. Unfortunately, reaching new levels of development does not happen by attending a class or applying some techniques; it takes time and work and, most of all, commitment to growth.