Motivational attractors: A tool for Mediating Leadership

Although the figure of mediator is impartial, its leadership exists, and consists of leading the opposing parties towards the autonomous construction of the most sustainable and responsible agreement for them, the one with which they can identify and commit to complying. To build agreements of this type, even with the law in hand at all times, room must be left for the creativity of the parties to contemplate the greatest number of aspects of what they want, analyzing in depth their interests and needs. It sounds like a long task, right? However, it is achieved efficiently using the appropriate tools, among which we find the motivational attractors

What a person gives importance to and pays most attention to greatly determines their way of facing a conflict and proposing possible solutions. Each of the 6 motivational attractors which are detailed later, represent a specific way of conceiving -the opposing parties- the conflict, according to a set of values and beliefs that have a strong relationship of coherence with each other. Each motivational attractor transcends and integrates the previous one in complexity, offering the mediator a guideline on which to help the participants reframe the problem and move towards agreements. 

Thus, throughout the 10 years that I have been working as a mediator, I have been able to observe that there are attractors that favor conflict and others that unblock it. As mediators, we apply motivational attractors to manage the blocking positions of the parties, whether in an individual or joint session. Identifying the predominant attractor in the face of the conflict helps us guide the people in conflict towards the transformation of discordant positions into others more favorable to dialogue. 

Motivational attractor

I base the concept of motivational attractor on that of “value meme” Used by Don E. Beck and also for Ken Wilber in its Comprehensive Approach. Both authors investigate the stages through which consciousness evolves. The American Don E. Beck worked together with Clare W. Graves in the description of a series of stages in the maturation of people, according to the conditions of their environment and the particular capacities and needs to adapt to them. Graves related these stages to values, learning abilities and other attributes to explain an evolutionary sequence from the simple to the complex, from the pure ability to survive towards the understanding of life as a continually changing whole.

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Later beck, With Christopher Cowan, renamed what Graves called “bio-psycho-social systems,” such as “vMEMEs” or “value memes.” First described by Richard Dawkins, it was Mihály Csikszentmihalyi who used the word “Meme” - from the Greek mimesis, imitation - to designate “a unit of information that refers to attitudes or ways of thinking that are replicated through cultural tradition and imitation". Thus, vMEMEs can be understood as patterns that determine our way of seeing the world and relating to others, whether constructively or not.

Graves' research took place during the 1960s and 1970s in New York. Years later, Beck applied this sequence of patterns to the analysis of the negotiations that ended Apartheid in South Africa. Subsequently, he continued to apply these concepts to the analysis of situations in the organizational and political spheres. Hence, precisely, my interest in mediation after having studied the work of these authors and having had the opportunity to work personally with Don E. Beck, who, in addition, contrasted his theory with Ken Wilber's Integral Approach, providing specificity and breadth. . Wilber, in turn, considers, among others, the classical evolutionary perspectives of Hegel, Bergson, T. De Chardin or Gebser, underpinning the idea of evolution through change along with the works of contemporaries such as Andrew Cohen, Michael Down, Robert Wright or John Stuart Mill, among others.

What are the motivational attractors?

Motivational attractors They are not traits of people, but an indicator that informs us about the way of perceiving a certain situation. In the exercise of mediation, it is possible to distinguish between 6 motivational attractors:

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Communication and creativity blocks commonly form in the first four attractors: security, power, duty and personal success, because they are linked to partial ways of seeing things. This, in turn, means that they are more closely related to the emotion of fear, anger, violence, prejudice, rage, suffering, competitiveness, envy and, in general, factors that magnify a problem. On the other hand, the inclution (belong to the group) and, especially, the integration (shared solutions), are attractors from which it is easier to reach agreements, and towards them we try to expand, from a mediating leadership, the perspectives of the people between whom we mediate. 

As a tool, motivational attractors offer some “key unlock keys” to help the opposing parties transcend their blocking positions towards the next step in complexity and breadth of vision. It enables them to move, step by step, towards more complex perspectives in which the aggressive conflict dissolves. In other words, this method helps the mediator to intervene according to the predominant attractor and its corresponding “unlock key.” to help the parties reinterpret the conflict from a new perspective in which creative solutions emerge for agreement. The proposal that is most inclusive will be the one to which we will give argumentative weight in the mediation and this must be assumed and agreed upon by the parties before beginning the process in a symbolic “values agreement” that will represent one of the criteria at the time. to settle disagreements. 

How are motivational attractors applied?

To identify the predominant attractor, I usually give my clients a questionnaire and then complete the evaluation with open questions during caucus in the premediation phase. If the attractors around which the greatest conflictive blockages are formed are security, power, duty and personal success, let's see what the “keys” are that unlock them:

First of all, to transcend the attachment to security, that fear of the uncertain, the person needs greater autonomy to assume roles of power. Power implies a certain degree of backing and support, so the mediator's reformulations will have to serve to help this person formulate proposals and solutions worthy of approval. We will use questions to empower you, helping you find coherence between what you believe threatens you and what you perceive in the present moment. Statements such as “he will take my children away from me”, “I am going to stay on the street”, “they are evil people”, etc., can be appeased with reformulations such as “it is not easy for him to take your children away from you, think about it.” Well, it's not likely that he even wants to do it in the way you imagine, but in any case, there are many ways to prevent it and we are going to explore them here. The same with “I'm going to stay on the street”, there are many things you can do right now to prevent that from happening, let's see what they are and see if any of them help us to propose a solution to the other party. 

The scheme is:

“define the threat realistically (we cancel fear)”


“analyze the solutions that are available and the level of decision that the person has over them (we empower).”

In second place, for transcend attachment to can, the person needs to develop greater self-control and reflect on the meaning of the conflict. The mediator will resort here to asking questions aimed at helping you look to the future and understand the other's motives. For example, we frequently find conflicts caused by the desire of one or more participants to maintain control over money or relationships with family members, partners or workers. It is usually reflected through statements such as “I am the one who put the money in this company” or “I do not want my son to have a relationship with such a relative.” Faced with them, we would have to analyze with our client if their proposals are really the most efficient or if they want to impose their will by force for fear that they are not. Promoting a systemic approach to the relationship works well here, as it is common for the parties to fall into authoritarianism due to poor systemic analysis and lack of resources to work as a team and understand each other. 

The scheme, in this case, would be: 

“reflection to move the centers of power away from shared resources or relationships (override fear) 

provide a deeper and more liberating meaning to those power centers (orient towards coherent motivations).

In third place, for transcend attachment to a fixed belief about “how things should be done” In the face of conflict, the mediator must direct the reformulation towards a broader and more respectful consideration of the individuality of the person. For example, statements such as “it is the parents who have to decide about the lives of their children and not the other way around” suggest the need for the mediator to have enough examples and factual arguments to get the participant to consider new alternatives to the problem. The scheme, as always: starting from the basic attractor - things have to be this way because it is correct and good -, we will dissect the argument here to see what is good and essential, and what things, on the other hand, we can rethink without let it stop being. For example, in intergenerational conflict between adult children and parents, we could ask “why do you think your children can't give you good advice? Do you think there is nothing they can know better than you?” What practical things Have you learned from your son?” If the reflection flows, we will have linked towards the transition. If it does not flow, we probably have to go back to the pitfall of power, that of the previous attractor. 

In fourth place, to transcend an excess of attachment to personal successWhether in family matters or in the professional field, as mediators, we must stimulate in the participant a sense of belonging to something that they can genuinely share with the other party. That something must allow that person to achieve fulfillment on a personal level and, in addition, to achieve a certain harmony with the other party. We can ask questions here such as “Do you think it's smart not to try to empathize more with the other party to resolve this situation?”, “What prevents you from being more empathetic?” and then work on the acceptance of these issues, emphasizing the “most intelligent solution” to the problem. 

What should a mediator do?

We, as mediators, know that the simplest solution that, at the same time, considers a greater complexity of factors, is the most sustainable over time. We don't have to explain this to our client or talk to them about motivational attractors, simply help you consider as many factors as possible and organize them within a coherent scheme of action. In this way, the exercise will consist of transforming each of the blocking elements into opportunities within the action plan considered by that person as the most appropriate to resolve their conflict. 

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When the positions of the opposing parties are established around the attractors of belonging and integration, it is much easier to build towards agreement and empathize with the other. 

From the attractor that is established around the need to belong to a family, group or community, it is now more conducive for constructive dialogue to take place as long as it is possible to establish new links between the groups of people that are excluded. Establishing these links is a more common task for the creative mind, although not in all cases it unlocks paths for the mediation professional.. When people feel that belonging to a family, company, organization, community or group is at stake, they tend to block out everything they believe that the group they identify with rejects. This can be taken advantage of by the mediator to encourage participants to reflect on spaces of belonging shared with the other party. Since both families, companies and communities have their own codes in relation to what they consider similar, acceptable and convenient, we will make inclusive reformulations emphasizing what both parties can share. In any case, the fact that it operates from a plural style of thinking that seeks consensus always favors a constructive dialogue. The “ideal” agreement is visualized here from scenarios in which it is possible to achieve common purposes through associations and shared experiences, even through opposition. 

Finally, when what is privileged is the creation of shared solutions, we find ourselves faced with a motivational attractor that is, in addition, that goal or terrain toward which we will help all the opposing parties move. The integration attractor implies the acceptance of systemic unity, of an interdependence that must be attended to and that makes creative solutions emerge naturally. Paying attention to how the emotional, behavioral, cultural and social processes in which we participate are related and integrated is taken, from this perspective, as something very useful and necessary to transcend blocking conflicts. As mediation professionals, it is very good for us when one of the parties operates from this attractor. 

This post has been prepared by Ms. Catalina Bernaldo de Quirós, director Co-Mediation Cabinet, mediator at Quirónsalud and teacher at the International Mediation School.

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