Trying to reconcile when we don’t see eye to eye: The impact of divergent narratives on reconciliation

Author: Cara Rossi

Rossi, Cara, 2019 Trying to reconcile when we don’t see eye to eye: The impact of divergent narratives on reconciliation, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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In reconciliation processes like restorative justice, mediation, and couples counselling, victims and offenders are often brought together to discuss the wrongdoing that has occurred. The goal of these interactions is to resolve each other’s psychological needs resulting from the wrongdoing by finding some common ground around what happened. This process is important to move towards reconciliation, and as such, has been implemented across a range of contexts, to resolve the interpersonal implications of criminal offending, workplace disputes, schoolyard fights, and relationship conflict.

However, research suggests that the success of these interactions is contingent on the mutual, meaningful engagement of both victims and offenders – and this does not always occur. There’s evidence that both victims and offenders have trouble attending conciliatory interaction (Latimer, Dowden, & Muise, 2005) or engaging in conciliatory interaction (Daly, 2003; Hayes, McGee, & Cerruto, 2011; Larsen, 2014), and after engagement, do not always experience restorative outcomes (Jones, 2009; Smith & Weatherburn, 2012). I suggest that this occurs because victims and offenders emerge from transgressions with different perspectives, reflected in what I term “divergent transgression narratives” of the wrongdoing. I propose that finding common ground is difficult to achieve when the two involved parties are starting from very different points of understanding.

Narrative divergence has been raised as an issue for reconciliation across a range of studies, suggesting that victims and offenders have different perceptions across domains such as guilt (Adams & Inesi, 2016), transgression severity (Adams, 2016), and approaches to achieving justice (Mikula & Wenzel, 2000; Okimoto & Wenzel, 2014). Further, these divergences are self-serving in nature (Stillwell & Baumeister, 1997). I propose that these divergences may be psychologically threatening, particularly for offenders, and therefore result in their reduced attitudes towards reconciliation.

Across five studies utilising qualitative, experimental, and dyadic paradigms, I aim to, first, replicate and extend on previous research by exploring the nature of narrative divergence. Second, I aim to explore how narrative divergence impacts upon victim and offender attitudes towards reconciliation. Third, I aim to explore how divergent narratives impact upon the efficacy of engaging victims and offenders in a conciliatory interaction.

Overall, this thesis identifies that victims’ and offenders’ divergent transgression narratives may be problematic for future reconciliation. The findings of this thesis support the premise that victim and offender transgression narratives systematically diverge in self-serving ways, and that this negatively impacts upon both parties’ attitudes towards reconciliation. Further, the findings suggest that these negative implications may not be addressed by “talking it out”. This thesis presents important considerations for engaging victims and offenders, namely that we may first need to develop strategies that bring victims and offenders onto the same page of the offense, before bringing them face to face to discuss it.

Keywords: narrative divergence, transgression, conflict resolution, restorative justice, psychological needs

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Lydia Woodyatt