This is an excerpt from an old blog post I wrote several years ago. I have grown and developed as a mediator since that time. I will write more perspectives on mediation in future blog posts.
A few years ago I was sitting in the office of the Dayton Mediation Center. Loud voices echoed from one of the mediation rooms. Suddenly, we watched as one of the parties in a dispute walked briskly out of the center. He was followed by Ray, one of his mediators. I glanced out the third-floor window to see what would follow next. I saw Ray and his client talking in the parking lot. Most likely, Ray was checking in with the man to listen to his concerns. As mediators, we generally do not try to change a person’s mind but support their decision in the matter. We open the door to letting them decide what they want to do to work through a dispute. The man did not leave, though. He changed his mind and accompanied Ray back into the building and back to the mediation room. I did not hear loud voices again. Half an hour later two people emerged from the room, smiles on their faces. What brought about that change?
The change happened because the people in conflict were able to listen to one another. They were able to have a conversation and to gain a new perspective on their argument. The new perspective enabled them to recognize each other and to open themselves to looking at the problem in a new way. They were able to take responsibility for their own part in the conflict and to recognize each other’s different needs – particularly the need to be understood.
Ray listened to the man’s concerns when he was in the deepest emotion of a conflict. The gentleman, having an opportunity to express himself and be listened to, became empowered to return to the conversation. It helped him get clearer about what he wanted to do next. It also allowed the conversation in the room to transform into a different type of conversation — one that was more constructive.
As a mediator I am always in awe of the capacity of people to work through conflict. No one likes to be in conflict. Most people want to be connected and at peace. So, what causes conflicts?
I have come to believe through the study of transformative mediaton that most people come into conflict because of a failure to understand one another. It is a crisis in their ability to interact. Often, it happens because they fail to recognize one another.
Conflict is relationship oriented. That is, it stems from the interactions we have with one another. when those interactions break down, there is conflict. When a conflict occurs, our ability to understand the other is often lost. We are unable to find a way to listen to the other person and they, in turn, may not be listening to us. This is when we may feel disconnected and powerless over the situation.
A common action when we feel that the other person is not listening is to raise our voice. It is as if yelling will help them listen better, but it rarely works. Angry words may be spoken that harm the relationship even more. Another tactic in conflict is to ignore the other person — to just not talk to them. This is also a strategy that harms the relationship. The problem with most of these strategies is that they do more harm to our relationship and make the way to reconciliation more difficult.
Here are some tips when dealing with conflict:
Try to set aside the conflict and listen. If you can set aside your own feelings and ask the other person some clarifying questions to see why they are acting the way they are you might start to see another side.
Reflect back what they are saying to you. You don’t have to agree with the other person, just create a space where they know you really do get what they say and are listening. It is amazing how much easier it is to resolve a conflict when you show you really do get where they are coming from.
If listening and talking through the conflict don’t work, call someone to act as a third party. Call a mediator. They have skills to help the difficult conversation take place. Don’t be afraid of the conversation. A mediator will help you and the other party to listen to one another better. It will help you work out a better way forward. I also recommend asking the mediator if they use a transformative model. The transformative model is much better for relationship building or rebuilding!
When we are able to recognize the other person’s perspective and to be recognized – when we are heard and understood – then we can move from that feeling of disconnection to understanding. That is, once we start to recognize the other person’s different perspective and to have our perspective, our story, listened to, we are able to reconnect.
I do want to give a positive plug to the transformative model of mediation. Transformative mediation is a process in which the mediator – a third party – uses methods to help parties in conflict “see” each other’s different perspective of a dispute. The mediator enables the parties to make decisions about the dispute. The mediator may simply reflect the words and phrases the parties are using or notice their emotions and/or behaviors. The mediator may summarize important points in the conversation. These techniques may help the parties gain clarity and begin to understand their own and the other parties differing needs. It also provides a space for people in a dispute to decide what they want to do and how they want to approach the problem. It provides a safe space to have a difficult conversation. As in the case mentioned in the first paragraph, the conversation they are having becomes transformed from one that is destructive and spiraling downward to one that is constructive and enables them to move forward and out of the conflict.
Transformative mediation also provides a space for people in a dispute to decide what they want to do and how they want to approach the problem. they, themselves, can make decisions about how they want to have the conversation. The transformative process provides a safe space to have a difficult conversation. The conversation in a mediation becomes transformed from one that is destructive and spiraling downward to one that is constructive and enables them to move forward and out of the conflict.