The highs and lows of conflict resolution.

December 24, 2007

I can’t describe the pride-swelling I experienced when five and a half hours after we began, the two disputants shook hands with each other. I think that moment must never get old for a mediator.

The tension is released during that handshake…. Like breaking the glass at a Jewish wedding, the whole room changes and relaxes. Suddenly, the disputants can look each other in the eyes… They can smile, even joke a little. And that’s the best time for the mediator to strike with the closing details.

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The feminine side of conflict and management.

December 24, 2007

There are people who say that if the world was run by women, we’d all be at peace. I think they say that because we’ve never seen it yet…

But I do think that we can credit women with something incredible: Women have this ability to transform conflict, even when they are poised at the center of it.

At today’s mediation session, the two official disputants were men. Each man brought with him a woman – one, his wife, and the other, his mother-in-law.

At first, both women backed their man’s charges, adamantly and fiercely. But over the course of the five and a half hour session, both women showed hints of transformation first. I would categorize it like this:

  1. Loyalty – strength phase
  2. Panic – introspective phase
  3. Resolution – strength phase

I notice this pattern in my own relationship with my husband. Often, I’m the one who gets more riled up and passionate when he finds himself in a dispute. My loyalty to his cause usually gets him worked up more than he might normally. Together, we enter a space of conflict.

We get to the panic – introspective phase together, but I’m the one who speeds through it. The last phase, resolution – strength, washes over me like cleansing waters, and I find myself as calm – strong as I was passionate – strong in the first phase.

At this point, I think women serve as guides to cross the male disputants over that bridge to resolution. I think the women see it first and the women don’t mind bursting the bubble sooner.

That’s how I watched it happen today, and I felt like I was looking into a mirror as I watched my fellow girlkind go through these steps to management and resolution. Until today, I thought I was alone (and crazy), switching from phase to phase like that, passion to calm.

I guess that’s why people also say that women are fickle (for better or worse…)


The human tradition of mediation.

December 24, 2007

We’ve been surrounded by mediators since we were young:

When we fought with our siblings, are parents were the judges. 

When the other kids at school didn’t play fair, our teachers were the arbitrators.

When our relationships fall apart, our friends are the advisers. 

Where there is society, there is conflict, and where there is conflict, there have always been mediators, in one way or another.

It’s an age-old practice that’s existed as long as human beings have been communicating and as long as there has been communication, there has been misunderstanding. 

Today I was invited by my department to sit in on a real mediation session. I learned a lot from watching it all spread out in front of me, live:

  • It’s better for mediators to sit across from all disputants as opposed to at the head of the table.
  • Explain the process to participants and they will take the process on themselves.
  • Partner with a mediator of the opposite sex for family cases.
  • It’s important to know when to take a break and when to let the momentum roll.
  • Take culture into account, but don’t assume; just be open to culture being present.
  • Never underestimate the power of women around a negotiation table.

What I learned, more than anything today, is that it would be an honor to serve society as a mediator and continue this human tradition.