Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Connections Are Building Blocks

We are all about connectivity in our information age. It’s all very direct with cell phones, Blackberry, Palm, Bluetooth wireless, and the list goes on. Now, this type of connectivity is quite important; however, I’m thinking of a different kind of connectivity as it relates to conflict resolution and the work of a mediator.

Let me ask you to think of connectivity in terms of connections with and between people.

After 25 years of mediating a range of situations, I have seen, felt and heard again and again that resolving a dispute is about people making connections. As conflict resolution professionals (mediators) we sometimes get too focused on solving the problem and do not always take or make time to seek out connections.

Why should you seek connections? As mediator, you build relationships to build resolutions. This is so because when people make connections they can then put themselves in the shoes of the other person or group and this perspective shift, this empathy (however small to start), can create tremendous opportunity to resolve conflict.

When people can think about the conflict from the other person’s perspective, even if it’s just a little view, they can become more flexible in their own thinking and in their willingness to work toward resolution. These connections can help shift people from “you” versus “me” to “us” versus “the problem.”

One simple method to make connections in a conflict, particularly one where people may be meeting face to face for the first time, is to find out about the people participating in the mediation. Consider asking folks where they are from or about their families. Who are they routing for in the NCAA Tournament? Just about everyone will tell you something about themselves if you ask in an open and curious manner.

And, when people on the “opposite” sides of a conflict find something in common (or even an opposite). They both came from a small town. They have a 10 year old who likes soccer. One cheers for UNC and the other for the Duke. They make a connection. While these are small connections, they can nonetheless help move matters forward as the mediation progresses. These small connections can allow for larger ones as participants consider their options. Connections are the building blocks of conflict resolution.

So, next time you are mediating or in a conflict – think “connectivity.”

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