Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Conflict is Good! Bring it on!

Okay, maybe the title is a bit too strong, yet we know that conflict can create change and many times for the better. Or the energy of conflict can fuel creativity and invention. My point is that conflict is not always a bad thing. Particularly if it comes in small and manageable doses. I’m not talking about physical or strong emotional conflict or violence; rather I’m talking about the kind of every day conflict that occurs in our homes, in our workplaces and in our mediations.

The question for you as mediator is to sort through the “conflict” that is in your mediation and decide what if anything you should do about it. Is it okay to let folks raise their voices at each other? Or use strong language? When and how does the conflict energy shift from constructive to destructive or vice versa? We’ve all been in mediations where it seemed pretty hot and then later folks calmed down, analyzed their situation and reached an amicable resolution. So, what happened? What, if anything did you do?

Some mediators may come from the school of thought that the mediator must tightly control emotions so that participants can stay focused on solving the problem at hand. Others may allow all sorts of conflict to erupt in front of them and facilitate from that point. I believe that “some” conflict is a good thing in mediation and that often participants can’t really get down to the business of solving the problem until they work through some of their feelings. This is not an either/or proposition; rather, as I’ve noted before, it’s a both/and. As mediator you connect with the conflict energy and then help the participants figure out what to do about it.

So how do you get started? I believe that the most important step as mediator is to not only listen fully to what is being said, how it is being said and by whom, but to fully engage with the room. In addition to listening, check body language and let yourself feel what’s happening. Take it all in with all your senses. And then get to work! Bring it on!

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