I’ve got one of the most interesting jobs in the world! My job as a mediator is I talk with people who don’t want to talk with each other. Even as I write these words, I marvel at what it is that I do. I talk with them and then miraculously they often become willing to talk with the other person and soon after they often also come to new understandings together.
In some ways, my work is like watching miracles happen!
How can people move from not wanting to talk with each other to talking?
I’ve seen it happen enough times now over the decades that what I know for sure is that it starts is motivation!
For example, my colleague Gordon White and I spoke with two people who were so upset with each other that they definitely didn’t want to talk with each other. They were both senior leaders in an organization, of equal power, with one quite upset that the other had done something inappropriate.
How did we start the shift to willingness to engage?
It started with clarifying what each of them wanted and what the commonality was in those desires. What could be their motivation to talk?
They both felt joined in their mission to the organization, so we asked them about the mission and re-oriented them to it. The mission of the organization made up part of their “north star” – it’s what would start to motivate them to turn towards the other.
The second thing that moved them towards a willingness to engage was to find out what their best intentions were if they were to talk with each other. Each was very clear the other person wasn’t listening, wasn’t getting it, wasn’t able to understand.
We reframed those complaints to what they wanted: they each wanted to be understood.
Then, we perception checked with each of them to make sure we understood correctly: “Is that right?”
Yes! Exactly right!
Well then, let’s get talking!
And so, they did.“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.” … David Whyte