Recently, a friend asked if I owned a fire extinguisher for my home. It’s not something I had thought about and got me thinking. I called the fire department and talked with a very nice Fire Prevention Officer who educated me about the importance of having one and how it can help save lives.
That was instructive.
Conflicts are like fires. They can burn out of control or simmer under the brush for a long, long time.
Over the last few months, I’ve been approached by several Presidents of non-profit boards wanting me to mediate disputes, or help to put out their fires. When conflict gets the attention of someone as high up as the President of a Board, the Executive Director is often involved as well. It could be wide-spread team dissatisfaction. Or a direct report having issues with “micro-managing.” Or the larger community is conflicted.
Leaders and Human Resource Managers often find themselves faced with these big fires and don’t know what to do. So, someone like me is called in to put out the fire.
The problem is, too many times have I gone in, helped put out the fire, only to find out later that another fire was lit. An outsider mediating the dispute, often in secret behind closed doors, doesn’t teach folks about how to put out their own fires, or solve their own conflicts.
That’s why, after decades of mediating, my emphasis has turned to capacity building. My repeated mantra these days is – let’s all learn how to be mediators to put out our own fires.
Now, I’m not as interested in being a fire fighter as I am being a Fire Prevention Officer. I want to help people fight their own fires.
This is why and how my focus has shifted to conflict fire prevention. And the most important thing I learned from the Fire Prevention Officer is that education helps. We need to learn the art of conflict transformation.
“Education in the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” … Nelson Mandela.
Archives for May 2022
In 2019, I did a TEDx talk for the JIBC entitled “Mediating While the World Burns.” Since then, I’ve noticed myself coming back to the message of that talk time and again, almost like that was my future self, talking to me today.
Now, more than ever, we need to step up and be Third Siders. Third Siders take care of each other. Bill Ury, in his book The Third Side, tells us that conflict is all our responsibility, not just between those who it is happening between. This requires us to see conflict as all our responsibility.
Ury suggests 3 kinds of peacemaking or Third Sider roles:
We can play a prevention role in conflict, by providing resources to people, by giving people skills to handle conflict and to be bridge builders by forging relationships across lines of conflict.
We can play more of a resolution role, as a mediator, arbiter, an equalizer of power or healer.
We can play a containing role as witness, referee setting limits to the conflict or as a peacekeeper providing protection from others who would harm them.
As our societal systems, structures and ecosystems collapse, we will all need to learn to play these roles in different ways. So, I was heartened by this article about training for bureaucrats to become mediators.
“The peace we can aspire to then is not a harmonious peace of the grave, nor a submissive peace of the slave, but a hardworking peace of the brave.” … Bill Ury
Have you ever felt stuck in the middle when someone is complaining to you about someone else?
I’ve seen this situation when it builds up into a conflict because I get called in when this kind of complaining starts to impact well-being.
A Human Resources professional told me recently that some of her leaders try to help their employees in conflict, they try to be bridge builders. But that their efforts often not only don’t work, but can make the conflict worse.
Here’s a key tip learned from my years of mediating: Don’t go tell the one person all the bad things the first person told you about them.
Some of us think we are being helpful by sharing the “truth” with the other person. But, to be a peacemaker-bridge builder, we need to be very intentional about what we share with each of the conflicted parties
When you are the person in the middle, the mediator, you want each person to start to think well of the other person. It’s not about lying or exaggerating, but about listening very deeply to each of them so that you can hear what their hears are trying to say – not their evaluations or judgments.
I call this cleaning the words that are dirty laundry. Do the laundry before you share anything anyone else said. You can do this in several ways. You are looking for what the deeper feelings and needs are and what the best intentions might be of the complaining party. If you hear anything positive at all about the other person, share that. Share what is positive and deeper shares of the heart, not the harsh judgements of the head.
With these small shifts in language, in this way, you do your part to dismantle the war.
“Don’t think of us as separate beings. Imagine that we are one body and it’s been split into millions. When we sit in the mediation hall – that is unity” … Frederick Lenz