The class on Leading With Resilience that I just finished teaching for the Centre for Leadership at the Justice Institute of BC has been a very inspiring two days.
The format of the class included online reflective posts and journaling, so I was privileged with reading leader’s thoughts on the particular topics on hand.
One theme that emerged was the number of people who mentioned the importance of how we impact the lives of others. As I reflect on that theme, I realize giving people permission to give us feedback about how we impact them is important. Most people don’t want to tell us how we impact them. They are often afraid they will “hurt our feelings” or perhaps they just couldn’t be bothered or perhaps it doesn’t seem appropriate.
So, people need encouragement, and sometimes they need to be asked directly, to let us know what our impact is on them.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a new friend who teaches in a personal development program called PSI Seminars. This person shared that in her program, people ask each other about how they are showing up and impacting each other. This takes courage to do at first, but inspired by what she said, I asked her right away if she’d be willing to share what impact or impression I had on her.
Of course, she was game!
She said, to her, I showed up like the Michelin man. She said I can present as a very big force yet there is a part of me inside that is afraid to shine, to grow to fit into the whole of the Michelin man.
What an intriguing piece of feedback!
In an odd way, that was both a compliment and frightening! It was a compliment, as what I took from her share of her perception of me, is that I’m bigger than I am allowing myself to be. That is wonderful and hopeful and points to another growth opportunity.
What was frightening was, am I showing up to other people that way too? Unless I start asking more people how I show up for them, I don’t have the data to know if this is a perception I need to inquiry into myself about.
Given the poem my friend Cathtryn Lecorre read this morning in her online kundalini class, I’d say many of us probably relate to the idea that we are not showing up as big or as bright as we could be. She read Marianne Williamson’s poem that begins with:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
What an empowering thought that perhaps if we ask others what impact or impression we may be leaving them with, that we might be able to increase our positive impact in the world!
I’ve been a mediator for almost 30 years. I started by co-mediated with other volunteer mediators. We took on neighbour disputes (you know – barking dogs, overhanging trees, fence disputes). Two of us volunteer mediators would go out after someone had called the police or a bylaw officer, since most of our referrals came from those sources. Then I volunteered to mediate adult criminal court disputes – mischief charges, minor assault charges, eventually taking over the criminal court mediation program with a co-Director for a few more years.
Then I started mediating workplace disputes – which has become my focus and passion for a few decades. And, what I know to be true, is that conflict is everywhere! In the workplace context, I’ve mediated employee to employee conflicts, boss to employee, union represented employee to management and so on. I’ve mediated conflicts in hospitals, university and colleges, and in all three levels of government. I’ve mediated conflicts in non-profits, for tech companies, between couples (just a few of those – too hard!).
I’ve mediated 100s of conflicts between people and many of them settle!
What’s my secret?
Well, near the beginning of my career, I gave a talk at a national conflict resolution conference for my peers called “Interaction ‘96” – held in Edmonton, Alberta in 1996.
The topic I chose to present on was “An Apple for the Mediator.”
I still remember my basic premise: that when we mediate, we are also teaching. We are modeling behaviour by how we interact with disputants and how we coach them before mediation and during.
I’ve always held an educator’s lens to peacemaking. It’s in my bones. I’m an oldest sibling, so teaching my brother came naturally. Then I studied how to teach English as a second language, how to teach aerobics, how to teach the management of volunteers, how to teach conflict resolution. I love to teach!
Then, I went back to school a few years ago, and got my Master in….
It was during that time that I was introduced to the power that is inherent in education. I had already heard of rebel educator Paulo Freire and my Masters degree reinforced democratic ideas of his like:
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
*Education is freedom.”
“The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.”
These kind of democratic ideas about education have been with me for many years, since I went to a college in my late teens that was non-hierarchical. We marked ourselves with our own grades and decided ourselves what we wanted to learn.
All these experiences have added up to my belief that education is the greatest tool of peace there is! I am proud to say I’ve been on faculty at the Justice Institute of BC’s Centre for Conflict Resolution for decades as well as their Centre for Leadership. I’ve also taught at the University of Victoria for many years and up at Royal Roads University. I’ve taught privately as well.
It’s education that can set us free.
So that is my secret! I go into conflict believing that people, for the most part, want to be in love, people want to do the right thing. I believe we are inherently a peaceful species. What we don’t have is a way out. When I work with people and show them sometimes simple things they can do to shift the conflict to more stasis, harmony, peace, they do it!
Of course, there are exceptions, but with one sub-set of exception – the “High Conflict personality” – I have Bill Eddy and Michael Lomax to thank here from the High Conflict Institute. They have worked with many people who seem to enjoy conflict, who seek it out and who certainly seem to wreak havoc around them. Yet, even those who can struggle the most with conflict also, at the root of it all, want to feel respected in their communication.
How do you see human nature, fundamentally? Do you think we mostly want to do the right thing and would if we knew how?
That drives me and inspires me!
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” … Nelson Mandela.
I was at retail store recently and got into a very short but robust conversation with someone who worked there when she discovered I was a mediator.
She told me about a friend of hers who attended a mediation but the other person in the conflict didn’t show up.
She said her friend was quite frustrated and believed that the other party was “just trying to spite” him. My new friend said she told him she didn’t think that was a good theory but she wasn’t sure about that or about what else to say.
So, firstly I validated her observation and let her know that her friend’s theory about the other person’s intentions is known as attribution error – defined as an individual’s tendency to attribute another’s actions to their character or personality. We tend to think the worst of people when their behaviours impact our own negatively.
I also shared that our intentions are hidden unless we express them and are often a complex range of intentions anyway, mutable even according to our level of hunger (ever heard of “hangry”?).
Although we don’t know what another’s intentions are unless we ask, after listening to thousands of people in conflict over the decades of my practice, I was able to tell my new friend with some confidence that a more likely and more helpful theory about why the other person didn’t show up was that the person was probably afraid… of something.
Thinking of what the other person might be afraid of can give a more constructive direction than thinking they are trying purposefully trying to spite us. That could also be true, but it’s a matter of expanding the possibilities and our preparation.
I told her that if her friend wanted to get the other person to the table, he could try to reflect on what that other person might be afraid of. If we don’t have a reason to engage in a conversation, if we don’t see any benefits for ourselves, we generally don’t participate. I also offered that he think of persisting – with love. Not persistence with force or persistence with focusing on the most negative intentions of the other person. But, persistence with love.
My new friend concluded by saying how she and her whole circle of friends are often left trying to figure out how to deal with conflict on their own – without the skills or education. She said they simply share stories of what they think might work or not.
Lived experience is powerful – her intuition told her that it might not be helpful for her friend to think only of the worst intention of the other person.
And, education also helps. She left our conversation with the courage of her convictions and new ideas like attribution error and what else to advise her friend about how to increase the chances of bringing the other person to the table.
As I left, she said: “I’m trying to remember everything you just told me!”
Now that was a satisfying conversation.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” … Nelson Mandela
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