Conflict Resolution: Resolving difficult situations.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution:  Resolve difficult situations.

Conflict resolution requires making difficult decisions.  Difficult situations are not impossible to resolve.  It just means that they require thought and patience.  Making the correct decision; a decision that is workable for all parties requires extra time.  Here is a simple method I use to assist people find common ground.

What are the consequences?

What are the consequences, or effects of my decisions.  Will they be helpful or unhelpful?  Are decisions based on common ground or out of spite?  Will my decision move the situation forward?  Am I interested in the short term or long term.  Am I willing to wait or am I seeking immediate benefit?

All of these are good questions.  I am sure there are many more that need, and should be asked.

The idea here is to look at the situation from as many different points of view as possible.  Be honest.  Brutally honest.  What will be the effects of my decision?  On myself.  On others.  In the immediate.  In the future.

Decisions have not been made yet.  Decisions are only being considered at this point.

Are my decisions parallel to my values?

When considering the consequences of decisions, a person is also examining their values.  Examining decisions and the motivations for decisions will reveal the value (or lack of value) behind the action.

If your decision is in line with your values.  And your values are positive (honesty, faith, respect, trust) then it is likely that your decision is correct.

If, however, your decision does not align with your positive values – you may want to re-think.  Decisions based on this level does not have a very good chance of working.  Does not have a very good chance of finding a workable resolution.  Go back and adjust your decisions.

Or, if you are making decisions based on negative values (greed, power, superiority) finding common ground will be very difficult.

Reality Check

Decisions have been made and put into action.  Now is the time to make a reality check.  Did the decision result in a positive outcome?  Did you find common ground?  Is the resolution workable for the long term?  Did your decision help you move forward, to put your conflict behind you?

The important question is; did the outcome of your decision match with the consequences and affects that you first thought?

If you were able to accurately anticipate the consequences of decision.  If your decision is aligned with your values.  If the reality of decisions is positive.  You will have created a workable, positive long term resolution.

Mediation: “Soft on People, Hard on Issues”


Mediation: Looking for that third way.

Typically, negotiations are approached with two different styles.  The “soft” approach, or a “hard” approach.  With mediation, the focus is on creating a third approach that focuses on creating options that provide for mutual gain.

With a “soft” approach, the focus is on preserving relationships.  Compromises are suggested.  Things are given away.  All in an effort to keep the relationship friendly.  By using this method to resolve the conflict, a person unwittingly compromises their interests.  The relationship may be fine, but nothing much gained.  In fact  things may have been given away unnecessarily.  Resulting in feeling a little dissatisfied.

The “hard” approach is opposite.  Using this approach, the focus is on “winning”.  Using authority, tactics and/or aggressive language to get what is wanted.  The issue is to get as much as possible.  The more that is obtained, the more successful the negotiation.  The relationship is secondary.

What is the option?

The option is to look at the conflict from a third perspective.  Yes, relationships are important.  No more damage will be done to the relationship.  It may not improve, but it won’t get worse.  Yes, issues are important.  A fair deal must be established.  People need to feel like they gained something of value.  This balance can only be achieved by focusing the “interests” of both parties.  This is the third way.

Establishing the interests of both parties moves the focus.  Moves the focus away from the “soft”, away from the “hard”.   Concessions are not made to keep the relationship.  Concessions are not made as a threat to the relationship.  The focus shifts to what’s in the best interest of both parties.

What does a good mediation look like.

An effective mediation allows participants to be empowered.  They become problem-solvers.  Options are created.  Helpful and respectful conversation takes place.  It moves beyond “win-win” towards finding mutual benefit.  The goal becomes creating a thoughtful solution effectively and respectfully.  Finding that mutual gain, while doing no harm to the relationship.

Mediation Process: Keep moving forward

Mediation Services

Mediation Process: Keep moving forward.

Creating hope for a resolution is an important part of the mediation process.  It’s not uncommon for participants to focus on past events.  To frequently refer to issues of the past.  That’s not to say past issues and events are not important.  They are!  But what is of more importance is the ability to break free, stop looking backwards and to look forwards.  The resolution, or solution, is in the future.  It requires a mindset.

But the past events are important? Aren’t they?

Yes, events and issues from the past are important.  They brought you to the place you are now.  The real question is “What do I do with them”?  Really, there are only two things that can, and need to be done.

First; get all the issues and events of importance out onto the table.  Discuss them.  Question them. Understand their importance to the larger conflict.  Understanding the why certain things are important to certain people can give a clue to a potential resolution.

Second; accept and acknowledge. Accept that these events occurred. Accept that they had a negative impact.  Accept any personal responsibility.  Acknowledge how events affected yourself.  Acknowledge how events affect others.  Acknowledge that they are in the past, where they need to stay.  Acknowledge that you have the ability to overcome.

I spend a good deal of time during mediation helping participants deal with this.  To help them overcome these obstacles and to create an environment for positive conversation.

So how can I get past all this?

Asking good questions an often help.  But they need to be good questions.  I find that phrasing questions that encourage positive answers that focus on positive changes and actions are effective.  Too often participants get caught up in the “downward” spiral of negative thoughts, comments and questions that result in negative answers.

It is difficult but can be done.  Questions that are “accusing” or “blaming” by nature are not helpful.  “How could you have…….?”  By it’s very wording, this question can encourage a defensive response.  It is focused on past events.  Flip it into the positive.  “Help me understand when……?”  Much more positive.  The phrase does not blame or accuse.  You are seeking to understand.  This would encourage the other person to share something.  The first step to forward thinking.

Try it.  Listen to yourself.  Are you asking negative, blaming or accusing type questions?  Do your questions encourage a negative reply?  Do your conversations tend to result in “going round in circles”?

Flipping from the negative to the positive is not easy to do.  Remember, positive questions based in trying to understand the other person’s point of view will result in a much more positive and informative conversation.

Positive and informative conversations will help you to move forward.  Forward to a workable and mutually agreeable solution.

Mediated Divorce: Am I listening? Am I being heard?


Mediated Divorce

Mediated Divorce: Making a successful mediation?

Several factors determine whether a mediated divorce is successful.  In my opinion there are two that are at the top of the list: listening and understanding.  Better listening leads to better understanding.  So, if you feel that you don’t understand; chances are you are not really listening.  You can’t have one without the other.  In a mediated divorce, listening and understanding is crucial.

Miscommunication: Telling your story or hearing their story?

This type of miscommunication is common to any type of conflict.  It is frustrating.  It is not helpful.  It increases the tension within the conflict.  Parties become more and more focused on not being understood.  But that is not the issue!  The issue is not understanding; not being understood.
Think about it.  Which would improve the conversation: focusing on telling your story, or, focusing on listening to the  other person’s story.  I think most people would agree that listening would encourage the conversation.  Take the time to first clearly understand the other parties “story”.  After that, expressing your “story” should become easier.

Effective listening: Some guiding principles.

So what can you do  to help become a better listener?  Here are some guiding principles.  Each one is fairly straight forward and reasonable.

  1. Stop Talking

Resist the urge to respond, to say the first thing that comes to mind.  Your purpose is to listen.  To give the other person time to fully explain.  It is their time to speak; your  time will come.

“If we were meant to talk more than listen; we would have been born with two tongues and one ear!” – Mark Twain

2. Try to put the other person at ease

The more relaxed the other person is; the more willing they will be to talk.  The goal is to invite the other party to “tell their story”.  What do they really want us to know?  You want to make the other person feel that you are “with them”.  That you are really trying to listen and to understand.

a. Look at them – eye to eye.  Maintaining eye contact helps to send the message that you want to listen.

b. Nod, use small gestures or quietly say things that tell the speaker that you are with them.  If you are “with” each other – the conversation will continue.

3. Be patient

Silence is a good thing!  Just because the other person has stopped talking does not mean they have stopped thinking.  There may well be more information to come.  Perhaps they are just organising their thoughts.  Using patience can be a sign of respect.  You are waiting… are wanting to hear more.  Let them!  If they  are finished they will tell you.

4. Listen for the big ideas

What is the person really trying to tell you?  What are their big concerns?  What are their hopes? fears? desires?  Go beyond the words.  Try to identify the big ideas.  That is where the productive conversations will occur.

5. Try to be impartial

Not easy to do in the heat of conflict.  But that’s ok, most people are partial.  But use this.  Every time you feel yourself being partial or thinking of something contrary.  Take it as a signal!  Remind yourself that you don’t want to me doing this.  Not yet.  Refocus on your purpose: to be impartial, to listen, to “be with the other person”.

A final thought

When in a conversation don’t be in a hurry.  Effective resolutions come after all the issues have been put on the table.  After everyone has “told their story”, everyone has listened to “the stories”.  Creating resolutions becomes much easier once everyone understands all the issues.  Understanding issues is a result of effective listening.

Put your time and effort into listening.  It will make finding resolutions that much easier.

Family Mediation Services: Conflict can create a positive.

Family Mediation Services
Conflict happens, fortunately we can choose how it affects us.

Family Mediation Services: Helping to find the light.

Family Mediation Services is a process that helps people in conflict to create a resolution based in shared ownership and responsibility.  Family Mediation is different from most other types of mediation.  Family Mediation involves emotion.  People are placed into conflict with others who care about them.  Or at least at some point in time, cared about them.  It’s not like a mediation involving a business contract or service contract.

Conflict styles

Generally, there are four negative ways people can approach conflict.  First people can deny or avoid the conflict.  While this may “smooth the waters” a little bit.  It does little or nothing to resolve the conflict.  In fact, it makes it worse by not addressing the real issue(s).  Second, people can use anger in order to blame, accuse or intimidate the other person.  They win, the other looses.  Again, the basic issue(s) is not really resolved.  It’s just that the other person has been defeated.  Third, similar to anger, some people can use power to address issues.  Much like anger, in this case there is a definite “winner and loser”.  While the people have been neatly categorized, the issue(s) are not addressed. Four, some people may choose to manipulate, appearing to be part of the situation, but in fact taking advantage of the situation.

All four of these styles to nothing to create a resolution.  In fact, each of these styles will extend and expand the conflict.  So, what to do?  I believe that fundamental strategy can be used successfully to address each of these styles.

A Positive Approach to Conflict Styles

Firstly, a couple fundamental beliefs about conflict and conflict resolution.

Successful resolutions are not about “getting a win”.  It may not even be about getting a “win/win”.  I prefer to look at it as a “gain”.  I do this because to me, a “win” implies an end, a finish.  While a “gain” implies a success, with room to grow and to change.  That flexibility is critical to any conflict.  Situations change, therefore, so should our resolutions.  Which brings me to a second fundamental belief.

Successful resolutions need to have a mutual benefit.  Conflicts are a result of shared disagreement, each with responsibility.  Resolutions need to have the same shared ownership and desire.  So, before working on solutions – work on establishing a mutual desire to resolve.  The process of coming to a resolution is more important the the actual resolution.

With that in mind; What are the best ways to resolve conflict(s)?  What are the best ways to address conflict styles? When entering into a mediation it is important to have an open-mind, positive intentions and an honest point of view.  An open-mind to listen to other people’s story.  A positive intention to actively work towards a mutual solution.  An honest attitude to work towards creating an environment of trust and respect.

These are the tools that can be used to create a mutually acceptable resolution.


Mediation Services: Rising Above the Conflict

Mediation Services

Mediation Services: Rising Above

“Taking the high road”, “Stand on the balcony”, there are many other common metaphors.  With mediation services, all these expressions have the same meaning.  In order to resolve conflicts, don’t get dragged down into the game of blaming, accusing, threatening or other common tactics of conflict.  These only cause resentment and increase levels of anger.  They do nothing to help resolve the issue(s).  In fact, they only serve to deepen and lengthen the conflict.  Effective mediation services helps to “take the high road”, “stand on the balcony”; to “rise above”.

Rising Above: Tips to help

Know yourself:

During many conflicts that I have mediated, there often is one party who is aggressive.  These people try to intimidate, bully or try to bait the other person into arguments.  Frequently, these arguments are “minor” and self-serving.  Become aware.  Identify when your “buttons are being pushed”.  Refuse to become engaged.  Change the topic to issues that are important to making resolution.  Ask yourself: “Are we arguing about something important, or just arguing?”

Learn to “flip” it:

The opposite of blaming is sharing.  The opposite of accusing is ownership.  The opposite of fear is hope.  Blaming, accusing and fear encourage downward spirals.  They offer no solution; they only prolong the conflict.  When you find yourself in this cycle, try to do the opposite; flip it.  Make statements that show you take responsibility for part of the conflict.  Think in terms of owning a resolution; “How can I fix this?”.  Develop a mindset of hope; “There is a way out of this.” “This does not have to end badly.”

Take a break:

When conversations become emotional; take a break.  This can be done using three steps.  First, tell the other person(s) that things are becoming too emotional. They are not helpful or productive.  Second, clearly explain why you feel this way.  Let people know what things are being said.  Third, state that you wish to take a break.  Say how long a break you want and that you will come back.  You will be sending a message that the issue(s) are important and that you wish to continue the conversation.

Find a neutral friend:

During stressful times find someone that you can talk to.  But not just anyone.  Find someone who is willing to just listen. Not offer opinions.  Not offer advise.  Just listen.  Take some time to “vent”, to express your negative feelings.  This can go a long ways for you to clarify your thoughts.  To reduce emotions.  To come back to conversations with a clear mind focused on solutions; not arguments.

Focus on the end:

What type of resolution will satisfy both parties?  Where is the middle ground?  What type of resolution will be workable for both parties?  The present situation is not working.  There must be some alternative that will work.  You can not expect to get everything that satisfies you.  You can not expect to get nothing that satisfies you.  Where in the middle can you meet.  What is the worst alternative to the agreement?  What is the best alternative to the agreement.

Rising Above:

I compare resolving conflicts to a dance.  Neither person works independently; they work and move together.  The idea is that together a dance is created. That dance is ongoing.  It can change to suit the music.  In the end, however, both parties contribute to the final performance.  It may not be exactly what each person imagined, but it works.  Don’t get caught up in the “footwork”, rise above the floor to see the entire dance.

Mediation Services: Make “I” statements work for you.

Mediation Services
Make “I” statements work for you

Mediation Services: “I” Statements, not “You” Statements

The purpose of my mediation services is to help people find a way to resolve their issues.  Often I find that poor communication skills are issues.  How many times have you said statements like these?

“You don’t listen to a word I say.”

“I can’t do anything without you criticizing.”

“You don’t take any responsibility!”

Common enough phrases. Especially when emotions are running high.  What do all these statements share?  The focus of each statement is the other person – the word “you”.  By using the word “you”, the speaker sends a message of blaming, of accusing.  As a result, the receiver of these statements has little choice but to defend.  Emotions begin to increase.

As a result, the conversation is now focused on argument, on defend and attack.  NOT the real issue of concern.  Not only are these types of conversations pointless, they are exhausting and draining.  So what can be done?  Mediation services can help.

It’s not about “you” it’s about me (or I).

With conflicts it easy to spot emotions.  People can quite clearly express their anger, confusion, frustration etc.  But the important part that is missing from the conversation is “why” they are feeling this way.  What is causing this emotion?  If a person can not express why they are feeling a certain way – how can they expect others to understand? Without understanding, how can there be a reasonable resolution.  It is all connected.

What is an “I” statement

Before making an “I” statement there are tow important things to remember:

  1. Making an “I” statement involves taking a risk.  When expressing how you feel the expectation is that the other person will respond in a positive way.  I have found that the this happens in the vast majority of times.  Trust that this will happen for you as well.
  2. You need to know yourself.  You must be able to clearly identify your emotions as well as specific examples of what is causing these emotions.  Remember: you are not accusing the other person, you are explaining events.

Making the “I” statement.  Very simply, these are the four parts of an “I” statement.

  1. When (….objectively describe event) happens
  2. I feel (…..identify your emotion)
  3. I feel this way because (…..objectively describe why).
  4. I would rather (….describe another way of dealing with this event).

Take another look at these steps.  There is no blaming or accusing.  It encourages the positive rather than negative.  Emotions are identified but are not the focus.  Statements are objective not subjective.  It offers an invitation to find an option.

One last word about “I” statements.  Your emotions are yours.  They are valid.  This is how you feel.  That needs to be respected.

Workplace Mediation: Workplace conflict.

workplace conflicts




Workplace Mediation: Dealing with conflict.

Conflict in the workplace can come in many forms.  Workplace mediation can help.  Before going to workplace mediation there are things that you can do.  There may be a way to resolve workplace conflict on your own.

Personality differences, leadership issues and changes, or differences in personal work style are just a few sources of workplace conflict.  We all have experienced clashes of these types.  Sometimes the conflict is minor, sometime major.  Sometimes the response is mild, sometimes extreme.  How do/should a person respond?  We should respond.  Brushing conflicts under the carpet usually results in letting the conflict fester and grow.

Most workplaces have policy to guide employees through theses situations.  If you feel the need to proceed in this manner.  However, there are a couple things that you can do on your own to address issues.

Dealing with conflict: Take a look at yourself first.

When faces with conflict, it is always best to examine yourself first.  After all, you have control over yourself, your thoughts and your actions.  This control can go a long way in creating an effective strategy to resolve the conflict. Here are my thoughts:

To any conflict there are basically two general responses.  These two responses are commonly called “Halos and Horns”.

A “halo” response is one where your story puts you into the best possible light.  Telling your story in this manner attempts to give yourself credibility, or justification.  You are the “good” guy/employee.

A “horn” response is one where your story puts the other person in negative light.  These types of stories tend to blame and accuse.  Generally describing the other person(s) work as unfavorable.

Both of these responses have weaknesses and can lead to enhancing the conflict – not resolving the conflict.  Both responses are adversarial.  This does not lead to resolution. The focus moves away from the actual issue of the conflict.  The focus now becomes a “me against them” type of mentality.  Conversations become more “he said, they said”.  Much time is now spent dealing with these issues, rather than the real issue.   So what can you do?

First, find your true story.  It should lay somewhere in the middle between “halo” and “horn”.  Be honest.  Your goal needs to be resolution.   To help, try this exercise.

Draw a line down the middle of a blank piece of paper.  On one side write down all the facts about the conflict.  For each fact, on the other side, write down what is really bothering you about this fact.  As you progress, you may need to re-write some of the facts and your responses.  That’s good!!  You are now moving towards the middle between “halo” and “horn”.

Divorce Mediation: Making decisions

Divorce Mediation

Divorce Mediation: Decision-making that suit you and others.

Divorce and separation is a stressful time.  Making important decisions can be difficult.  Divorce Mediation can help ease this.  In fact, the basic purpose of divorce mediation is to help people make sound decisions.

Have you ever made an “impulse purchase”?  Made a decision that really didn’t make any sense?  Of course you have; we all have.  Lots of research out there suggests a reason for this.  It seems that humans are more likely to make decisions based on their “emotions”, rather than “logic”.  This is based on neuroscience research into how the human brain works.  I won’t go into a lot of detail.  Research tells us that during the decision-making process, how we feel about things usually takes control before we can how we think about things can take over.  This probably goes back to our basic survival instinct.

Negative emotions, such as fear or anger are powerful.  But no more powerful than love or happiness.  The question is; how to best control these emotions so that correct decisions can be made.  Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Take a short break.  Don’t be pressured.  Very few decisions need immediate response.  Allow yourself walk away.  To think.  You can always come back.
  2. Focus on what you need….not what you want.  Ask yourself important questions.  Why do I want to make this decision?  What is the worst thing that could happen if don’t make this decision?  What’s the best thing?  Is there a better option?  Is this decision in the best interest for me, or for everyone?
  3. Identify your emotions. What are you feeling at this moment?  Making a decision to spite someone else is just as dangerous as making a decision to make yourself feel better.  Having emotions is natural.  We are suppose to have emotions.  But it is important to accept these emotions and be responsible for them.  Emotions are only part of the decision.  Emotions should not be the only reason.  There needs to be logical reasons as well.

Remember when facing important decisions, separate emotional thoughts so you can focus on logical thoughts. Once you have clarified your logical thoughts, then you can add your emotions.  If both your logical and emotional thoughts are in balance: then you have made the correct decision.