ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Mediation or Court?

1678_MediumIf you’re intent on taking a dispute to court there are a few things to think about.

You’ll be asking a judge to make a decision on something, which takes all the control out of your hands. In Canada, the loser may have to pay 30 to 40 per cent of the winner’s legal fees, which discourages a lot of people from going to court. In the US, however, there is no practice of the loser paying the winner’s costs, and this is why EVERYBODY sues. They have very little to lose.

Lawyers get paid two different ways. A fee-for-service lawyer charges by the hour (and this price reflects the overhead such as staffing an office) while others work by contingency, which means they are paid a portion of your award. Aside from lawyers, there are costs for filing documents to the court and these can add up. A contentious divorce can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mediation costs less than a trial and takes much less time to set up. You have more control over what goes on and can gain much more understanding about the dispute. There’s usually a three-hour minimum to allow for the process to run its course. Further sessions can be booked if the mediator’s help is still required.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You may choose to use mediation to hammer a few issues of a separation agreement then go through the legal process to get the other components in place.

Mediators will recommend that any memorandum of understanding that emerges from mediation be reviewed by a lawyer. Mediators do not offer legal advice.

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ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Listening

colorado , day 2 006Right, of course I’m going to talk about listening. You already knew, and that’s why you’re back on your phone checking Facebook.

It’s harder than ever to get people’s attention when you’re up against Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed and Instagram. Harder still when people hate to talk about what’s bugging them…and conflict is just one of those things people hate to talk about.

If you want to have a conversation about conflict, focus on listening. Keep your questions open and, if the answer is short, ask for elaboration, examples or more detail. Then reflect what you heard them say. Ask for affirmation – did you hear them correctly? Then respond.

We think we know how to listen, but it’s in our nature to take shortcuts. I’ve got a bad habit of finishing other people’s sentences. They pause to search for a word and I leap in with what I they they want to say. Usually, I’m wrong.

During a recent course on assertion, the teacher was working with us in a small group. I suddenly thought of a joke, and broke into the conversation to share it. I think what was in the back of my mind was wanting the teacher to like me. But it didn’t pan out that way. The gaze from the teacher was withering. Nothing like public humiliation to drive a lesson home.

Listening is hard. You have to pay attention to what the person is saying with words and body language. What are they not saying? Can you dig deep and find out what’s going on at a deeper level? It takes time, patience and caring.

Misunderstandings can turn into serious conflicts. You might have said something that was misunderstood. Maybe it was a poor choice of words or someone else took it another way. Ask what they thought you’d said. Communication is a two-way street and collisions can happen at any point.

One last tip — learn to be OK  just listening without filling in every gap in the conversation with more jabber. People, particularly, introverts, need time to think before speak. Be quiet and wait for a response.

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ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Knowledge

Self-knowledge-e1363005449505My junior high school principal, Mr. Godwin, said “If you’re going to argue, get your facts straight first.”

And it’s true that many people launch into tirades without verifying that they know what they’re talking about. Mediation takes into account “objective criteria,” the stuff that is not negotiable because it’s set down in contracts, legislation or some other record.

Handshake agreements gone wrong have broken up many friendships and caused rifts between family, neighbours or colleagues. When things go sideways, people can’t remember what the initial agreement was, so they get entrenched in their positions. If the relationship isn’t important to you, the conflict may never be resolved.

But what do you do if this person is someone you can’t avoid like a colleague or family member? Do you grit your teeth and suffer through months or years of stress as the conflict goes unresolved?

In mediation, you’ll be asked to set your position aside and consider other solutions to the conflict. It doesn’t mean  you lose the fight. It means you’ll be able to let it go and find some internal peace to replace the anger.

And you might learn a bit about yourself and how to avoid similar conflicts in future.

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ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Judgment

Scan_20141228 (24)When you’re embroiled in a conflict, it’s difficult to see anything but your side. Judgments creep in by how you view the conflict or how you question your opponent. It’s impossible to have a constructive conversation when you’re coming from a defensive place.

A neutral third party, such as a mediator, can help by framing the issues and questions in a non-judgmental way. But even then, the mediator has to be aware of threats to his or her neutrality.

We all meet strangers who push our buttons, often in a negative way. Mediators need to be aware of negative impressions so the mediation session can be as fair as possible for both sides. Any suggestion that the mediator is biased need to be addressed immediately.

Being fair takes work and self-awareness.

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ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Intentions

Conflict-Resolution-11Intentions play an interesting role in conflicts.

In his book Coping with Difficult People, Robert Bramson had a suggestion on how to deal with people who make indirect attacks, such as when they make insults veiled in humour. He suggests confronting the individual and asking if their remark was meant to be a dig, and if that was what they intended.

You may intend to say one thing but it’s misunderstood on the other end and assigned another meaning. The only way to make sure your message gets through is by asking what they heard you say. It’s called ‘reflecting back,’ and allows the speaker to confirm the accurate message got through.

Did you ever play that game where a message is whispered around a room, and it becomes something totally different by the time it’s run its course? It’s similar to the rumour mill. People hear half a message and make up the rest. The message you intended to send is lost.

It works in reverse as well. You may be upset for a comment or impression made by someone else, but the message not reflect their true intention. The only way for you to know is to ask them what they intended to say.

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ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Healing

heartMediation heals.

Restorative Justice programs have a mediation component where victims of crime can meet with the offender. Research shows that victims often want to tell the offender how the crime affected them, and these stories can elicit empathy from the person who committed the crime. Both the offender and the victim can gain an understanding and empathy for each other.

Researcher Mark Umbreit found that mediation promoted healing when it focused on:

  • Generating hope
  • Tapping into the desire for wellness
  • Speaking from the heart
  • Being real
  • Having a safe space for dialogue

More research, this time by Ronald Kraybill, found mediation heals when it focuses on both the head and the heart. It’s important to address the emotional aspects of resolution and expression before moving  onto those of values and conscience.

I’ve learned through my JIBC Mediation 1 lessons that wounded feelings and relationships can heal by those affected working collaboratively, building empathy and addressing the emotional and psychological realms of the conflict.

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ABCs of Conflict Resolution – Guidelines

Guideline-reviewIf you want to have an important conversation, check their availability and set a place and time. Before you begin, talk about how you want to have this conversation. Set some guidelines.

Here are a few suggestions.

No cell phones or other electronic gadgets. Turn off the TV. Minimize distractions.

Set a time limit that’s reasonable. If you’re both feeling OK after 30 minutes, carry on. Be open to needing a break for thinking things over. That’s a good thing.

One person talks at a time. No interruptions.

Use a clock if necessary to check that one person is using more air time.

Address confidentiality. Is this conversation going to be talked about by either of you later? To whom? Agree on who, if anyone, needs to know what went on.

No name-calling or abuse.

If you need to refer to contracts, bylaws or legislation, have copies of the documents handy for reference.

Keep it current: Don’t drag up conflicts from the past to defend your position.

Be open to new solutions. You both likely have different ideas which way you want the conversation to go but hold off on those until you explore the underlying motivations. A solution will address your mutual interests.

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