Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Last night I had a chance to assist at an improvisation class, playing the role of mediator to actors working out various conflict situations. The class arose out of some discussions with the teacher, Rob Watzke, about the similarities between the techniques used in improvisation and mediation. In both situations, careful listening is imperative. You must be sensitive to the content as well as the emotional underpinnings of statements made by other participants in order to advance the process. In both situations, it is also important to stay positive. Whatever new bit of material is offered to you by a fellow improviser, you must use it. You cannot reject it, or the scene dies. Similarly, in mediation, it is better […]

Is it possible for a mediator to show too much empathy? At a program SCMA put on last night which included a mock employment mediation, reaction in the room was divided in response to the demonstrator’s expressions of understanding of the employee’s grievances. Although a few in the audience felt that the mediator could have gone even further in commiserating with the employee’s feelings that the employer had not adequately accommodated her need for religious observances in the workplace, a fair number of others thought it was wrong for the mediator to display any sort of solidarity with the employee’s complaints. Those who objected to the mediator’s expressions of empathy thought this approach could threaten the mediator’s neutrality. They also […]

Wayne LaPierre owes an apology, or at least an explanation, to Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school employee who successfully talked down a gunman who entered her elementary school with an assault rifle and some 500 rounds of ammunition. Remember it was NRA spokesman LaPierre who responded to the Newtown shooting by advising us that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to rely on a good guy with a gun. That’s right, he said that more guns is the ONLY way to stop violence. Antoinette Tuff instead showed that engaging in an hour-long empathetic dialogue with a dangerous gunman might be an equally effective way to stop a bad guy with a gun. In fact, […]

Empathy is an essential tool in mediation, both for the mediator and hopefully a quality the participants develop as well. Mediators recognize, unless we want to act purely as evaluators (and even then the capacity for empathy is still important), that we need to try to empathize with the needs and feelings of both sides in every case, to build trust and encourage understanding.  But sometimes the actions of parties to a dispute seem so foreign or even repugnant to our own values that we find it difficult to empathize. And when we can’t empathize, we tend to distance ourselves and condemn. Are there limits to the capacity to empathize? Are there actions so beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior that […]

I heard an amazing interview on the The World radio program today, with a young American Army commander, Captain Michael Kolton,  who decided to reach out and forge a relationship with one of the Taliban commanders that his unit was fighting in Afghanistan. (transcript here) Captain Kolton made a deal with his Taliban counterpart, a man known as Massoud. Kolton told Massoud that as long as he called every week, the Americans would not hunt him down. Massoud made sure to call every week, and the two men continued to meet and get to know each other. Pretty soon, Massoud was giving Kolton the best intelligence he had ever received, and both found they had more to talk about than […]