When elephants battle the ants become victims
In any battle there will always be non-combatants who may be harmed by the war. In family mediation, it is usually easy to see who is bearing the brunt of the collateral damage, the children.
It can be difficult when a parent is engaged in what can feel like an existential fight to have capacity to focus on their children. The original choice to have children with the now ex-partner is long-forgotten. Instead, all of the negatives regarding the adult relationship and every fault as a parent are thrown into high relief.
The truth is that there are no perfect parents. The truth is that at some stage these parents decided to have children together. The truth is that the hurt and pain experienced as an ex-partner, needs to be put aside in order to facilitate a relationship of co-parenting for the benefit of the children. The truth is that no-one wants to hear this.
As a family mediator, I have an ethical duty to assist parents to keep their children’s best interests in focus. Using psycho-social education and research, there are ways for parents to find a path through the chaos to enable their children to survive and thrive the family’s transition through a parental separation.
You do not stumble over a mountain but you do over a stone
There is a point in some negotiations when a party will decide that this is the hill on which they will fight the final battle. They may have reached agreement on a myriad of issues but this one is “a principle” or “so unjust” that they are willing to walk away from the whole agreement if they do not get what they want on this one issue.
Often these parties have worked extremely hard and are at the end of their energy and endurance. It is critical at this stage for parties to take a moment and consider the entirety of the negotiation. It is helpful for parties to remember:
For me, this proverb rings true when I see parties who have overcome significant challenges and have climbed the mountain, only to trip over a stone in the path. Staying focused at this stage can help parties to keep sight of their goals and to side step that last stone.
A sari is not woven from a single thread
What could this mean in the context of conflict? Just as in any fabric where threads must go in two directions, the warp and the weft, a negotiation cannot just achieve one person’s positions. A durable solution, a negotiated agreement will have threads going in both directions.
Mediators are seeking to work with parties to find a solution that provides enough of what each party needs to make an agreement work. The warp and the weft are both needed to make the agreement sustainable.
Welcome to the last day of the decade. In order to celebrate the turning of the year and the decade, I am starting a new series next week based on Asian proverbs. Each week, I'll look at a proverb from around Asia which illuminates something for people in conflict or for conflict resolvers, or both. In the new year there is time for old wisdom.
Today I hope that everyone can take time to spend with family and friends to celebrate whatever they feel like. So today there is no post, just a wintry Christmas colouring page to encourage some rest and relaxation.
It was inevitable that Bill Eddy would make the list. He has previously written a book called "It's All Your Fault" which deals with general conflict. However, this book translates those ideas to the workplace, "It's All Your Fault: at Work".
I know that when I worked in banking there were days when I felt that I was being blamed for everything including the tax regimes / short selling regulations / market disruptions of Asian markets.
Those familiar with Eddy will know that he has dedicated his life's work to understanding high conflict people and coming up with strategies for how to manage your interactions with them.
Whilst, it is not helpful or appropriate for anyone to use the book to diagnose a personality disorder, it is helpful to consider whether the behaviours are something you are experiencing in the workplace.
For example, if you are working with someone who has inflexible thinking, who is constantly seeking a target of blame, who never takes responsibility for anything, then you may need some help in working with that person. What will be noticeable is that this person will have a history of negative interactions with others. You won't be the only person with whom they have conflict.
Eddy suggests some tools which mediators have been using for years to try and help to manage conflict with someone who may be a high conflict person. One of my favourite strategies is BIFF. If you have a difficult email that you need to respond to, keep your response: Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm. There are many days when I have used BIFF as a mantra to keep me on track. I think everyone who has ever worked in a large office could benefit from reading this work.
I have had the unusual pleasure as a family mediator of working with some couples who wish to try reconciliation. Family mediators will tell you that these cases are unusual and that often people do not survive the crisis which brought them to mediation. However, from my perspective, I always feel honoured to work with people to try and design a roadmap for reconciliation.
For some couples, a crisis has precipitated the decision to come to mediation. For most people by the time we are sitting in mediation, it is too late to reconcile. Too much has happened and without knowing it the parties have crossed a line in their relationship. Even in these cases, one party may wish to reconcile. However, for reconciliation to work, both parties must be committed to the process.
For other couples, both people feel a great deal of ambivalence. A crisis may have occurred but there are reasons which make them want to try to save the relationship. This book, "Should I stay or should I go?" provides a potential way out of that dilemma.
Raffel suggests that parties need to respond to the crisis, which he sees as a "call to action". He suggests a controlled separation gives both parties time and space to heal and to work on the reconciliation.
To work towards reconciliation, the parties will need to work with a counsellor to address the relationship issues which led to the crisis. However, in mediation I can work with people to create a roadmap for reconciliation. We can work on the practical issues:
There are times in life when we feel with absolute certainty that we are totally correct. It can be intoxicating. Sometimes in mediation, I see parties who have this sense of absolute correctness. They are certain about what they believe and about what is right.
"On Being Certain" explains in a way a non-scientist (like me) can understand how thoughts are created in our brains. Burton describes in easy to follow detail the mechanisms at work in our brains to stimulate thoughts.
I particularly enjoyed his description of the neural connections and that the "committee" of all relevant neural connections meets behind closed doors to decide what to do about the stimuli. I felt comforted by the thought that inside my head there are innumerable committees meeting to manage everything about me. Somehow, having all of those nameless bureaucrats working to support me as I go about my day, made me feel very supported.
The one thing I missed in this book was the ending. After convincing me as to how certainty is created in our minds, Burton sadly did not explain how to shake the certainty. Maybe this will be his next book?
Finally Winter has arrived in Hong Kong. To celebrate, I am sharing a colouring page in the link below. As I have mentioned before, drawing and painting are a necessary part of living, especially when things are challenging. I hope this gives you a few minutes off to get out your watercolours or paints and just breathe.