Do you sometimes wonder why someone digs in their heels and refuses to change their mind even when it makes no sense? Do you sometimes see people make illogical or irrational decisions which they cling to in the face of all evidence? Then you like me need answers. This is one of my all-time favourite books.
"Mistakes were Made (but not my me)" explains the power of self-justification to make rational that which is not rational. In respect of some decisions, we make an emotional decision, we will then use our cognitive powers to rationalise this decision. The authors describe how we make a decision based on how we feel and then use our mental tools to support it.
The book starts with the work of Leon Festinger and his research into doomsday cults (where the spaceships don't come on the scheduled date!). It examines different areas of human experience: criminal work / relationships / politics / etc. Tavris and Aronson explain how we can start down a path from which the return journey is all uphill. From how people interact within a marriage to historical examples from Nazi Germany, the power of our minds to convince us is astonishing.
In terms of understanding others decision-making, the authors explain how we each essentially want to think of ourselves as good people. We may do things that are wrong or inflict pain on others but we are good people. The gap between our belief in our own goodness and the wrongness of our actions leads to cognitive dissonance. We desperately need to resolve this dissonance. We are good people, therefore we must have a good reason for acting in that way. It can't be that we would do something wrong, or behave badly? there must be a reason.
How do we do resolve the cognitive dissonance? we convince ourselves that there is a justification for our behaviour. Our memory becomes a "self-justifying historian" who is able to provide the proof that the person we have harmed is bad / wrong / evil / not human.
It can be uncomfortable confronting the truth about some of our strongly held beliefs and justifications. However, if we can understand how cognitive dissonance drives our decisions and beliefs, we have the opportunity to be free of it and, importantly, to let go of the need to be right.
As the weather in HK finally turns cooler, I wanted to share some of the books that I have really enjoyed reading this year. Over the next few weeks, I will highlight some of the great reads that have helped me think about things in a new way or given me new ideas.
In addition to having ideas worth considering, they are also well written.
So get ready to boil the kettle, plump the cushions and settle in for a good read.
A campaign group in Finland has decided to crowdsource a forgiveness emoji. Their website, Forgivemoji shows the submissions so far which they intend to submit to the Unicode Consortium and request the creation of a new emoji.
Looking at the emojis is an interesting way of seeing how people think about forgiveness. The emojis focus on healing (.e.g a heart with bandaids). However, many of the emojis show an exchange between one person and another. They use clasped hands and hearts being exchanged.
However regular readers will know that Dr Fred Luskin has a fundamentally different view of forgiveness. From his perspective it is a choice we make for ourselves. Forgiveness may be a group activity but it does not have to be. These emojis communicate that forgiveness is part of an exchange between the wronged and the offender. However, this traps us in a bind. If they do not apologise, if we are not in contact how do we ensure release from pain?
Forgiving someone else is a gift we give ourselves. Dr Luskin gives examples of forgiving people who are dead, who we have lost touch with or who we do not wish to communicate with. Forgiving in these circumstances highlights that forgiveness is a release we can control. Rather than being absolution for the other person, forgiveness frees us to move on.
In life, I find this concept of forgiveness very comforting. It restores power to the wronged person. Even if the other person does not apologise or seek forgiveness, we can still be free. We can choose to focus on our own health and not on the offender. Dr Luskin gives clear steps as to how to achieve this forgiveness. It is not an instantaneous process, however, he manages to show the benefits for everyone in learning these skills.
Be the person your dog thinks you are
There is no better advice. I hope you have enjoyed seeing the world a little from the perspective of our canine friends. My thanks to my models in the photos, Fred and Ginger.
As humans we susceptible to feeling judged all the time. In conflict, parties can feel judged by the other side, by their lawyers, the mediator and even, themselves. Dogs know that judging others is a losing proposition.
Dogs do not judge us. For many humans this is one of their best qualities, their non-judgmental gaze. Dogs are not thinking that you could have handled that situation better or been more diplomatic in your response. Dogs are not considering that they would have managed things better if given the chance.
As we work with people in conflict, we need to remember as participants, mediators and lawyers that judgment may feel satisfying but achieves nothing. People who feel judged are not more likely to be negotiable, or reasonable. We are apt to feel more defensive and less conciliatory if we feel that we are being judged.
Dogs know this.
When a dog looks at you, the dog is not thinking what kind of person you are. The dog is not judging you.
This month my article on the Singapore Convention on Mediation is published in the Australian Dispute Resolution Journal. The article is based on my conference paper from NMC2019. Does the Singapore Convention provide mediators with an opportunity to reclaim international commercial disputes? If so what do mediators need to do to challenge the hegemony of arbitration? I argue we need to pay attention to the challenges and difficulties of arbitration and consider how mediation can respond to these? Importantly we need to ensure that we hold fast to the values and philosophical underpinnings of mediation which make it a totally different process to arbitration. In chasing new markets and customers, we need to ensure our ethics remain strong.
What do dogs know about negotiation? I would argue that dogs understand a lot about negotiation. On a daily basis, I enjoy watching my dogs negotiate with me to achieve their goals. They are stealth negotiators, clothed in fur. On an instinctual basis, dogs can teach humans some great lessons about negotiation.
The question is - are we clever enough to learn from them?
Last week I shared with you an article written about canine assisted mediation written by David Paul. Today, I am sharing a link to a news article where his theory has become his reality.
David Paul and his dog, Charlie Paul have started working as a canine and human mediation team for family mediations. David and Charlie are pioneers.
In the last few years I have seen the expression of pain experienced by parties in family mediation increase. I have also seen some parties struggle with their ability to self-regulate during the mediation process. Sadly, I have seen parties derail the negotiation due to their inability to manage their pain. The negotiation may go away but the reality of separation does not. The derailment leads to a more protracted and even more difficult path.
I am excited to see what David and Charlie discover as they start this important work. I would love to have my dogs with me in the room providing some furry balance to everyone. As David notes, this needs to be done cautiously and professionally. Dogs need to be trained and mediators need to be trained. Hopefully in future, I will be able to experience co-mediation with a dog as my co-mediator.
What is canine assisted mediation? the question may be more easily answered by asking why canine assisted mediation? David A. Paul wrote a fascinating article about Canine Assisted Mediation which highlights the research around the benefits of dogs.
Paul considers the well-documented psychological and physiological impacts of dogs on humans. These include:
Paul suggests the use of therapy dogs who are trained to work with people in pain and who are monitored to ensure that the dogs are not experiencing stress themselves. Rather than being responsible for the technical aspects of the process, the canine assistant would be present in the mediation to help parties to self-regulate and to improve the atmosphere in the mediation.
The presence of the canine assistant would allow parties the opportunity to increase their ability to regulate and self-soothe. In mediation, parties are sometimes so focused on their emotional reaction to the other party that they are unable to negotiate effectively. They may continue to argue about the past / blame rather than trying to problem solve the future. If dogs can help to calm parties this would be a significant benefit to the overall negotiation process.
He does caution that mediators and dogs need to be specially trained to participate in canine assisted mediation. Without doubt bringing any living creature into a conflict situation needs to be done sensitively and ethically. As a dog lover, I can see the promise of canine assisted mediation. Dogs have many lessons to teach us about negotiation and conflict.
Next week what can dogs teach us about negotiation?