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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Every day my dogs have taught me something about life or myself. In the next few weeks, I will share some thoughts about the gurus in our homes and what they can teach us about conflict and negotiation.
Back at mediator school, we would brave the small claims court and attempt "guerrilla mediation". It was a challenging space to work in and often we were in the corridor outside the court room. One day I turned up at Santa Monica's court house to be told that the generator was down and therefore court was cancelled. The clerk for Court Room 4, Dwight was outside on the grass with the parties and was explaining that they would need to reschedule for court or they could mediate right away.
Within a few minutes I was mediating an employment dispute about termination. As the former employee started explaining her position, a golden retriever walked a few feet away from us heading for the trees. A few steps further on and the dog rolled over as his delighted dog walker exclaimed "tummy tickle time". It was distracting to say the least. We all gazed over and smiled at the happy dog and owner. A shift came over the conversation. I think that everyone had realised that maybe life held other possibilities. We continued to mediate and they were able to reach agreement.
In mediation, it can be a struggle to shift parties from their positions to a negotiating posture. The golden retriever was able to assist the parties to shift just by rolling over.
Without realising it, I had just seen the benefits of canine assisted mediation. There is a a lot of research to suggest that just seeing a dog can help to lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. Next week, what is canine assisted mediation?
The starting point for me to think about Hope was listening to a podcast on the BBC. For those not familiar with "In Our Time" hosted by Melvyn Bragg, you are in store for a treasury of information. Each podcast is on a different topic, historical, philosophical, psychological, religious or scientific. Melvyn guides his expert guests through a conversation. The podcast on Hope considered the historical and philosophical conception of hope. There is also additional reading for those who are extra keen!