Go back to your school playground. Someone has hurt another child. An adult is telling one child to say ‘sorry’ and for the other child to ‘forgive’ them. As children we are told to respond reflexively to an apology and offer forgiveness. The challenge is that we are not often taught what forgiveness means or how to do it. It can seem to mean:
It is important for people to recognise that Luskin is not proposing a selfless and self-sacrificing forgiveness. His forgiveness is a form of empowerment. It is not about minimising what happened or denying that something happened. It does not mean reconciling with the person who hurt you, they may never know that you have forgiven them.
For parties in conflict, there can be a significant amount of unresolved pain and anger over behaviour / events / decisions. Luskin explains that remaining in anger and pain is a choice. By learning how to forgive, parties can free themselves. In mediation, this freedom translates into an enhanced ability to negotiate in their own best interests.
Next week, why is forgiveness good for us?
In A Study in Scarlet, we are introduced to one of the greatest teams in all of fiction. Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are thrown together by the prosaic need to find a flatmate. Their relationship is one which endures despite their differences and is fuelled by their deep love for each other. Over the years, their friendship is strained, by Holmes' "death" and by Watson's marriage, and yet they remain bonded.
Without doubt, the support of Watson enables Holmes to meet his full potential. Rather than the stock image of Watson as a buffoon, in the books he is revealed as a decent and humane man of action and learning. He brings his skills as a doctor, and his empathy and kindness to assist Holmes. This support and his care for Holmes is a key part of the reason we keep reading and watching these stories.
In conflict, people often have to build their own support network. This may be an existing network of friends and family, a tribe. Sometimes it involves working with a counsellor or psychologist. When working with people in mediation, it is helpful for me to understand what resources are available to them. For parties in family mediation, separation and divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. I often suggest to parties to work with a professional.
There are many benefits to working with a professional. They are able to put what you are experiencing into context. It can feel very isolating to separate and divorce. A counsellor or psychologist (listen to my podcast about working with a psychologist with Dr Monica Borschel) can help a party to understand they are not alone in how they feel. The emotions that people experience in separation can be confusing, there may be anger, bitterness, betrayal or even ambivalence about the other person. Building a framework to understand these feelings can help parties to process them.
When working in mediation, parties can also benefit from skills and tools that counsellors and psychologists can suggest and develop. Every little bit of help counts.
If the great Sherlock Holmes can reach out a hand for help, we would be wise to follow his lead.
Of all the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes, hands down my favourite is Jeremy Brett. For those who have missed the Granada adaptation, it is worth seeking out. I have to admit to a certain fondness for Benedict Cumberbatch, but Brett is the Holmes that runs around in my head when I am reading the books.
The adaptation Brett starred in was a faithful interpretation of the books and revelled in the period detail. In such a constrained time as the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, Holmes' lack of conventionality stands out. By any measure Holmes leads an unconventional life. He is indifferent to the social norms of his times and impatient with convention. He has the means and social standing to choose his own life and to live according to his preferences.
It may seem that unconventionality is not a quality that relates to conflict. However, I think it can be truly important. In conflict, you will have a support team of people who want the best for you as they see it. Parties in conflict need to feel free to seek unconventional solutions which meet their needs. This requires reflection and an ability listen to yourself.
Sometimes as parties move to resolution, one of them will say something like "but how will I explain this to [name of lawyer / significant person]". They are reaching for a solution, but are held back by concern about how it will be perceived by others. In reality, your lawyer will support you and your support team will be there for you, but only you will have to live the conflict and the solution. Being able to choose a solution which may not be conventional from others' perspectives but which meets your needs and those of the other party is the key to finding resolution.
Holmes is empowered to accomplish incredible feats and acts of heroism through his belief in his own methods. In a way he is free, free from the expectations of others, free from societal constraints and free to listen to himself.
In the Sign of Four, Sherlock Holmes explained to Watson that he abhorred stagnation, that he needed problems and work to feed his brain. His mental curiosity drives him seek solutions and find patterns. His curiosity enables Holmes to amass an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge. All of which assist with his famous deductions.
In conflict, curiosity is one of the greatest skills. For some people, when in conflict their natural curiosity shuts down. In its place is absolute certainty, even infallibility. In reality, we are all flawed and we are all able to contribute to a conflict or to its resolution.
Using our innate curiosity about what is driving the other person (i.e. need, fear or concern) can help to unlock possible options. In mediation, we seek out interests (the need, fear or concern) which underlie the position (i.e. the tangible, concrete demand). it can be difficult. Positions are loud and clear. Almost everyone in conflict can access their position, it usually begins with "I want...".
The reason why we have decided we want this is usually more opaque. The interest that is driving our position may be obscured by emotions including fear, anxiety or anger. It can be difficult for the other person in our conflict to determine what underlying need we are trying to meet. If we can understand our own interests and those of the other person then we can design more responsive options for resolution.
When I was studying at Pepperdine, one of my professors, Jim Craven, explained that as mediators we need to "harvest interests". Maintaining curiosity about the why of people asking for something, as well as understanding the what. Being naturally curious is a gift, it prompts further questions, it enables a deeper understanding. In conflict curiosity is a real asset.
The game is afoot..to a Sherlock Holmes fan the words are instantly recognisable. Even without being a devotee it is hard to escape Sherlock, he is the most widely depicted fictional character in history and the number continues to grow (latest Henry Cavill). As a child I graduated from Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes with ease. Holmes may seem like an unusual topic for a blog about conflict resolution but stick with me.
Like all of us, Holmes is flawed. He is heroic and yet we can see the challenges he faces and creates for himself. He is exceptionally capable and yet can barely function in some settings.
Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at one aspect of his character and considering how this aspect can help or hinder us in conflict. It may also be that the onset of autumn makes me want to immerse myself in the stories and novels of Conan Doyle.
What is Holmes' most defining characteristic? although, I think you could make a good argument for his obsessive focus, his single-mindedness; his courage or his curiosity, for me it is his clarity of thought. From pieces of information, some seemingly irrelevant, Holmes is able to construct a picture of what is going on.
In Silver Blaze, Holmes considers the "curious incident of the dog in the night". This information is seemingly meaningless and is ignored by other characters. Holmes is able to focus on the implications of this small fact. He is able to consider the fact and then consider what this means and construct a hypothesis. He is driven by the information and then works to create meaning.
In conflict, people often work in reverse. We assign meaning to other people's behaviour and then we work backwards to seek out the words / actions which justify our assigned meaning. In this way we may feel an emotional truth and then use our rational brain to justify our beliefs. In conflict, this ability can become magnified. It can lead to entrenched views and flawed thinking. It can lead us to rationalise our negative beliefs - the other person is selfish, thoughtless, a narcissist, etc.
Leon Festinger was a pioneer in the field of cognitive dissonance. I have written in an earlier post about one of my favourite books, "Mistakes Were Made - but Not by Me". This book explores the way in which we use our cognitive powers to justify decisions we have already made. An error in thinking, of which I am sure, Holmes would steer clear.
In conflict, being more like Sherlock Holmes and working from data to theory can be more productive. Next week more Holmesian thoughts - including my favourite screen Holmes. Do you have a favourite Sherlock Holmes depiction?
If you are in a conflict or negotiation with someone who has a fixed and unyielding time perspective, what are some ways you can try and shift them to a more balanced time perspective? As a mediator, we are always seeking tools to help people to shift their perspective and to be in a position to consider all of the options. Based on the Zimbardo Time Perspective, below are some tools that may be useful to help someone shift appropriately to a more balanced time perspective:
What are some ways you may adapt your approach to other people in conflict or negotiation to take into account time perspective?
As with so many frameworks, there is no correct perspective, however for parties in mediation, it may be an issue to have an excessive focus on any one orientation at the expense of other orientations. In mediation, you can see how this may work in the room.
We cannot administer the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory on everyone we meet, but we can formulate a hypothesis which may assist us to support the parties in their mediation, or as a party to formulate options and proposals.
What time perspective is helpful to a party in mediation/conflict? Boniwell and Zimbardo suggest that a balanced time perspective is optimal for human functioning.
What does this mean?
A balanced time perspective is one where a person is able to shift flexibly between time perspectives depending on the task features, situational considerations and personal resources – as opposed to being biased towards a specific time perspective which is not adaptive, or even maladaptive.
In conflict, I think this means that people need to be able to accept the past has happened, be grounded in the reality of their present and be able to project into their future.
We can all think about conflict situations, where people, can appear to be cemented in the past and blame. However, much you try to shift them to a future focus they insist on returning to the past.
The challenges of this past oriented approach are apparent. Firstly it may stop some one from being able to consider options for the future and to move forward. They may continue to exist in a past negative orientation. It can easily derail a mediation or negotiation process. In extreme cases, it may antagonise the other party.
Next week, how can you help someone shift into a balanced time perspective?
The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory originally set out 5, then 6 time orientations -with future negative added by Carelli to take us to 7:
For the present oriented they may focus on concrete factors in the immediate, sensory present while minimizing abstract qualities relevant to a decision that exists only in an anticipated future. It can be difficult for them to delay gratification and they may be easily distracted. They may be uninterested in considering the impact of their decisions today on future consequences.
For the future oriented the focus will be on reasoning, abstract ideas and a clear concern about consequences. They may be better able to focus on the importance of long-term goals e.g. how well adjusted their children will be following separation. They may be very focused on efficiency and micro-planning.
Next week, what does this mean in conflict and mediation?
Whilst you may experience a sense of relief following a difficult conversation it is worth taking some time to reflect and assess what happened.
We can helpfully prepare ourselves to do better next time, by asking ourselves some simple questions:
In a difficult conversation, we know that our emotions will be engaged. The question becomes how to manage them. In the next few posts, I will examine some of the ideas that may be helpful in regulating and understanding our emotions.
For today, here are my top five ways to regulate your emotions: