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?
In this new series, I will be exploring the work of Philip Zimbardo and his Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory.
You may recognise the Zimbardo name from the Stanford Prison Experiment. In 1971, in an experiment structured by Dr Philip Zimbardo, college students were randomly assigned roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison. The experiment was abandoned after 6 days and attracted controversy.
During the experiment, Zimbardo says that he noticed that the students who were prisoners ceased to have regard to their past or future and in that short time began to focus on their present alone. Although the experiment was prematurely stopped, Zimbardo began to study time perception.
In his work, The Time Paradox, Zimbardo explains that time perspective has cognitive, emotional and social components. The formation of an individual’s perspective is influenced by various factors including: family of origin, cultural and social influences, personal experiences, professional training, etc.
Time perspective is a coherent framework we each use for living. The framework has been shown to impact attention, perception and importantly for mediators decision-making. Whilst this may be a personality preference it can also be influenced by situational forces.
Next week what are the 7 time perspectives?
in his highly successful work, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnemann described how our brains work using two systems. A fast intuitive System 1 and a slow, rational System 2. In combination they work to help us navigate the world and stay alive.
The challenge is that System 2 is very energy expensive to run. As a result we make many decisions, below our level of consciousness with System 1. So far so good.
Unfortunately, System 1 is vulnerable to cognitive biases. We can use System 1 to create a story about what is happening and how we feel which may be based on biases. We then compound the problem by using System 2 to rationalise the 'emotional' decision we have made.
In conflict, people feel under attack and often find it difficult to engage System 2. It feels comfortable to rely on their System 1 intuitions and biases. There are ways to de-bias ourselves:
In and earlier post, I had recommended "How Emotions Are Made" by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She describes the Theory of Constructed Emotion, in which our brains predict what we need to do based on information they receive, models they have made and our past experience.
This seems counter intuitive. How can our emotions be constructed by us? when we feel as if we are reacting to what is happening around us? How can we be responsible for the distress and pain when the other person's behaviour has caused it?
These ideas can be challenging to accept. One way to think about it is considering how we feel based on the same stimulus. For example, imagine you are driving along a quiet road when out of nowhere a sports car swerves in front of you and disappears into the distance. How do you feel? Now imagine that instead of a sports car that was an ambulance? same stimulus but different emotional reaction. We are not passive receptors of emotion, we actively construct how we feel.
If you are heading into a difficult conversation, then you can help yourself by constructing more helpful emotions. For example, rather than feeling the tightness in your stomach and deciding that you are anxious and worried, tell yourself that you are excited. If you are excited the chances are that you will perform better than if you are anxious.
Communication is challenging at the best of times. In a difficult conversation it can become impossible. Whilst there are many skills which can improve communication, there are two which I would like to focus on for this series, this week: acknowledgment.
Acknowledgement is a quiet superpower. We can all think of times when we were communicating something emotional / difficult and where we were acknowledged by the other person. It makes us feel heard, as if they understand what we are trying to communicate. it creates a sense of connection and rapport. In a difficult conversation, it can seem counterintuitive (or even impossible) to create rapport, however, the chances of creating a learning conversation are enhanced if the other person does not feel under attack. If we want to have a constructive conversation rather than a chance to blame / judge then one step is to acknowledge the other person's feelings.
Acknowledgement does not mean agreeing with everything they are saying, or agreeing that we are fault. However, it is a way of acknowledging that we have heard the underlying emotional content of their communication and that we accept this is how they feel.
Acknowledgments do not need to be lengthy or complicated. A simple statement such as "I can hear that you are ..." / "It sounds like..." can start to build the bridge of communication. If you are mistaken and the emotion is not correct, they will tell you. That's great - keep trying. I use acknowledgment in mediation all the time to let the person speaking how that I have received the message. You can see people visibly relax when they feel that you are trying to understand them and acknowledge how they feel.
Reframing is a tool we can use with the statements of others and also ourselves. Why would we reframe ourselves? For many of the same reasons as we use reframing with others:
start with the behaviour or the event - describe it factually without blame
describe the impact on you
"I would prefer if..."
your preferred outcome / needs / change to future focus
"This would work for both of us because..."
positive consequences for both
No tool can guarantee a constructive conversation, but an 'I' statement creates the possibility of one.
When I read about reframing, it is often a relatively upbeat article that suggests we can reframe negative statements into positive statements to resolve conflict. However, I would urge some caution. Reframing requires practice. It is much easier to reframe a statement into a neutral statement rather than a positive statement.
This is because, reframes fail when they do not capture the essence or truth of what has been said. A botched reframe may increase negativity as it may seem as if you are minimising or wilfully ignoring the other person's statement.
How can you do a reframe which will help rather than hinder?
Today we learnt that Kenny Rogers passed in his sleep at the age of 81. His song "The Gambler" is so vivid in my memory from childhood.
He made it through five marriages, a successful recording career and a business empire. I like to think that the wisdom of those lines in the Gambler kept him one step ahead of the game.
You've got to know when to hold'em
Know when to fold'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You can see how these words can guide even the worst negotiator. In negotiation you need to know how to do all of these things.
You need to be determined about your priorities, but importantly you need to know which those are.
You need to know when to give up on something that is unrealistic or counterproductive.
You need to know when to leave the table and either quit the fight or find another way forward.
And then sometimes you need to run. Whatever it takes to get away from the table, close the deal or end the conflict, you need to do.
Thank you Kenny Rogers for your wisdom and your music.