I was reading a NYT article today about how separated parents are coping with the challenges of Covid 19. The author, Hannah Ingber explains that when social distancing in the US started she was worried about how co-parenting would work. Ingber and her ex-partner were in conflict over many parenting decisions. She is surprised and relieved to find that the petty differences between them fall away as they grapple with how to manage risks for their children. Perhaps in years to come it will become common practice to include pandemic arrangements in mediated agreements between separating parents. At present this is not the norm.
What is part of normal mediation practice is working to help parents to child-focus and to strengthen and re-imagine a co-parental alliance. The shared common value of keeping children safe can be a bridge for parents to adapting and changing. Adapting to the new circumstances; and changing established views of the other parent as the 'enemy'. The relative unimportance of that additional extracurricular activity, or whether handover is at 6pm or 7pm, is highlighted when parents must work together for basic health issues. this bridge can lead parents to shift from the negative views and beliefs about the other person as an adult, to a new vision of the other person as a co-parent. In the role of co-parent there is a chance for redemption and trust.
This ability to adapt and change is one Miss Marple has in spades. In "A Caribbean Mystery" she encounters Jason Rafiel, a rich and highly cantankerous man whom she wisely decides to avoid. However, through a series of circumstances, it becomes clear that Mr Rafiel has hidden depths of empathy and kindness. They become allies and work to solve the spate of murders at the resort.
If Miss Marple had held strong to her original beliefs about Mr Rafiel she would have lost the chance for his support and wisdom during her investigation, and his friendship thereafter. Without doubt, Miss Marple is justified in her negative opinion of Mr Rafiel's behaviour. What becomes apparent though is his intrinsic worth as a person is obscured by some of his behaviours. For many people in conflict, the behaviours are synonymous with the person. We observe the behaviours and weigh the worth (or otherwise) of the person themselves. As Miss Marple knows, people contain 'multitudes' (thank you Walt Whitman).
Being open to adapt and change, gives Miss Marple the edge in her investigation. In conflict, being open-minded can enable a shift in mindset from warring enemies to co-parents who can put their children first. Miss Marple knows that the charming host may conceal the murderer, the gentle lady in the next pew may be the poison pen writer. We need to be just as open to change and adapter as Miss Marple.
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.
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?
This book is so dense with ideas that my tightly typed summary covers 22 pages. From the first chapters, where Feldman Barrett explores what do we mean by emotion? are they universal? I was hooked.
"How Emotions are Made" lifts the curtain on our own emotional creation and describes a world where emotions are constructed. We create mental concepts and categories to help us navigate the world. Emotions are not reactions to the world, they are our constructions of how we will react to the world.
Most striking is her description of our brain as a scientist, trapped in a dark box, it uses the data we provide to form predictions about how to keep us safe, what is happening and what we need to do about it. Her approach is that we construct our emotions - we do not react to stimuli but we are responsible for how we feel about other people and events. As she points out, if we just reacted to things, we would be dead. It is too slow a way to function effectively.
Just like a scientist sometimes our brain gets the prediction or hypothesis wrong. If our brain is a good scientist then it will re-calibrate and try again. If it is a bad scientist, it will be selective about the data it uses or even worse ignore the data.
Why do we invest all this effort into the brain and its predictions? because the brain is trying to keep us alive. It is managing our body budget which monitors all of our systems to keep us functioning. When we are not in balance our brain will search for an explanation and a plan of action.
One key lesson is that she warns we must give up on the fiction that we know how other people feel, as she puts it "being curious is more important than being right".
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.
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?
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!
Jean-Paul Sartre is not often associated with positivity or hope. However, you may be surprised by the quote below which is from his play, Bariona. In an article looking at Sartre through the lens of positive psychology, Quackenbush, Lockwood and Cyr argue that Sartre's philosophy may be summed up as: I have dispositions towards future action, but this can be altered.
You are suffering, and yet your duty is to hope
This can provide the bridge to hope from what has happened in the past (and gone wrong) and what can happen in the future (and could go right). In order to allow our 'disposition' (our nature) to change we need to be ready to let go of what has happened and allow ourselves to accept that we may even surprise ourselves with what comes next.