When I introduce myself as a coach, conversations get interesting: I’m asked many questions and I’m asked for advice (even though coaching is not about giving advice).

Conversely, I have noticed that when I introduce myself as a mediator, reactions are mixed.

It seems like that in many people’s perception mediation means trouble.

An HR manager once inquired about a team workshop and she explicitly asked me not to mention mediation, „otherwise it would mean the team has a conflict”.

A school principal told me they were not going to recommend mediation to parents, even if they saw that a child was affected by family conflict because they “didn’t want to tell the parents they thought they had a conflict”.

Nobody has ever a conflict. Until they do.

What’s so indecent about conflict?

“Conflict”, just like “problem”, seems to have become an anti-word – undeservedly, I think.

Conflict is increasingly becoming associated with uncertainty, discomfort, and anxiety.

When I ask clients, they often tell me that they perceive conflict as something destabilizing, distracting and that needs to be removed.

I believe that the perception of conflict is linked to the perception of failure. Having a conflict has been made to mean that someone is showing weakness or has failed at harmony.

While I am a strong advocate of mindset shifts, I don’t agree that “conflict” needs to be rephrased in “challenge” or something more positive. Prescribing not to perceive a situation as conflict doesn’t make the conflict go away and the truth is, there’s a reason why we sometimes need to stay in that uncomfortable place.

Is the “positivity overkill” stopping you from dealing with discomfort?

The belief that conflict will necessarily lead to pain, distress or even a loss of reputation is prompting people to hide, deny and minimalize tough feelings, particularly those of vulnerability and anxiety.

I dare say that over-emphasizing the positive reframing of negative emotions is a way of repressing them. It’s like relying on a formula for instant wellbeing instead of relying on one’s ability to deal with whatever will emerge out of an unexpected situation.

In conflict we experience mixed feelings: we may feel strong and weak at the same time. We take risks and we get to deal with ambiguous emotions as well as with ambiguous reactions. The categories of “positive” and “negative” change rapidly and even coexist.

Would we get better at dealing with the VUCA world we are told to live in if we’d get better at dealing with conflict?

How to stay with uncertainty  

I believe we need to handle uncertainty with more confidence and peace of mind.

The first step is to accept that there will be times, especially during conflict, where we will be challenged to cope with a temporary lack of solutions.

This is only possible with a constructive mindset that sees failure as a testing playground for correction, not as a catastrophe.

“Permanent beta”, the stage of continuous experimentation, is a good metaphor for the attitude I believe we should try to adopt in conflict.

Taking the courage to express our point of view, knowing that it will be different from others’, will help us fine-tune our ideas. We will then have the chance to feel ever more committed to our ideas or we can embrace a different perspective.

Either way, there will be progress, growth, and change.

Dealing with conflict consciously will also increase our self-awareness as well as our interpersonal and situational awareness. Interpersonal relationships (in private and work life) are highly complex and constantly evolving. The more we dare to delve into the unpredictable emotions that may emerge during a disagreement, the more competent we become at recognizing and responding to moods, behaviors and communication styles.

Last, but not least, it needs to be said that often the least expected insights ideas and solutions arise out of conflict. Therefore, I encourage you to enjoy every minute of it and all the good that might come out of it.

 

#conflict #positivityoverkill #mediation #coaching #failure #uncertainty #VUCA #permanentbeta #complexity #awareness #agility #confidence

After participating in a workshop on child inclusive mediation I revisited some of my ideas on direct consultation with children in mediation.

Until now I have preferred to introduce the voice of the child indirectly by means of child focused mediation tools. In my opinion, it is a gentle and at the same time very effective way of drawing the attention of the parents to the wellbeing of their children. In the midst of family conflicts that may include a separation fought out in court, parents do not always manage to focus their attention on the children’s inner world and on how they are experiencing the separation.

Introducing the child’s perspective is always a game changer, in fact, when parents reflect on the child’s point of view, the conversation stops being a debate about couple issues and starts becoming a dialogue about parenting and parental responsibility. The blame game is over and parents can concentrate on how to make things better for the sake of their children.

Various legal instruments applicable in international children cases (such as the Brussels II bis Regulation) recommend or require taking the views of the child into consideration in all matters affecting them, either directly or through an appropriate body.

While child focused mediation is widespread, the direct involvement of children in mediation is less common and controversially debated.

What is the story that the child is telling about parenting?

The child’s perspective is of crucial importance in order for parents to make informed decisions relating to their children. In may bring into the mediation process views that may be missing from parental discussion.

The question is: What information can be obtained from direct consultation with the child which cannot be obtained through child focused mediation?

The aim of child inclusive mediation is to offer children a safe space to express themselves and be heard. While thorough child focused mediation parents get to give their interpretation on how the child is feeling, in child inclusive mediation children describe their views and emotions to the mediator in their own words.

This information is then fed back to the parents, sometimes causing surprise or even shock. This surprise can transform a frozen conflict into a collaborative effort in order to make arrangements that are in the best interest of the child.

Ultimately, hearing children in mediation can be extremely beneficial and generate a deeper understanding and empathy among family members.

The importance of the “helicopter view”

Another question is at what age it is appropriate to directly involve children. Different countries handle this matter differently. In some countries children as young as three years old are heard in mediation.

According to Piaget, the Swiss pedagogue, children under the age of 12 have not yet developed the ability to formulate abstract thoughts, they speak in the moment rather than about hypothetical situations. In short, they lack the ability to see things from a distance (“helicopter view”).

For this reason, among other things, despite having reconsidered the possibility of including children in mediation, I would still opt to hearing children aged 12 or older and would let the youngest ones be heard by professionals with clinical experience (child psychologists).

Online mediation with an iPhone

Last week I found out that you can actually mediate with an iPhone: I participated in an online mediation simulation with Virtual Mediation Lab and I played the mediator’s role connected with my iPhone.

My experience with online mediation has been surprisingly good so far. The very technology that makes the online experience less “intimate” also enables a conversation that may never have taken place when the parties live on two different continents.

What I miss most in online mediation is mutual and simultaneous eye contact. When you look into the camera you look the other person in the eyes but you can’t see their face. When you look at their face on the screen it looks like you are looking somewhere else.

I’ve been wondering if I should train myself to just look at the camera so that the parties feel “looked at” but I’ve found out that I can’t go without looking at their facial expressions while we talk. It’s so important to spot a smile or a slight mood change when you can’t see how the parties interact in physical space.

Another factor is that depending where you put or how you turn your laptop/smartphone/webcam your position looks different on the screen. So you might happen to appear as looking towards your left while the parties appear on the screen at your right.

On the plus side, however, I think that it’s easier to perceive the mediator as a neutral party in online mediation as we are all “faces in a box on the screen”. A lot of subtle factors that may unconsciously influnce one’s perception like height, shape and the way you dress are just cut out.

Another big plus to me is the ease of switching from joint sessions to individual sessions. Normally I would have to go in another room with one party and leave the other one waiting, which is usually done later in the session when a certain level of trust has been established. In online mediation it is possible to switch at a click and the other party is left to wait in the comfort of her own apartment. I found that this feature speeds up the process as it makes it possible to check in with the parties confidentially and adjust the conversation accordingly.

Unfortunately the iPhone has a very small screen otherwise I could have also tried to see if it’s possible to write a memorandum of understanding at the end of the session with the on-screen keyboard. 
On the other hand the freedom of movement that the iPhone gave me proved very helpful, infact at one point I realized that my dinner was burning and I could just walk into the kitchen and turn off the oven while keeping the iPhone right in front of me without interrupting the conversation.

Well, next time I know: Before entering the (virtual) mediation room it’s important to turn off every single device that could disturb the process!