A liberating new approach to making hard choices

One of the hardest tasks I face as a mediator and coach is helping people weigh and make hard choices. Here's how I use a refreshing and liberating new framework to help my clients decide between hard choices when there is no clear frontrunner. Ed asked me to help him decide whether to accept a $500,000 buyout from his two business partners or stay with the business his father had founded. Anna wanted help deciding whether or not to leave her husband of two decades after years of love and … [Read more...]

Reduce resistance to an idea with this language shift

When you want an idea to be considered on its merits, it can be very hard to overcome two aspects of human nature that get in the way. If you want to reduce resistance and create space for the idea to get thoughtful consideration, how you frame your proposal can make all the difference. Imagine walking into a new cafe. As you look through the menu, you see it's chock full of fabulous treats that have your mouth watering in anticipation. Some items are noticeably more expensive than … [Read more...]

The everyday activity that can set the stage for a less difficult conversation

Whether you're mediating informally (as a leader, manager, friend) or professionally, this everyday activity can help you set the stage for a better conversation. Back in my dean days, when I had staff who were in difficult conflict, it was my habit to invite them out to lunch. I had just one rule for our lunchtime conversation: No discussion of whatever was dividing them. Occasionally, I'd take them somewhere other than a restaurant. I once took two department directors who'd been … [Read more...]

We can’t tell from the outside

When we're in conflict with someone, we think we know them, at least enough to know what we need to know. Our certainty about their motives and their flaws -- this certainty flourishes and makes us feel better about ourselves. Yet it is fantasy, this certainty. It can be nothing else, for we cannot possibly know them fully, even loved ones. We don't live in their heads. We don't live in their hearts. We don't live in their souls. I was reminded of this by author Howard Mansfield and … [Read more...]

The surprising way to ask better questions in conflict

When we're stuck in conflict, sometimes it's the questions we're asking ourselves or our sparring partner. To ask better questions in conflict, try this surprisingly useful trick... Evolutionary biologist David Carrier was stuck. The jackrabbit he was dissecting just wasn't making sense. Instead of what he expected to see, he was seeing the belly muscles connected to an apparatus that acted like a Slinky — it compressed when he pushed his finger on it, then sprang back out. What the heck … [Read more...]

Walk it out to work it out

If you want to boost creative problem solving or get a fresh perspective, then get up from your conference room table and climb out of those comfy living room chairs. Walking is better. Years ago, I took two mediation clients on a long walk through city streets when they were very stuck and frustrated in the conference room. I've done it dozens of times and I'll do it dozens more. Not only is there no rule that conflict resolution should take place seated, there's an argument to be made … [Read more...]

Bearing witness to suffering: Mediating in the shadow of pain

Philosopher Simone Weil wrote, "Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough." I'll be exploring this capacity in an upcoming workshop for the New England Association for … [Read more...]

Control your emotions better by labeling them

If you want to control your emotions better during difficult conversations, do something counter-intuitive: Give up trying not to feel them. Instead, put a label on them. Recognizing and naming an emotion can have a powerful effect on quelling it. Psych professor Matthew Lieberman, author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, calls it "affect labeling." You can use affect labeling to help yourself and others. Instead of trying to push an emotion away, the idea is to draw it … [Read more...]

Conflict resolution activities: The fist press

When I'm mediating, coaching, or training, there are moments I want to illustrate why resistance builds up. There are moments I want to help someone understand in a quick and visceral way that pushing their agenda relentlessly is contributing to getting things good and stuck. In those moments, I often turn to one of my favorite conflict resolution activities, the Fist Press. It's a 60-second exercise with an enduring message. I first saw a version years ago in a Tom Crum video and it never … [Read more...]

Just be reasonable

When a person is very angry, the part of their brain associated with being reasonable and articulating reasonable thoughts more or less shuts down. Closed for business. Sign on the door -- go away, can't do this right now. Yet in the midst of an argument, we still think to ourselves (or even say out loud), "Just be reasonable, can't you?" Or maybe they say it to us. In a mediation, we may still want to say to a client, "Why can't you be reasonable?" Or, more judgmentally, as one frustrated … [Read more...]