Trigger stacking

trigger stacking

In February 2012, a large dog named Max had a drama-filled 24 hours and it ended in a good (if tragic) lesson about the dangers of trigger stacking. Max's day of drama began when he chased a fox out onto the thin ice of a reservoir. Then the ice broke and he spent 10-15 minutes in the cold water, struggling to survive, before firefighters were able to rescue him. Then he was paraded into the television studio of his local news affiliate, with people he didn't know, and unfamiliar sounds and … [Read more...]

Are you paying twice in a conflict?


Years ago, Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer had a major fire that destroyed most of what she owned. She contacted her insurance company and they came the next day to assess the damage. After reviewing the damage and her substantial loss, the insurance agent said a curious thing to Langer. He said that this was the first call he'd ever had where it turned out the damage was worse than the call had indicated. Langer's reflections on his comment are invaluable: She thought, Well, gee, … [Read more...]

Sure you understand the other’s perspective? Take this test


"I understand her perspective but she doesn't even bother to try to understand mine." Every mediator or manager has heard a version of this while trying to sort out a conflict. Sometimes a version even wanders beguilingly through my own mind. Maybe one has wandered once or twice through your mind, too. It's so easy to see the ways that they don't understand us. And so much harder to see the ways we fail our own standard. What we need is a sort of Turing Test for conflict, an unbiased … [Read more...]

Why I’ve turned off blog comments

At the cafe

Inviting comments on your blog is like inviting someone into your home. Come on in, you say, let me get you a cup of coffee, what's on your mind? Sometimes it's an old friend you're inviting in, sometimes it's a new one you trust to treat you right once inside. So turning off the commenting function, as I have done, is not something to do lightly. I've been pondering doing it for a couple of years, before a few big guns blogs made the decision to do the same. I'm not big on bandwagons for … [Read more...]

Intervening in conflict when it’s not your job, part 2


[ Intervening in Conflict When It's Not Your Job, Part 1 ] The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Terry Dobson's car was mostly empty and he gazed absently out the window. When the doors open at one of the stations, the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man wore laborer’s clothing, and he was big, dirty, and very drunk. The man swung at a woman holding a baby. She fell into the laps of an … [Read more...]

The uncommon art of masterful problem framing


Father Gregory Boyle is a master at the art of problem framing and reframing. He is a Jesuit priest who founded and runs Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in Los Angeles. One morning during his days as pastor of Dolores Mission Church, he began the homily with a most unusual question: "What’s the church smell like?" When his parishioners avoided eye contact, looking everywhere but at him, he asked again. "Come on, now, what's the church smell like?" An old man who didn't … [Read more...]

Intervening in conflict when it’s not your job, part 1


When you've got conflict resolution skills, you can't help but notice all the situations around you that might benefit from your help. But how do you choose when to help informally and when to stay out of it? And, as a reader, Kate, asked, when is intervening in conflict the right call? "I just wanted to let you know that what I got from that course was some of the most useful, valuable information and the techniques we learned serve me every day. I find your newsletter and gems I pick up … [Read more...]

“I’m getting blamed for everything”

it's your fault

"I'm getting blamed for everything," she said. "Every time I talk to my husband about our problems, he blames me." She wanted to know, understandably, how to stop the cycle and the blameshifting. Mediators ask me how to manage blame too, how to get people off a cycle of blame and defensiveness. So I'm going to tell you my favorite approach. It's the one I teach most often to my clients and the one that gives them the biggest relief. It's the one I teach mediators how to use at the … [Read more...]

The secret mediators shouldn’t keep


We mediators are a confidential bunch, good at holding private what's been told in trust. But there's one secret mediators should never keep, because the telling of it, the acknowledging of it, holds the promise of reaching greater heights in your work. When I'm teaching a mediation class to conflict resolution grad students, I'm fond of starting things off with this question: Why do you want to be a mediator? I ask on the first day of class and they usually stare back at me pleasantly, … [Read more...]

A non-judgmental presence

holier than thou

It is a special gift to bring a non-judgmental presence into the room with you. When we're in conflict that's been going on for a while, we already feel judged enough. Judged by our conflict partner. Judged by those who have watched it unfold, such as co-workers, managers, family members. Judged by ourselves, late at night when the darkness amplifies what weighs on our mind. So, if you're trying to help resolve a conflict (maybe you're a mediator, a friend, an HR manager), there is little … [Read more...]

You don’t have to have this experience with conflict resolution


I've finally found the way to describe my work with the help of an image. Did you have drawing guides like the one above when you were a kid? I did. My brother is a gifted artist and I was his little sister, wishing I could draw and paint like he did. I got one of these drawing guides for Christmas, got out my crayons, and opened the guide with such hope and aspiration. A short time later, I closed the guide and ignored it for a while. It had been a terrible experience. Eventually I got … [Read more...]

Getting great mediation training: Questions you should ask

ice cream flavors

Some of the most common questions I'm asked by new mediators and would-be mediators is how to find good mediation training. Since mediation training comes in many flavors and from trainers with wildly varying skill, I've finally taken the time to share my four cents. In my Candid Guide to Getting Great Mediation Training, I discuss the following questions and how they help you be an informed consumer. Questions to ask yourself first Why do I want mediation training How will I use … [Read more...]

Rebuilding trust after conflict

reaching across the divide

"How can we rebuild trust after a conflict?" is such an enormous question, the stuff of entire books. I hear it a lot in workshops and mediations. The intention behind the question is very lovely and right. Yet I am not a fan of the question itself because the sheer scale of it makes it nearly impossible to answer. I have seen many colleagues, couples, and friends thwarted by this question, daunted by its magnitude. It's impossible to answer because the answer can not yet be known for … [Read more...]

High conflict personality? Not so fast

chaotic neon

"He's such a high conflict personality that I'm scared to disagree with him." "She's high conflict and I don't think any of these approaches will work with her." "How can we best deal with high conflict personalities in the workplace?" "I've been labeled 'high conflict' and I'm blamed for starting every argument." "I'm a mediator and I'd like to know how to prevent high conflict clients from derailing agreements." These are some of the comments and questions I've heard in conflict resolution … [Read more...]

Conflict resolution as meaning making

Information vs knowledge by Hugh MacLeod

A dear friend had a stroke last week and she has lost the ability to speak, at least for now. Today her body looks almost fully recovered, hiding the havoc wreaked on her brain and the long recovery period ahead of her. As her friends form a circle of love around her, one of us next to her hospital bed every morning, afternoon, and evening, we hear again and again from her medical team that the most crucial work ahead of her is to re-form the links, the neural pathways, that were damaged by … [Read more...]