Just when we thought summer would never come, the heat and humidity are back. For those of us who were waiting anxiously for the cold to end, and made a vow not to complain when the heat arrived, we bite our tongue and refresh our memories of ice, snow and freezing temperatures to keep from saying anything. For those who can’t tolerate the heat, or those who just need an excuse, the heat can also cause temperatures to flare. We read in newspapers about fights and shootings at weekend parties and see tempers get out of hand on streets, subways and on our roads. As you will read in ‘Why Can’t We All Get Along?’ below, there are ways of handling conflict through careful and effective communication. If only we would all think before we speak.
Getting People to the Table
People often ask us how we convince both parties to come to mediation. It is a challenge. By the time people are referred to us, or self-refer by contacting us, the problem has escalated and they are at a standstill. If it’s a lawyer, caseworker or financial advisor, the problem is the same: nobody can make a necessary decision and the parties are not communicating. The person who contacts us has already acknowledged that there is a problem and that the parties are at an impasse. But if it is a third party that refers the clients to us, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the parties agree, or if they do, that they are willing to sit down and discuss it. Frequently the parties, whether it’s landlord/tenant, small business. or family disputes, have given up the idea of talking and think the inevitable next step is court. That’s when someone calls us. We speak to the first party and explain the benefits of mediation and ask them what they have to lose. They ask us questions about the process and it usually soon becomes clear that they do not really understand mediation. After the questions and answers are exchanged, emotions generally calm down and the idea of mediation as an option is given more consideration. So what usually convinces people to sit down and participate? One question we always ask after finding out how long the problem is going on is, “So, is this working for you?” Another question we like to ask is, “What are your other options?” The answers to these questions usually push people in the direction of mediation as a preferable alternative. We also find that reassuring people that this is a problem-, issue- focused process, is a positive aspect for them. Whether it’s family members who don’t want therapy or do not want to work on relationships that haven’t worked for 30 years, there is relief that we are only going to work on the issues at hand and get people to communicate in order to resolve the problem at hand. For business people, they realize the savings and the understanding that they can get some immediate relief. For landlords and tenants, they have the benefit of being able to move on with their lives sooner, rather than having to wait out the court process. In other words, understanding that they are out of options or faced with costly ones, that they are at a standstill that needs to be broken, and just plain reason, are usually the persuasive points that ultimately get people across the table from one another in our mediation sessions.
Why Can’t We All Get Along?
We’ve recently been asked to give presentations on dealing with conflict. Our presentations focus on helping people working with seniors where arguments among family members impede their ability to help their client, the elder in the family. Our presentation addresses how to identify the cause of conflict, individual positions and interests effecting the conflict, and how to effectively communicate, by listening and talking to the family members and getting them to do the same. Through examples of words to stay away from, or ways of asking questions, and giving people the tools to think about conflict in advance of the confrontations they deal with in their work, we hope that professionals can guide their clients to focus on the needs of their clients. Some of the participants have requested conflict coaching and we are always happy to do help with that.
Have a great summer and stay cool!
Gail and Ruth