Archive for ‘Jolts for Mediators’

July 19, 2017

Learning Conflict Resolution through Theatre

This morning (very early!), I joined Amanda Semenoff and C.D. Saint for their podcast, Overthinking Conflict.  The topic we discussed was how watching live theatre can be useful for conflict resolution professionals. Our discussion was wide ranging, and we touched on a number of reasons a conflict resolution practitioner might want to watch live theatre (many of which apply to other forms of art, too).

During the conversation, I was asked about recommendations for shows, and was sorry that I couldn’t refer to the upcoming Vancouver Fringe Festival performances because the Fringe program hasn’t been released yet.  (The launch party is Thursday, July 27th, 2017.)  Fringe Festivals are a particularly rich opportunity for conflict resolution professionals to explore plays. After all, there’s always a hodgepodge of domestic and international performers; plays are short, so risk is low (you aren’t trapped for hours wishing you’d made another choice!); standing in line for one performance gives you the chance to hear all about a dozen more shows; and the variety is incredible!

As I told Amanda and C.D., I’ll put together a list of recommendations for conflict resolution practitioners once the program is available, but, in the meantime, I wanted to ruminate further on the kinds of learning one can take away from live theatre.

Ultimately, I came up with a list of 8 ways in which watching live theatre can serve a learning purpose for a conflict resolution professional:

  • Observing and analyzing a contained conflict text
  • Observing, analyzing, or participating in a dramatized conflict resolution process
  • Learning about other ways of viewing the world
  • Engaging with metaphor
  • Reading meaning through physical theatre
  • Observing others’ skills in scripted or improvisational form
  • Explorations of historical conflict
  • Explorations of neuroscience, mental health topics, and other content that enriches our practice

Just as my conversation with Amanda and C.D. allowed only enough time to discuss a few ways we could talk about theatre as “homework” for conflict resolution practitioners, a single blog post doesn’t really give me scope to reflect on all of these topics either.  As such, I’ll concentrate only on the first topic here, and revisit the question over the next short while to discuss the remainder of the list.

Observing Conflict – Cause and Effect

Theatrical performances, especially those following the pattern of traditional European theatre, almost always focus around a central conflict. While there are variations to the pattern, and artists have consciously sought to create productions that resist that pattern,  theatre generally explores conflict.

In a typical, chronological narrative structure, the audience is able to observe a conflict develop and come to a point of crisis. Unlike real life conflicts where it’s virtually impossible to witness all the contributing factors, the contained nature of a well-structured drama allows the audience to see how conflict builds – often from multiple perspectives. As a student of conflict resolution, this chance to observe whole stories and to understand multiple perspectives creates an opportunity for reflection: Where have I seen those patterns of communication before? What kinds of changes in the characters’ communications could prevent the looming crisis? If a mediator were inserted into the mix, when and how would they seek to shift the dynamic?

Some years ago, I was involved in a project that asked the question: what if Hamlet and Gertrude had been able to mediate their family dispute? Our initial intention was to create a short video we could use to start a conversation with large law classes about the differences amongst dispute resolution processes. Instead, we launched many conversations about conflict prevention across multiple narrative art forms! I can say now with great confidence that there are hundreds of ways in which conflict resolution practitioners could have saved Romeo and Juliet! (I won’t even try to describe how little show would be left if conflict resolution students were set loose on Seinfeld: if you strip away the conflict, it really is about nothing.)

Over the years, conflict resolution students have shown me that some of the deepest, and clearest, conflict analyses comes from grappling with a performed, and contained, conflict. The finite nature of the material coupled with the relative linearity of most performances – or sometimes the intentional non-linearity chosen to highlight aspects of the conflict – offers a much tidier “text” for examination than any real life conflict can. Just as role plays are utilized to learn conflict resolution skills (even when some students must observe due to numbers), observations of performed plays allow for both individual reflection and discussion with co-learners.

One further reason that it is relatively easy to grapple deeply with issues in a play is one’s emotional distance from a performed conflict – all the more so when the conflict is known to be fictional. As mediators (or lawyers, arbitrators, etc.), we often try to find a place of empathy with enough distance to be able to offer alternative perspectives. Theatre allows us to step into that place and to become familiar with its feel. Film and television offer similar experiences, but the degree of control we have – to pause, rewind, re-view – makes the experience less immediate (less like the experience in real life) than live theatre.  With live actors, we experience greater immediacy, and, of course, there is a risk of things going wrong, of something unexpected happening, which connects the experience more viscerally with real life.  In fact, sit in the front row and the experience is entirely different than watching a film!

Here are three plays coming up soon on Vancouver stages that offer great opportunities to observe and examine conflict.  Consider getting out to the theatre this summer! And bring a colleague for post-theatre discussion!

  • Bard on the Beach will be showing The Merchant of Venice this year, and, even better, showing Shylock for a short run at the end of the season. Most people know something about The Merchant of Venice, and it certainly offers lots of familial and commercial dispute, a discussion of the interrelationship between law and mercy, and a great deal to discuss in terms of anti-Semitism and, by extension, other forms of bias. Shylock is a play that is often performed in combination with The Merchant of Venice because it explicitly examines the challenges of performing a text that cannot be separated from the prejudices of its times. It is well worth watching both!
  • In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). I haven’t seen this yet, but its nomination for a Tony in 2010 bodes well. I’m anticipating that this one will offer a study in cognitive dissonance as its characters struggle to recognize the possibility of mistaken assumptions underlying culturally accepted “truths”. The fact that it involves a marital relationship increases the likelihood of it offering a window into a familiar interpersonal conflict.

 

 

 

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September 4, 2016

Game Jam 2 produces Zombie Fight or Flight

It’s been just over two months since CoRe Jolts’ second Game Jam took place in Tsawwassen, and it’s well past time to report on the exciting developments coming out the event!

Sludge (#WorkingTitle)

Sludge (#WorkingTitle)

We had a fantastic group of mediators, lawyers, and students (including both experienced and inexperienced gamers) assembled for three days of creativity! Like Game Jam 1, the group arrived with many different ideas and objectives: the one common theme was that we all wanted to develop a collaborative game.  Over the course of the weekend, two different games emerged – a very complex game which we called “Sludge (#WorkingTitle)” and a fast-moving card game called “Zombie Fight or Flight”.  Both games had fans within our group, but “Zombie Fight or Flight” fit nicely with plans two of us had to develop training tools and so received a bit more attention over the course of the weekend.  As a result, Zombie Fight or Flight will be the first game created in a CoRe Jolts Game Jam to be developed for sale!

Zombie Fight or Flight cardback: Art by Tuna.

Zombie Fight or Flight cardback: Art by Tuna.

Zombie Fight or Flight

The zombie theme arose because Emily Martin and I were thinking ahead to specific training applications, notably a CLEBC course we are preparing for October 31st – Negotiation Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse. Even as the game developed though, it was apparent that the basic mechanics could be adapted easily to other scenarios: Pirate Fight or Flight, Space Aliens Fight or Flight, or even Forest Animals Fight or Flight.  In fact, we also tested a wide range of variations intended to make the game more or less challenging depending on age, gaming experience, etc. and began preliminary work on an expansion pack to keep the game interesting over multiple plays.  Those of us who stayed overnight also took the opportunity on the Saturday night to create alternative drinking game rules: Drunken Zombie Fight or Flight.

Sunday afternoon was spent in a discussion of how to carry the game forward, and resulted in the formation of “Pig & Potato Games” as the entity that will market the game.  In the last two months, we hired an artist (Rachel Petrovicz) who has just completed designing the cards; identified a printer and will be printing prototype decks in the next few weeks; and sketched out plans for a Kickstarter to launch the game.  All of these tasks have been learning tasks for our team, and have resulted in a continuation of the creative energy of the Game Jam – we are all still stimulating new thoughts and ideas as we advance the plan to fully realize the game!

We are on track to launch our Kickstarter in late October – in time for Halloween – so watch for news about the game and opportunities to play it. We’re planning several game nights for collaborative professionals as we explore the options the game offers for collaborative training, and even for possible use in specific types of mediations.

Interested in joining us next year?

After two incredibly fun and successful Game Jams, we know we want to have another one! The creative energy stimulated within the event, and flowing afterwards, is an amazing boost for any project -whether or not it leads to development of a fully formed game. The fact that Zombie Fight or Flight has emerged from this past game jam, and that we are learning new skills and gaining knowledge about game development, only makes the idea more exciting!  We are trying to find a date for the next Game Jam that will accommodate as many of our returning Game Jammers as possible, while also welcoming new folks to bring new ideas! We anticipate holding Game Jam 3 in Tsawwassen in spring 2017. Let us know if you hope to attend: we’ll send out periodic notices as we plan, and will canvass everyone on the mailing list for availability as we choose dates.  To be added to the mailing list, email a request to zombieforf@gmail.com.

 

 

 

March 19, 2016

2nd Collaborative Game Jam – June 17-19, 2016!

Version 2CoRe Jolts is excited to be hosting the second Bi-Annual Collaborative Game Jam  aimed at the creation of collaborative tabletop games on June 17th-19th, 2016 in Tsawwassen!

We are gathering a group of individuals interested in getting together to form teams and create collaborative games! We will form teams based on shared objectives for the games.  One group might choose to create a short game that can be played during a mediation to refocus participants on problem solving approaches.  Another group might choose to develop a game that allows all members of a family – no matter what age – to participate equally in group decision-making. Or perhaps a few individuals will choose to create a game that requires different forms of communication for a group to successfully manage a task.  The possibilities are only limited by the imaginations of the participants!

Island teamGame JamAt our first Game Jam, participants came from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and interests in collaboration: mediators (in commercial, child protection, labour, family and civil practices), tax lawyers, teachers, university administrators, and students in fine arts, digital games, engineering and law.   The broad range of backgrounds (and game experience) led to fascinating discussions about what sorts of games we’d like to create and why.

In the end, we produced two very different games:  Eruption and Soul Jumpers/Hotel California/Macabre Mansion (name yet to be finalized).

The Eruption team developed a complex negotiation game that required individuals to develop multiple alliances to manage an entire society. The Eruption team seemed to have a great deal of fun with the entire concept, but perhaps this short excerpt of the team explaining the rules about “breeding” amongst families captures the spirit of their game.

The Soul Jumpers group focused on creating a game that could not give rise to the dreaded “Alpha Player”! By limiting the exchange of information, no one player was able to dominate decision-making by asserting greater gaming knowledge.  In the following video clip, Bob Wilson shares the background story for Soul Jumpers.

 

Ben Ziegler was a member of the Soul Jumpers creation team and he provided a great description of the event on his blog, Collaborative Journeys.

If you’d like to try out some commercially available collaborative games in advance of the Game Jam, check out the list Emily Martin and I collected for a CoRe Speaker Series event last fall.

You don’t need to be some combination of mediator/gamer/designer to join us.  If you think it would be fun to develop a game like this, and you can commit the time to work with your team, then you are welcome. There is no fee to attend, but we will collect $50 from each participant to contribute to the costs of refreshments, lunches on Saturday and Sunday, and game materials.

If you’d like to join us, check out additional details at https://corejolts.wordpress.com/game-jam/ or email us at coreclinic1@gmail.com. Register here.

You can read more of my observations about collaborative games here!  And check out Emily’s and my presentation for CoRe here.

January 17, 2016

Active listening skills for phone sex operators and other lessons from the theatre

“The cross pollination of disciplines is fundamental to truly revolutionary advances in our culture.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

This year our youngest daughter turned 19 and we are now parents of three adults.  They are all at university so it’s not as though all of our responsibilities have ended, but …  We are definitely free to make plans on our own in a way that hasn’t been possible since the eldest two (twins) were born.  It is possible that this freedom has gone to my head – just a bit.  As a former theatre student who attended plays very frequently in my pre-parent days, I upped our theatre-going dramatically this year in response to the excitement of that freedom!  We moved from season subscriptions at two theatres, to a year in which we saw close to an average of one play a week (an average which is skewed by seeing 30 plays in 10 days at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.)

Now theatre, by its very nature, tends to focus on conflict.  Critics since Aristotle have explored the ways in which plays develop around central conflicts; while playwrighting courses teach that nothing kills the entertainment value of a show quicker than characters agreeing about everything!  As a consequence, plays tend to lend themselves to examination through a conflict resolution lens: What is the source of the conflict? How do the characters negotiate? What might a conflict resolution professional take away from the interaction?

While I tend to view most popular culture through a conflict resolution lens – if only to identify great examples for teaching purposes – I realized this year that I have underutilized plays as options for engaged discussions with fellow conflict resolution professionals.  The realization hit me after I watched Tonya Jone Miller’s amazing performance in The Story of O’s at the Vancouver Fringe.  I’ll write more about the play below, but the play and her performance reminded me vividly of how interconnected some of the skills she was displaying are with conflict resolution practice.  As a result, I was inspired to come up with a list of the top plays for conflict resolution professionals that I saw in 2015 – with the hope that others will join me in discussions of even more such plays in 2016.  (To that end, I’ll be organizing a CoRe Speaker event in September specifically focused around plays seen at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Details to be announced on the CoRe site once the Fringe schedule is announced.)

Jolts for Mediators

My top four plays for conflict resolution practitioners in 2015 were:

1. Tonya Jone Miller’s A Story of O’s

a_story_of_osI didn’t go to A Story of O’s with an expectation of insight into my own profession.  The program description in the Fringe guide told me little beyond the fact that the play was a monologue about sex phone work based on the performer’s real life experiences. It sounded like something that could be entertaining or dreadful; but it was only 60 minutes long so worth the risk given it fit the rest of my schedule for the night.

Instead of my best case – entertaining – the show was sensational! And much of what impressed me was directly related to Tonya’s demonstration of incredible skills in active listening, spontaneity, trust building (with the audience and with her phone sex clients) and empathy without judgment.  The majority of the show was scripted, but one could readily extrapolate, from the snippets of calls that Tonya performed, just how attentively she was listening to each client and continuously checking her understanding of their interests.  That she was so explicitly concerned with finding empathy without judgment with each caller resonated with me: as mediators we all occasionally struggle with a tendency to judge a party’s approach to negotiation, their behaviour leading up to the conflict or within the conflict, or even their objectives for resolution. Tonya demonstrated an empathy that many conflict resolution professionals must work to achieve.

The show also contained a truly brilliant snippet of improvised monologue based upon audience suggestions for a “weird” desire.  In that segment, of course, we witnessed Tonya’s amazing skills in spontaneity, listening and awareness of audience cues, “accepting offers” (in the sense of “yes, and-ing…” ideas and contributions from others in order to build on their ideas rather than rebut them), and storytelling.  I’d hire Tonya as a mediator based purely on that performance!

If you have an opportunity to see the show – or anything else she creates – you should! And then let me know: I really need someone else with a conflict resolution lens to discuss the show with!

2. A Simple Space

This production by the Australian acrobatics ensemble Gravity and Other Myths inspired me to think about conflict resolution themes in entirely different ways.  The troupe of 7 highly skilled acrobats mix games in which they compete against each other to “win” such challenges as most standing back flips in a row with incredibly challenging “team competitions” in which they carry out incredible acrobatic feats that rely on perfect collaboration amongst all members of the troupe to keep everyone safe and in which they all “win” if they pull it off (even if one or another member might have a “starring role” from time to time).

As a whole, the show is a brilliant display of teamwork at its best and most functional, and ways in which competition can be enervating and push teams working together to higher levels of achievement.  Check out the video below for a flavour of their performance – then imagine yourself seated right on stage as they perform only a few feet away!

3. Cock by Mike Bartlett

Cock_video-01-500x155cockfightCock won an Outstanding Achievement Award in the 2010 Oliviers, so there will certainly be opportunities to see it performed by different companies in different cities.  On a simple, structural level, the play showcases interpersonal and relational conflicts in a rapidly changing series of short scenes.  John is torn between a return to a long term relationship with his boyfriend, M, and a new relationship with a woman, W. Staged without props in a circle intended to evoke a cock fighting ring, the play shows moves from one confrontation between characters to another: first John and M engage in a series of difficult conversations, then John and W circle each other in similar discontent.  Eventually we see the combination of John, M and W, only to have John’s father, F, added to the mix.  The production staged by Rumble Theatre in Vancouver maintained the sense of short engagements in a longer (cock) fight as the characters pick at each other in familiar patterns of verbal conflict.  Each scene offers examples of all the ways that speech and body language can exacerbate conflict.  John’s personal conflict drives the play, but the interactions of the characters in snippets of negative discussions offers the conflict resolution professional a complete study in conflict behaviours.

4. Nirbhaya

nirbhaya_1Nirbhaya is a powerful interweaving of women’s stories of sexual violence and abuse. The stories are woven around the central tale of Nirbhaya who died following a horrific gang-rape on a Delhi bus in 2012. (The name Nirbhaya, meaning “fearless”, was used to identify Jhoti Singh Pandey before her name was known.)  The stories invite the audience to acknowledge the existence of sexual oppression and abuse, and the consequences – to individuals, families, and societies – of the resilience of such cultures. The topic of culture in conflict studies is an extraordinarily broad one: plays like Nirbhaya help us to engage in discussions of such difficult and complex topic through the lens of individual narratives, opening up discussions and increasing understanding.

Honourable mentions?

If you are looking for plays that lend themselves to a conflict resolution discussion, then I’d also recommend:

  • The New Conformity – a narrative about social and peer pressures to conform performed entirely through juggling.
  • Small Town Hoser Spic – Pedro Chamale’s one-man contemplation on growing up Hispanic in a small town in northern BC.
  • 52 Pick-Up – This story of a couple’s first meeting through dissolution of their relationship is told in the order in which 52 playing cards are picked up by the actors. Never the same, every performance offers new insights and connections.

And What to Watch for this Year?

I’ve made a few theatre-going choices for early 2016 with the intention of seeking out conflict resolution themes.  If you’re interested in joining me in the endeavour, consider checking out:

January 27, 2014

Plans for 2014

bmanscientistlab“I have always been more interested in experiment, than in accomplishment.” Orson Welles

2014 looks to be a very exciting year around my house.  Professionally, I’m poised to make a big change in order to tackle some long contemplated goals.  I will be leaving UBC Faculty of Law after 14-1/2 years in June 2014, and am looking forward both to the next 5 months of transition time which will allow me to complete some long term projects and to the 6 months of new projects that will follow.  In personal terms, the year might best be characterized simply by saying that all three of my daughters will be travelling to their own new adventures in the far corners of the world (Poland, Ghana and Philadelphia!).  And with my own transition happening at just the right time …  I may just get the chance to visit them there.

CoRe Jolts will be receiving a few jolts from a few projects connected to my transition plans, so you can expect:

  • Posts that reflect the work I am doing with Carrie Gallant at CreativityZone,
  • Development of Impasse Breaking Cards, and
  • A Game Jam!

Join me in any or all of these projects!

Blog posts – MBTI series

In late November, Carrie Gallant and I led a workshop on advanced applications of the MBTI to conflict resolution.  We focused on understanding possible uses of the Step II instrument for conflict resolution practitioners, and on exploring “Jungian functions” in more detail than one normally can in an introductory workshop.  In respect of the latter topic, we specifically looked at the different ways that we collect data and the different ways that we make decisions.  The discussion led me to spend some time over the vacation generating ideas for impasse breaking based entirely in each of these eight functions (e.g. I began with a list of impasse breaking ideas that reflect Extraverted Sensing, then generated a list of tools that reflect Introverted Sensing, etc.).  I plan to share these ideas in two ways: I will blog about each of the eight Jungian functions and ideas derived from an understanding of that function, and I will incorporate many more of the ideas into the first set of impasse breaking cards for the project immediately below.

Impasse Breaking Cards

I have been intending to collect impasse breaking ideas into cards specifically designed for use in mediation, and this is the year I intend to create that deck.  In fact, I have given myself a deadline of March 29th for completion of a prototype because I have committed to present the deck at the NWDR Conference in Seattle!  You can see more details about this project on the Impasse Cards page.  Check out the focus group sessions there and consider joining me in any of the testing sessions in the next two months.

Game Jam

I wrote about my interest in collaborative board games last summer.  And now I’m planning to hold a Game Jam for Collaborative Professionals in order to bring together like-minded, but differently skilled, folks to create more collaborative games.  I’ve set aside May 9th-11th for the event.  If you’re interested in a weekend of fun and creation, save the date!  And let me know that you’d like to attend.

horse_signJolt for Mediators and Mediations:

Since this is a planning-for-the-year post, I’ve decided to offer a New Year’s jolt despite the date.  (I will note that while my planning may have been triggered by the start of 2014, the post comes just before Chinese New Year, so still might pass as timely…)

#3Words Exercise

You may be familiar with the Three Words Concept.  Chris Brogan and C.C. Chapman have each contributed to the idea of coming up with three words as a focus for the new year, as opposed to resolutions.  It was Jason Dykstra’s 2014 post, however, that inspired me to finally take a stab at choosing and blogging about my own words.  I admit, I was particularly taken by Jason’s creativity in applying his words, as opposed to the words themselves.  His approach reminded me of exercises in the use of symbolism or combinational creativity to shake up one’s thinking.  Jason’s word descriptions made it easy to imagine using this exercise as a jolt for mediators and as a jolt for mediation.

For Mediators:

The #3Words exercise can be a jolt for mediators or other dispute resolution professionals in the same way that it is intended to be a New Year’s jolt for anyone looking to shift gears.  Wanting to improve your practice?  Use the #3Words technique for self-reflection to guide your progress.  You might focus on aspects of your work that you struggle with and wish to improve (e.g. self-reflection, listening, silence, etc.) or you might focus on business development and kickstarting an exploration of a new practice area (e.g. connect, system, leap, etc.)

And, of course, there’s no reason you can only think of focus words for the year.  Why not consider focus words for a single mediation?  If you’ve come from a difficult mediation, you’re probably already reflecting to some degree on whether there was something you might have done differently.  Or you’ve co-mediated with someone and observed an entirely different approach that you’d like to add to your toolbox.  And for that matter, what about those mediations where everything seems to happen without any effort on your part: are there aspects of those mediations that you want to carry forward into your next session? Why not think about three words immediately following one mediation that will be points of focus for your next mediation?

For Mediations:

Alternatively, in a mediation (and perhaps in a strategic planning session or when dealmaking), consider a #3Words list as a means of focusing parties on joint goals.  We often assist parties to generate lists of interests or criteria for settlement; why not consider instead a list of three words to guide the discussion, or three words that reflect for an individual party her goals for settlement or his hopes for the future, or three words that capture the type of process that parties wish to pursue in their discussions?  Such exercises might well assist parties to shift gears into a more reflective and problem-solving discussion, and might be easier to launch than a discussion of individual interests where parties are especially distrustful or uncomfortable with speaking directly about their own wishes.

My 3 Words for 2014

It seems appropriate to share my own three words for the year:  Experiment, Delve and Concatenate.  And yes, they are all verbs even if I had to force one of them to be.  For me, 2014 involves doing, so my words are doing words.

  • Experiment

I am not typically shy to experiment, so may not need this word to remind me to do so.  I have chosen it instead to reinforce that experimenting is a positive aspect of my current work life that I want to retain.  I may have to be more creative in developing opportunities to truly experiment outside of the academic world.

Clearly this will be a year to explore, and my list should include a word to recognize that fact.  But explore doesn’t resonate the way delve does.  Delve requires more digging, more extended effort.  I’ll be delving.

  • Concatenate

Much more commonly seen in the form “concatenation”, concatenate really is a verb – just one that doesn’t get much play.  But I love the notion of combining that it evokes.  My professional life has always concatenated a series of ideas, experiments, and explorations, and I am excited to continue concatenating this year!

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