Archive for ‘Pattern Interrupts’

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!

October 27, 2013

Oh no, please don’t!

“The worst thing that you could do right now is beatbox.”

– The Doubleclicks

stalemateTwo weeks ago I had the pleasure of co-faciliating a workshop on Advanced Impasse-Breaking Tools with long time colleague and collaborator Carrie Gallant.  It was a great chance to reflect on the applicability of ideas across varied contexts since we had a fabulous assortment of participants ranging from collaborative divorce practitioners through corporate tax specialists with lots of variation in between.  What was particularly inspiring to me during the session was hearing the participants readily extrapolate ideas that emerged in one practice area to their own contexts.  What seemed to facilitate these connections was the process of making explicit the intention behind any process choice.  For example, rather than thinking to myself that I should caucus because the parties seem to be reaching a sticking point around making an offer (and that’s what has worked in the same situation with other parties), I can be more responsive to the specific people in front of me if I instead think “Hmmm…  There’s a pattern of resisting that I could interrupt in a variety of ways, including caucusing.  Some of those might have additional benefits, so which one seems best suited to the here and now?”

One topic that generated more discussion during the workshop than Carrie and I had expected was the notion of negative brainstorming – brainstorming what doesn’t work in order to create criteria for what might.  Given the interest from the group in various ways of harnessing negative energy and reactive interpersonal behaviours in seeking resolutions, I decided to post about some ways in which “what not to do?” can be a helpful question.

Jolts for Mediation

1. “What won’t work?” or Capitalizing on the “Listening to Rebut” pattern

Debate2When parties are locked into a pattern of listening to rebut (a useful phrase that John R. Van Winkle uses in Mediation: a path back for the lost lawyer, p. 83), they are not likely to be able to brainstorm ideas jointly.  Rather than reserving judgment, each idea offered will meet with critique and discussion of why it doesn’t work, or silence if the rebuttal impulse is squelched.  The pattern of rebuttal is a strong one in our adversarial culture, and can frustrate attempts at joint problem-solving unless one chooses to make intentional use of the pattern.  Essentially, the mediator, recognizing the pattern of rebuttal, changes the question from “what would resolve the issues?” to “what won’t work to resolve the issues?”  The latter question often generates a fairly energetic list of negatives (e.g. It can’t work if we have to see each other!).  That list, however, can be a great tool for generating criteria necessary for resolution.  (e.g. Any solution will need to minimize or eliminate direct contact.)  Once parties engage with the process of developing criteria from this list of negatives, they are on their way to a solution-oriented discussion, and the mediator can assist the parties to pull criteria and/or interests directly from the negative list.  Working with a white board or other visual aid to generate and translate the list has the added advantage of being a second form of pattern interrupt – it moves parties’ visual focus to the mediator and the lists, disrupting the physical pattern as well as the verbal one.

It’s interesting to note that for participants who work in areas that might be described as dealmaking rather than dispute resolution, this technique struck a different chord.  As one tax practitioner explained it, in his world it is common to describe the perceived barriers to a course of action in order to test whether they are true barriers or simply untested assumptions.  By engaging in a process of examining whether or not the assumed roadblock is a true impediment to the deal, the parties may both discover a more creative approach than if they simply accepted the barrier as absolute.  For that reason, articulating barriers can be a useful exercise where parties are in agreement about what they want to achieve, but are assuming that they can’t get there – or can only get there in one way that isn’t ideal for some reason.

2. Life Goals Analysis

While preparing this post, I was also planning a future workshop on reality checking and hence re-reading (inter alia) John Wade’s 2001 paper on Systematic Risk Analysis.  With musings on negative brainstorming in mind, I read Professor Wade’s discussion of “Life Goals Analysis” a bit differently than I have in the past and realized that the approach he espouses is an interesting variation on the idea of shifting a list of barriers into a list of positive criteria.  In suitable situations, Professor Wade suggests creating a short “life goals” list with a client as a means of emphasizing positive gains rather than dwelling on a negative list of risks.  Where a typical risk analysis approach to client counselling or business decision-making might list the risks if conflict continues, the life goals analysis focuses on the aspects of resolution that might help a client meet broader life goals.  The chart below is clipped from page 21 of Professor Wade’s paper and shows a few examples of how risk analysis might be converted to life goals.

Wade life goals

Professor Wade flags the possible psychological benefit of reframing to positives, noting:

“This switch may find some justification from several psychological studies which suggest that most (not all) people are “risk averse”.  Therefore, any list should express positively what has already been gained by the current offer, not how far the current offer is short of a ‘target’ or perceived ‘entitlement'”.

3. The “I Hate Beatboxing” Jolt

The quotation that heads this blog post is drawn from a song by one of my favourite bands, The Doubleclicks.  As you’ll see if you watch the video embedded below, the song captures the sense of “what not to do” in social situations with awkward pauses, and escalates the question by framing it as “the worst thing that you could do right now” as opposed to just what doesn’t work.  In The Doubleclicks world, “the worst thing you could do right now is beatbox,” but in a mediation, there are definitely worse options.  What happens if you ask the parties – perhaps in caucus – “what’s the worst thing we could do right now?” If you start the list with beatboxing or jumping up and down and squawking like a seagull, then you might at least generate a list that helps break the mood.  You’ll likely also get some ideas that focus on real process choices and that can be used to draw out reasons why the current process is not working as well as it could.  (E.g. Even “the worst thing we could do right now is keep going the way we’re going!” allows for the possibility of a discussion of what needs to change in the process.)

Personally, I can see playing the song itself in a facilitation or classroom setting where things are going awry for some reason and asking “what’s the worst thing we could do right now?”  Just as generating negative criteria can be a method of developing ideas for how to resolve a content problem, generating ideas of worst process choices (or behaviours) can form the basis for jointly exploring new process choices.

Carrie and I have another workshop coming up on November 19th on MBTI Types and Conflict Resolution. The session will be particularly focused on the application of the MBTI Step II tool and will be of interest to anyone interested in type and conflict.  You can see a sample of my thoughts about the Step I tool and conflict on this site.  The session supports the CoRe Conflict Resolution Society and offers 3.5 hours of CPD credits.  For more information, check out our website.  


May 17, 2013

Board Games for Mediators

“Don’t be a d**k.” – Wil Wheaton

Who gets pneumonia suddenly just as the weather turns warm and a period of relative calm appears in both work and family schedules?  Apparently, that’s me. I’ve just spent two weeks laid up with pneumonia!  Still not recovered, but sitting up and taking the opportunity to share my (possibly) fever-induced insights…  For much of the past weeks, I have been too weary for much reading, and restricted in television watching by a promise not to get ahead of my husband on anything I’d really like to watch.  Netflix was misfiring on our device and wearing down my patience, so Youtube it has been – and a bizarre marathon of TableTop with Wil Wheaton.  For those readers unfamiliar with TableTop, the show is remarkably simple in concept: Wil Wheaton (now primarily an internet celebrity, but for older folks often better known as young Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation)  plays tabletop games with his friends (usually other internet and television actors, producers, writers, etc.) and introduces viewers to a wide range of cool games in the process.

No doubt occurring to me as a rationalization for my odd compulsion to watch every TableTop episode in order, I started thinking early on about the potential value of the various tabletop games played on the show for conflict resolution purposes.  And lo and behold, there really are quite a few that lend themselves to such consideration!  I’m going to concentrate here on two games that illustrate two different categories of possible interest to mediators:  Dixit – a game about understanding indirect communication (through a wide range of skills); and Pandemic – one of many collaborative games that require teamwork and joint problem solving to have any chance of winning.  There are many other examples of each of these categories of games, of course, but these two happen to have been featured on TableTop which allows me to link to a more detailed explanation – and they’re really fun!

Jolts for Mediators (and possibly for Mediation?)

dixit-odyssey-8n7jgji1. Dixit

Dixit is an award-winning European card game that I’d never heard of before my TableTop marathon.  It’s remarkably simple in concept. Each player starts with 6 cards with artistic images on them.  Players take turns being the Storyteller.  The player who is the Storyteller chooses a card from her hand and lays it down on the table face down, giving a short descriptive phrase that might allow others to identify the card.  Everyone else also lays down a card  – one that they think is most likely to fool other players into thinking it was the Storyteller’s card.  The cards are shuffled, turned face up, and each player places their bet as to which card was the Storyteller’s. The Storyteller scores points only if at least one player, but not all, chooses her card.  Others score by choosing the right card and by having votes on the card they played.

dixit_cardsIIHere’s a simple example:  Suppose the Storyteller played the second card in this set (the books) and gave the description “From above”.  Players might well choose photo 1, 3 or 5 instead – depending on how they understand the description.  So in essence, success in the game relies on the following skills:

  • Reading any clues from the Storyteller’s tone and body language
  • Interpreting the clue through the lens of the Storyteller (which means really listening to the clues a person gives from one round to the next and developing a sense of how they interpret visual images)
  • Fooling other players by selecting cards that you believe they will see as matching the description (which means, again, understanding the lenses that others bring to the game and speaking to their worldviews rather than automatically and unconsciously choosing according to your own)
  • As Storyteller, communicating to some, but not all of the people in the room (by utilizing clues that one or two people will recognize, but that you think at least one other will not).

It seems to me that each of these skills are closely connected with strong mediation skills, particularly the need to recognize and speak to different worldviews and backgrounds, and to do so consciously and with awareness.  One could certainly play the game without doing so, and I am sure that many players do approach it fairly unstrategically, but what a great warm-up/practice of conscious skill development when one is deliberately focused on that aspect of the game!

I can imagine utilizing the game as a pattern interrupt in a conflict resolution skills training workshop.  Allowing the participants to debrief the skills utilized and to practice them consciously could provide a great reinforcement of discussions of varied lenses, cultural differences, etc. while changing the rhythm should students reach a point of low energy or discouragement with the speed of their skill development.

The game is so simple that I suspect that in the right setting one could play a single hand (or a couple of hands) in an actual mediation to introduce a discussion of communication challenges.  Again, a pattern interrupt aimed at stimulating reflection on and discussion of the process as opposed to the content of the mediation.  Most tools that effectively shift parties to a discussion of process can be effective in breaking impasses based on positional posturing, and I suspect that Dixit could too.

If you’d like to watch the TableTop episode on Dixit, here it is.  Watch Casey McKinnon’s play, in particular, for a great example of explicit strategizing about clues that will communicate with one but not all players.

Pandemic2. Pandemic

This one is a bit “on the nose” for my current bout of pneumonia, but my daughters have kindly indulged me by letting me play multiple rounds with the intention of eradicating pneumonia (and three other diseases) from existence!

Pandemic is one of a wide range of collaborative board games.  Players are trying to wipe out 4 diseases that spread quickly throughout the world.  Each player has a different character who has different abilities.  Only by working together, and strategizing carefully do players have the slightest chance of winning the game and curing all 4 diseases.  There are three ways to lose the game, and only one to win.  Very difficult to win even at the simplest level of play with only 4 epidemic cards in the deck, and almost impossible at the highest levels!  But oh so much fun!

I love Pandemic because I love the way it brings people together to focus on problem-solving.  It very quickly feels like that moment in a mediation when everyone transitions from positional gamesmanship to solution-oriented communication. Gaming scholar, Carly A. Korucek, captures much of my reaction to Pandemic in her description of playing the game for the first time and her thinking about the culturally celebrated model of competition in games of all sorts.  Here’s a fairly lengthy quote from her blog, Casual Scholarship, that provides a gaming scholar’s insight into collaborative gaming:

I was impressed by Pandemic. Sure, it was fun, but I was more impressed by the effect it had on those of us playing. We weren’t just sort of working together, we were painstakingly thinking through the ramifications of every possible move for every player. At some points, we plotted out series of actions involving 3 or 4 players’ turns. We were sucked in. When we — all of us — lost, there was swearing and shouts of disappointment.

The point I want to suggest here is that playing collaborative games can be a very different experience than playing, well, most other games, which pit players against each other, either individually or in groups. In the realm of boardgames, games like checkers, Clue, Sorry, and other household names encourage players to compete directly with each other. This model is so established that when I ask people if they can think of any collaborative games, they often draw a blank.  …

In writing about the history of competitive video gaming, I have been thinking a lot about  models of play that aren’t based on competition among players, not because they are prevalent, but specifically because they are obscure. The fetishization of individualized competition in much of gaming shouldn’t be seen as either natural or neutral. Our investment and interest in the successes of individual gamers is part of a system that broadly values individual achievements and may, even in the case of corporate- or team-based achievements, give credit for success to individual actors rather than the collective involved.

Professor Korucek makes an important point when she notes that individual competition is neither natural nor neutral.  Competition is a value embedded so deeply in our culture that we don’t even question it.  We celebrate the most competitive individuals and strive to instil competitive drive in our youth, even while suggesting that we should all cooperate.  To quote a favourite song from Todd Snider, Ballad of the Kingsmen:

…First grade where they teach the kid pride
They tell him he’ll need to thrive,
In a world where only the strong will survive,
So he’s taught the art of more
To compare to and to keep score Monday thru Friday while
He stares at the floor til’ Sunday they make him go to
School once more only this time they make him wear a suit and a tie
And listen to some guy who claims to know Where people go
When they die tell him that only the meek are gonna inherit the earth…

In this context of unexamined competitive values, collaborative games like Pandemic are important in that they are every bit as fun as any competitive game you can name, and they reward wholly different values than games based on individual victory – the values that underlie all collaborative decision-making processes.  Of course, cooperative games were an education buzzword when I was a teenager, and they have been part of many children’s programs at least since then.  But, as Professor Korucek comments regarding video gaming, competition has remained the norm in much the same way that competitive bargaining remains the expectation when people sit down to negotiate.  The challenges that so many in the justice field have written about in shifting dispute resolution culture (and perhaps especially legal dispute resolution culture) to create space for collaborative approaches are the same challenges that any game designer faces in creating a collaborative game – we have unconsciously adopted competitive values from virtually all aspects of our culture and assume that competition is a universal norm, making collaboration risky.  This normalizing of competition has led us to simply not think of games as being collaborative unless they are didactic and offered in school to teach young children about cooperation.   Well, happily that is changing and games like Pandemic may just be a little wedge in the dominant culture of competition.

Pandemicg01t04How to introduce Pandemic to mediators, and maybe even sneak it into a team-building setting or other collaborative process?  Try playing Pandemic at a mediators’ retreat, or (and I would love to be invited!) at a monthly mediators’ gaming evening.  And introduce it to your families and friends to spread the word about collaborative gaming.  And yes, perhaps in the right setting, you could even use the game in a long term facilitation.  I’m thinking here of longer term work with families who need to learn (or re-learn) how to work together and might need to include pre-teens and teens in that process.  Playing a game might be a “homework” assignment to help the family prepare for a joint problem solving session.  Or similarly imagine the game used as part of work with family members planning around a loved one’s illness.  I found it remarkably therapeutic to name the red disease ‘pneumonia’ and set our to eradicate it as quickly as possible; others might find similar moments of unexpected lightness in bringing caregivers and family members together to defeat cancer or dementia.  (I think of dementia, in particular, as I look forward to Don Desonier’s upcoming CoRe Talk about working with families planning around dementia, but any illness might be equally appropriate). Likewise, workplace retreats and workshops aimed at building teamwork and increasing collaborative problem solving could be an appropriate situation for a game of Pandemic.  In many such events, games of one form or another are already normalized as part of team building.  I know I’ve attended a number of firm/faculty/workplace social events that involved competitive games. Doesn’t building an event around a game in which the whole team wins or loses more closely match the real workplace ideal of competing together than pitting half the group against the other half?

Here’s the TableTop episode on Pandemic.

And to circle back ever so briefly to the potentially obscure quote that led off this discussion, one of Wil Wheaton’s further contributions to the betterment of the world (beyond providing inspiration for collaborative gaming and mediation skills training) is the naming of July 29th (his birthday) as Don’t Be a D**k Day.  Simple message, but definitely one that will resonate with many mediators.  Personally, I plan to schedule mediations on July 29th whenever I can simply so I can declare at the outset that it’s Don’t Be a D**k Day and that the main ground rule for collaborative problem solving is just that simple.

February 6, 2013

“Apps” for Mediation

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London

Mediation Apps

My mediation apps folder

This post is for everyone with an unused iTunes gift card lying around or for mediators wanting to dabble in new technology.  (Ben Ziegler and I have been exchanging preliminary thoughts about a session we will be presenting at the Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference on “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” in mediation, so this post is definitely partly inspired by those exchanges. Technology can certainly act as “jolt” – perhaps all the more so for the digital immigrant.)

And okay, mediation apps for impasse breaking may not quite be going “after it with a club” as the quote above suggests, but …  I get the impression from several friends that pulling out a smart phone or a tablet during a mediation may seem just as counter-intuitive at first blush as Jack London’s assertion that inspiration might come best to those actively chasing it.  Sometimes, however, a little technological jolt is just what it takes to kickstart a discussion, provide a tool for reflection, or settle a minor distributive dispute.

I’m an iPhone and iPad user, so my list of favourite mediation apps is decidedly “iCentric”.  It looks like a fairly high percentage of the apps are available for other operating systems – or there is a very comparable (if untested by me) app that might well serve the same purpose.

I’m hopeful that others will add their favourite apps to the list I’ve created below!

Jolts for Mediation and Mediators

I’m framing the following list of apps as jolts for mediation – in that many are recommended specifically as a tool for breaking impasse in the mediation room – but also as a jolt for mediators.  I know of a few mediators using apps in their work, but most of the folks I’ve spoken to are surprised by the very idea.  Hopefully this list will provide a jolt for a few mediators simply to consider the many different ways that apps might be of use in a mediation.

1. Tie-breaker apps

You quite like the idea of offering parties the option to roll dice to break a small deadlock – typically some final item like court filing fees that has suddenly come back to the parties’ attention when everything else is worked out satisfactorily.  But you can only carry so many things around with you from mediation to mediation, and dice didn’t make it into the mediation kit.  Never mind, you probably have your cell phone and lots of tiebreaker apps available!

  • Dice Roller offers just what you’d expect: the option to roll one, two or three dice.  You can also choose colour of dice and background.  Simple and convenient.  Try offering a dice roller when parties are stuck on that last, minor but still “a matter of principle” issue.  You may be surprised by how often the offer to resolve things this way is exactly what creates the space for a party to let go of her position and propose something new.  On at least a couple of occasions, I’ve been surprised by the complete turnaround that follows the suggestion to “roll for it”.   For example, I’ve seen the offer of a game of chance to settle things evoke a proposal that one tradesman take another to lunch instead of letting it get that silly.  Similarly, I’ve seen exchanges of concert tickets and even haircuts.  Of course, some people happily accept the dice roll, too.  In any event, the selection of decision-making process and the eventual outcome are still in the hands of the parties.
  • iChoose is a simple, free app for choices.  Use a coin toss, dice roll, card choice, random number, etc. to choose between two options (or positions, or parties).
  • Coin Flip is just what it sounds like – prettier images of the coins than iChoose, and you can switch the automatically loaded American coin to a Canadian one without needing to upgrade to the premium version.  Allows you to flip by tapping or flicking the screen upward (which is kind of fun).
  • rpslsRock/Paper/Scissors and Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock come in a wide variety of free and paid apps.  I don’t have a favourite RPS version, and it’s not quite the handy addition to the toolkit that a dice roller is since there’s only so much added surprise value from pulling out a phone to run the game rather than simply playing it “old school” – with the parties’ own hands.  RPSLS, on the other hand, is tricky to play because almost no one remembers the rules the first few times they hear them.  The game gained much attention when it was used to resolve disputes on The Big Bang Theory (though note it is credited to Sam Kass and Karen Bryla) so it’s not uncommon for people to have heard of it, but not mastered the rules.  Hence the app saves everyone the embarrassment of yet again forgetting that “Paper disproves Spock” and makes the game run smoothly.

2. Polling apps for larger groups

Playing with Clickers in law class settings has been so much fun over the last several years, that I knew I wanted to find something that allowed me to “poll the audience” in other large group settings. Happily, the app world has developed a wonderful range of such tools – many created for the classroom (to make use of students’ phones rather than requiring the purchase of a “clicker”).

My daughters and I played with eClicker during the holidays and I’m looking forward to testing the system out in my Mediation Clinic this term.  It requires everyone to have an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.  That does limit the range of situations in which it’s going to be handy, of course.  The presenter needs to load eClicker Presenter and others need to download eClicker Audience.  The presenter can enter a variety of question types (and can even include illustrations/photos in the question) and then deliver the question to groups of up to 32 (or 64 in some circumstances).  Responses are then collected as a “poll” result, which can be either a useful guide to what one needs to revisit or a decision-making tool for process choices.

Now it would be unusual for most mediators to be in situations where polling 32 parties might be useful, but imagine instead sending a few small groups out of joint session to discuss settlement options and polling them in their respective rooms.  A multi-party scenario like a leaky condo dispute, for instance, might have a significant number of defence counsel consulting with their clients and examining a particular offer.  One or more may be very circumspect about their own willingness to settle and holding back on discussions of specific numbers.  Rather than shuttling amongst parties and nudging all to share their settlement ideas with the mediator, there might well be value to polling everyone as a group on a specific proposal.  There might be potential to discover common ground or possible scope for settlement which could be followed up by discussion.  Why not just discuss first?  For some, the chance to reflect and then respond to an anonymous poll might simply be an easier, and more face-saving, way to shift one’s firmly stated position.

3. Creativity stimulators

whack packI’m not a fan of apps that simply provide you with the contents of a book.  If you want the book, then downloading/purchasing/borrowing the book seems simple enough.  But I do enjoy an app that takes book content in an entirely different direction and makes it into a useful tool in and of itself.  One good example I’ve found for mediation is Creative Whack Pack ($1.99).  I’ve used my Creative Whack Pack cards to choose a method for idea generation in mediations (and classrooms) for years now, so was thrilled to find the app is, if anything, even handier.

Creator Roger Von Oeck has created a collection of 84 “creativity strategies” divided into 5 “suits”: explorer, artist, judge, warrior, and Heraclitus.  Each card (which is also how they are referred to on the app) provides a story and questions to “whack” you into creative thought.  You can “draw” cards in a variety of ways:

  • Give Me A Whack offers a randomly drawn card
  • Card of the Day offers a new card each day
  • Do a Workshop offers the ability to “Ask the Oracle” which provides 4 randomly drawn cards or “Four-Suit Classic” which provides a card from each suit (except Heraclitus).
  • Choosing intentionally from the Card Index

I particularly like asking the oracle – in part because it’s simply fun to say “let’s ask the oracle,” but also because it’s a good stimulus to receive four random ideas about how to generate ideas and then try to figure out how any of them might apply to the issue at hand.  The process of jointly trying to apply the cards to the problem at hand is itself a tool for transitioning everyone into joint problem solving.  Parties and the mediator are challenged to thinking creatively about something that is not in dispute which frequently leads to creative problem solving about the issues that are in dispute.

There are simply too many other possibilities to cover here, ranging from Pro & Con apps, to mindmapping tools, to negotiation and litigation specific apps for calculating settlement values.  If you’re interested in testing some of them out, consider coming out to the CoRe Clinic’s Mediator’s Toolbox workshop on April 11th where one station will be devoted to the smartphone toolbox.  For details or to register, email

December 5, 2012

Impasse Breaking Gifts for Mediators

With gift lists for everyone from teachers and coaches to family pet and the newspaper delivery person filling the blogosphere this month, I am joining the crowd and focusing this post (and the next) on the question: What’s a great gift for a mediator?

The possibilities for great mediator gifts are endless, so I’ve narrowed my focus for this week to a top 10 list comprised of items that can serve the purpose of impasse breakers.  Next week, I’ll share my top 10 list of books for conflict resolution professionals and the following week, I’ll write about best impasse breaking apps for mediators.  And please add your own ideas!  My family will thank you.  (I’ve been using the Calvin risk analysis approach to Santa Claus for as long as I can remember.)

Top 10 Gifts for Mediators

10.  Mediator t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers

It’s been some time since I last searched for mediator paraphernalia – t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, etc. with catchy mediator logos – so I was pleasantly surprised to discover the growth of this area over the past few years.  I recall a time when I was lucky to be able to find “Mediators do it ’til everyone’s satisfied” bumper stickers to use as prizes in training courses.  While I can imagine some limited circumstances in which such a slogan could be appropriate in a real mediation to encourage folks to consider options rather than bunker down to spend hours more at the process (e.g. in a commercial mediation with experienced participants and no worrisome power imbalance), it’s inspiring to see so many more options out there now.

I hope that someone in my family considers the “Half Mediator, Half Ninja” button as a stocking stuffer.  It’s clearly designed to encourage settlement discussions!  And check out the rest of the options at  Aside from the ninja mediator slogan, I am confident that quite a few of the possibilities could trigger a good “pattern interrupt” in a mediation session.  “Trust me, I’m a mediator”, “Peace, Love, Mediation”, or “During the day, I dress up like a mediator” all offer a chance to lighten the mood and refocus.

9. Mediator socks for pattern interruption

Picking up from my thoughts on bright socks as pattern interruptions back in January 2011, I can’t resist suggesting great mediator socks as the ideal stocking stuffer.  The brightly coloured peace socks at left can be purchased online at Panda Sock Store. Other terrific sock options are available at Sock it to Me.  I’ll resist the ninja socks to go with my ninja pin, but consider the calfinated socks (at a great sale price!) as a statement about your endurance as a mediator.  Or the Super Pig socks as a retort to the inevitable “when pigs fly” stalemates. Or perhaps “SuperMediator” socks?  And do make sure that if you simply want to have tacky sweater socks as a seasonal conversation item that you order quickly.  This is the first year I’ve succeeded in getting my order in before they ran out!

Fantasy Island (David’s Tea)

8. Mediator teas

Tea has an incredibly long history – across numerous cultures – as a drink associated with ritual, social gatherings, work parties, etc.  The simple act of making and drinking tea together, then, can offer a break in a heated discussion and signify a positive commitment to resolving conflict.  Beyond its potential symbolic or ritual messaging, modern research supports the common perception of tea’s soothing quality.  Such herbal teas as lavender, chamomile, and passionflower have been recommended for years by herbalists for their calming qualities.  Ashwaghanda tea (traditionally used in ayurvedic medicine) has been shown to inhibit neural activity and to produce effects in rats comparable to those of the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam.  So, culturally and possibly even medicinally, tea makes sense as an item in the mediator’s toolbox.  I’d like to suggest a few forms of tea that might also contribute potential for interrupting an impasse.

More than a decade ago I stumbled upon a loose leaf tea blend called “Creativity” and stocked by Nikaido in Steveston.  Naturally, I had to bring home a bag, and I have served it in many a mediation since then – often in the afternoon of a day-long session when it’s helpful to be able to encourage/stimulate a bit more creativity.  Since then, I’ve watched for other teas that might serve the same sort of purpose and would suggest checking out some of the following:

7. Aromatherapy for the mediator’s mindset

Knowing that many people have serious sensitivities to scent, I would not suggest the use of aromatherapy in mediation – at least without confirming ahead of time that participants are comfortable with scent.  This does not, of course, include the common aromatherapy practice of situating mediations in environments where fresh baking is available and the scent induces a sense of comfort and provokes an appetite.  As many mediators have observed, people who break bread together are more inclined to engage in productive discussion. (See for example, Paula Young’s article.)

That said, the mediator’s mindset is an important factor in the process, and research suggests that essential oils may well contribute to a sense of calm that may carry over from the mediator to the parties.  With that in mind, perhaps the mediator who has everything would benefit from a Calm Essential Oil Blend of frankincense and orange?  Or Lavender bath salts?  Self-care is really part of the job, after all!

6. A personalized mediator playlist

Remember the romance of the mixtape?  Well, it may not involve all the work of making the perfect cassette, but the fact that the personalized playlist is easier to create has just led to its broader application: it’s so easy to create a digital playlist of highly specialized mixes (e.g. a mediation mix, or a mediator’s mood setting mix, or a topical mix about workplace disputes) that it’s not just the lovesick teenager who has time to create one.  What does your mediator like to listen to before a mediation?  Are there songs s/he might play in a mediation?

Here’s a few resources to kickstart your creativity:

And while this is by no means a mediator specific suggestion, consider giving Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield as a complimentary, and tangible, item.  A wonderful and deeply touching book that underlines the potential power of music to connect people.

5. Dice sets

Every so often in mediation a final sticking point arises over a relatively small issue, such as the filing fee in Small Claims Court after the entire $25,000 claim has been negotiated.  Often presenting as “a matter of principle” or a point where face saving becomes a primary motivation, these late impasses are more likely than most to be resolvable on the basis of a coin toss or dice throw: it’s not so much about who wins, but compromise is unacceptable.  In these situations, chance decision-making offers the necessary face saving opportunity.  And, of course, offering the parties dice to throw to settle the dispute over the last $100 is itself an impasse breaking technique – it requires parties to consider what exactly is at stake in this final impasse, and may well lead to an offer to split the final monetary roadblock in some fashion.  As a result, some form of dice are a handy addition to the mediator’s regular toolkit, and here are a few possibilities for good stocking stuffer varieties:

  • Decision Dice (an elaborate dice set with an accompanying book of readings)
  • Decision Dice Stress Balls (a fun possibility – customize a dice stress ball to reflect your mediator’s personal practice)
  • Gamers’ die  (Just as Sheldon uses D&D dice to reach conclusions on all unimportant matters in the clip below, gamers’ dice offer options for resolving just about any dispute.  Widely available and widely varied, they’re a fun option that also allow for the possibility of rolling for “ability scores” – e.g. player who rolls the highest “persuasion” or “charisma” points convinces the other).

And you can accessorize your gamers’ dice with a great chain mail dice pouch!

4. Mediation apps

A gift certificate to purchase smartphone apps will be well received as a mediator gift if you also provide a list of suggestions of “apps for mediators”.  I will publish a list of my favourite mediator apps in two weeks’ time (subscribe to this blog to receive an email when it comes out), but in the meantime, try a google search for negotiation apps or search negotiation, mediation, deal making, creativity, etc. in your App store and build your own list of suggestions.

3. Referee/Umpire equipment

I’ve spoken in other contexts about my inadvertent discovery that the use of “cards” in a mediation can be remarkably effective, and it is based upon that experience that I recommend referee equipment of many sorts as mediator gifts.  In my case, I had just completed my coursework for field hockey umpire certification the night before a Small Claims mediation and happened to arrive at the mediation with the green, yellow and red penalty cards used in that sport still in my backpack.  Since I was mentoring two law students that day, I joked with them about using the cards in the mediation during our pre-mediation preparation session and left them out on a table behind us as the mediation itself started.  No doubt purely because they were visible, I couldn’t resist trying them out when the parties got into a unproductive, blaming discussion about past behaviour.  I brought them to the table and suggested that we should use them for ground rule infractions.  I had to explain the green card (which at the time was purely a warning to all players about a specific type of infraction that was happening too often rather than a penalty to one player), but the group was definitely sports-minded and intrigued by the idea.  So we identified the behaviours we would consider to be infractions and started up our discussion again.  Almost immediately, I committed a foul (intentionally, I admit) and the parties gleefully insisted that my fellow mediators card me.  From that point on, the parties were incredibly responsive to green cards being shown for such infractions of our mediation rules as rehashing past facts for the purpose of assigning blame, interrupting, etc. and they frequently carded themselves.  Such a response is not going to be universal, but …  if you referee a sport, are mediating in a sports-related context, and know that your parties (and counsel) are interested in sports (which is often obvious when you are first grouping and the entire room is discussing a game from the evening before), penalty cards are a viable tool to add to your toolbox.

I’d also suggest striped umpire jerseys (probably to wear at home, but you never know) and referee whistles (as more of a conversation starter on the role of the mediator than to blow loudly mid-mediation).  And personally, I need some pyjamas – and a quick internet search shows me I’m not the only one asking “where can I get referee pyjamas?”

2. A different kind of Professional Development

These gifts are not stocking stuffers – they tend towards the truly extravagant in price – but the potential for a truly practice altering experience is greatly increased by engagement in an experiential “jolt”.  Consider one of these options for a radical change of pace that still has clear linkages to the practice of mediation:

  • Buffoonery Workshops  Buffoonery workshops are about “getting out of your head and away from that inner critic”.  Not just for actors, buffoonery workshops address wellness, spontaneity, and team-building.  Give yourself or a mediator you know a real “jolt” and sign up for a buffoonery workshop for 2013.
  •  Theatre for Living workshops We are fortunate to have a wonderful local theatre company (Headlines Theatre) offering annual training in a theatre form derived from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.  Learn about this process for community dialogue and the tools of the “joker” whose role in many ways mirrors the mediator’s own.
  • Or get away for a week to really immerse yourself in a different form of dialogue and consider the Theatre of the Oppressed Training at the Mandala Centre in Port Townsend, WA.
  • I’m hoping to find a workshop on Metta Bhavana to build on the introduction to “the conscious projection of goodwill” as a tool in mediation that I gained from Martin Golder last year.  A quick search shows numerous local possibilities and I welcome recommendations!

On the less expensive side of things (and reflecting the fundamental purpose of this blog), don’t forget that a $50 membership in CoRe Conflict Resolution Society entitles a member to attend all 8 CoRe Clinic Speaker Series events for 2013.  You can purchase a membership or gift membership online at  If you’re purchasing a gift membership, be sure to include the member’s name and email information in the notes section once you have entered Paypal.  Or email to confirm the membership information.

1. Mediator Bots

If you read my last post, you will be entirely unsurprised to discover that my #1 mediator gift this year is a Bot.  I love my Bots and may just be giving them to everyone I know this year – mediators, family members, random strangers!  Check out Gary Hirsch’s wonderful and flexible Bots at his Etsy shop and consider giving your favourite mediator a whole set of mediation Bots: Listening, Brave, Inspiration, Decision, Zen, Time and the all important Yes Bot.

%d bloggers like this: