December 16, 2015

Gift Ideas to Inspire Conflict Resolution

Sharon Sutherland offers a short list of gift ideas with conflict resolution themes.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed several “gift” lists for conflict resolution professionals (especially mediators):

This year, I wanted to take a different approach to the idea of conflict resolution gift giving and focus on ideas for gifts for anyone that might just inspire the recipients to think more about conflict resolution.  Here’s four categories of gifts, most with a few examples, that conflict resolution professionals might very well think about giving to their family and friends this holiday season. And please do check out previous lists for ideas that suit folks who aren’t mediators but have an interest in a world with a culture of collaborative decision-making!

1. Collaborative Games

HanabiIf you played board games or card games as a child, you almost certainly played competitive games.  While cooperative board games have been around for many years, the early ones were almost exclusively created for children and were so didactic as to be boring!  Hence, the cooperative game of yore was played once or twice and then relegated to the back of the closet while Monopoly, Risk and Trouble came out for family gatherings.  The consequence, of course, is that we were exposed to a constant stream of messages about the importance of being competitive, learning to be a good loser and a gracious winner, and the implicit notion that collaborating is “weak”.

Happily, over recent years, an enormous number of excellent collaborative games have developed – games which have all the excitement of competition, but that require genuine teamwork to “win” against the game.  My first recommendation for everyone this holiday season is to choose a collaborative game and introduce your family to an entirely different way of thinking about competition.  Let’s normalize a culture in which the best teamwork results in a “win”!

IMG_2273Here’s a list of collaborative games that Emily Martin (a labour mediator from Seattle) and I developed for a recent CoRe Speaker event.  Of this list, my favourite is Pandemic, but it’s a bit of a tough entrée game for people who aren’t very familiar with gaming generally.  (It’s great if you have one gamer who can help others figure out the mechanics for the first few rounds, but tough if everyone has to keep reading the rules!) So if you’re new to games, or haven’t played much besides Monopoly, I’d suggest starting with with Hanabi (very simple and easy to learn) or Forbidden Island (a bit trickier, but aimed at a younger crowd and so easier to get a handle on than Pandemic).

2. Books

There are so very many book possibilities!  Outside of the range of non-fiction books that offer negotiation advice or other ideas for conflict resolution practice, there are a large number of books that can be viewed through a “conflict resolution lens” to great effect.  Wendy Lakusta offered a brilliant example of the value of reading novels through such a lens when she led the first CoRe Book Club meeting in September and guided an enthusiastic group through a reading of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Consider giving both the first book and Wendy’s Book Club question list to inspire someone to think about the book in a new way!

fledglingOnce you apply a conflict resolution lens to one book, it’s so easy to apply the same lens to others!  An easy way to start might be to give a friend or colleague a copy of Octavia Butler’s Fledgling along with a pass to the next CoRe Book Club session on January 26th, 2016.  This session is definitely not just for conflict resolution professionals, but will focus on lessons for conflict resolution in the book.  (And you might just want to package this book and book club combo with one more Octavia Butler book: Parable of the Sower is a brilliant exploration of a world in which hyper-empathy has the potential to be both a disability and a gift.)

What came beforeThree more books that strike me as powerful opportunities to examine conflict resolution themes are:

  • The Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon (This 2003 Nebula award winning novel explores a world in which autism can be “cured”. Who decides whether the “cure” is the best choice for an individual?)
  • What Came Before He Shot Her – Elizabeth George (While this book explores the backstory of a shocking murder in another novel, it’s not necessary to read this as part of the connected series.  This novel stands alone as an examination of a series of seemingly inevitable decisions leading a young boy to become a murderer.)
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith (This series by the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency offers a fascinating lens on life: Isabel Dalhousie examines every choice through the lens of applied ethics.  For the conflict resolution practitioner, the explicit consideration of each and every nuance in decision-making will feel very familiar, despite the change of focus.)

(You can purchase any of these books through the CoRe aStore and support CoRe Conflict Resolution Society).

And check out these lists for books that might appeal to younger readers (or folks like me who love YA fiction):

3. Theatre Tickets

nirbhaya_1

Nirbhaya

Just as books can explore conflict resolution themes in new and enlightening ways, live theatre can engage with all the same topics but brings a number of qualities that are simply not part of the usual reading experience such as immediacy, the sense of communal engagement in the narrative, direct engagement of the senses in the performance.  The simple fact that most theatre-goers attend with a friend increases the likelihood of an engaged discussion about the topics raised in the production.  Over the past year, I’ve seen a number of excellent productions that explicitly engage with conflict resolution topics. (I’ll blog about my 2015 top picks on CoReJolts over the holiday, but they certainly include A Story of Os (Vancouver Fringe), Cock (Rumble Theatre), Nirbhaya (The Cultch) and 52 Pick-Up (Twenty Something Theatre/Theatre Wire)).

Why not look ahead and book a couple of tickets to plays in 2016?  Here’s a few that I have on my list that look like they’ll stimulate great conflict resolution discussions:

  • The Motherf**ker with the Hat (Firehall Arts Centre)
  • Little One (Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre) – I saw this one at the 2014 Fringe Festival and it’s both creepy and excellent.
  • Ga Ting (thefranktheatrecompany/The Cultch)
  • Reclaiming Hope (Theatre for Living) – I’ll be watching for news about public performances when this one is developed.

VanFringeFest_2016_RGB-with-datesAnd, of course, buying someone a Frequent Fringer pass for the Vancouver Fringe Festival is a perfect option, too!  (They’re not available until the summer, but a promissory note now works.) I wasn’t specifically looking for conflict resolution themed productions this past September, but still saw 12 shows that I would classify as fitting the bill.  Next year, I’m going to blog about my best bets for conflict resolution shows in advance of the Festival so others can join me to view them and discuss at a CoRe Speaker event and/or a Mediators’ Lounge.

4. Human Library

I can’t list books and plays and leave out the Human Library project!  If you haven’t come across the project before, the Human Library is an explicit response to a hate crime that seeks to end violence one person at a time. Borrow a “human book” for a 20 minute conversation intended to narrow ideological gaps through personal connection.  The Human Library is offered as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

PuSh2016_HumanLibrary_credit-Liesbeth-Bernaerts-1200x590

This post is shared here by permission of True North Collective.

May 5, 2014

Collaborative Game Jam coming up quickly!

CoRe-Jolts-Game-JamCoRe Jolts is very excited to be hosting a unique Game Jam aimed at the creation of collaborative tabletop games! Join us at UBC Faculty of Law on May 9-11th!

Did you grow up playing only competitive games like Monopoly or Risk? Were “cooperative” games just the didactic and usually dull games elementary school teachers assigned? Certainly I grew up understanding games to be purely competitive and received (and internalized) a cultural message that individualized competition is good. That assumption was so much a part of my experience of games (and sports, and school, and…) that it remained an unconscious value influencing everything about the way I approached legal practice and mediation. And I am certain that a majority of my colleagues grew up with the same messages that individualized competition is natural, and the only possibility. As gaming scholar Carly A. Korucek notes, “models of play that aren’t based on competition among players…are obscure.”

Obscure though they may be, models of play that depend on team-based competition (against the game) and group problem solving have the potential to test the cultural norms of competition and to offer opportunities to practice skills that might just help in conflict resolution settings. And, when designed well, they can offer unique (and fun) challenges to players who have to adapt their learned gaming approaches and make strategic choices based on different criteria for winning. Imagine creating games that can be utilized directly in a mediation or a four-way meeting to change the dynamic of competition to one of collaborative problem solving. Or games that allow families to practice problem solving as a fun – rather than didactic – activity. That’s what we want to create this weekend!

You don’t need to be some combination of mediator/gamer/designer to join us. We want to have a wide range of people who can contribute different ideas to self-selected teams. 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 we want you. All ages and backgrounds welcome! There is no fee to attend, and lunches will be provided on Saturday and Sunday.

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.

Read more of my observations about collaborative games at here!

March 22, 2014

Game Jam Registration Open Now!

CoRe-Jolts-Game-JamCoRe Jolts is hosting a weekend Game Jam focused on Collaborative Tabletop Game development on May 9-11th.  Anyone interested in collaborative gaming is welcome to attend, but numbers will be restricted to 36 participants.  Register your interest by completing the registration form.

Additional details are available at https://corejolts.wordpress.com/game-jam/ or by email to coreclinic1@gmail.com.

 

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.  

 

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