Posts tagged ‘CoRe Clinic Speaker Series’

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 zazzle.ca.  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 http://faculty.law.ubc.ca/coreclinic/Membership.html.  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 coreclinic1@gmail.com 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.

October 31, 2012

Magic in Mediation

“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.”  Steven R. Covey

Halloween seems like an appropriate day for reflection on a thought-provoking presentation I was lucky enough to attend last month on “Magic and Colliding Cultures.” Wendy Lakusta and Kevin-Neil Klop teamed up at the CoRe Clinic Speaker Series to provide a “jolt” to the group’s collective assumptions about the connection (or lack of) between magic and mediation, while providing a wonderful metaphor for examining our various cultural blind spots.

When I first told people that CoRe would be hosting a talk on Magic and Mediation (before it had a title), the common reaction was to assume that the talk would be about how mediation can be magical in its transformation of conflict, or a discussion of mediator tools that seem to create magic in the room.  The first challenge to assumptions then was to learn that our presenters intended to explore the ways in which magic uses an understanding of human assumptions in order to misdirect us – encouraging us to follow certain assumptions blindly in order to lead us away from an understanding of the magic effect.  Mediation, on the other hand, seeks to illuminate the assumptions made (often blindly) and to help us to examine those assumptions.

The session’s focus was on cultural assumptions. Culture is a set of shared assumptions (a system of beliefs, customs, values, attitudes and lifestyles); and, of course, the deepest levels of culture include beliefs and values that are never questioned or even stated – they are simply implicit.  It is these assumptions that can lead us astray in judging others: we assume from behaviours, words, silences, etc. that we understand another’s motivations and goals and we judge them against our unexamined value system rather than seeking to understand theirs.

As Wendy pointed out so simply, magic makes use of our tendency to make these assumptions and encourages us to fool ourselves.  As a result, learning a bit about how magicians work is a wonderful tool for examining how to instead make those assumptions explicit.  Wendy quoted from Robert Giobbi who tells us that:

“…[M]agic should be easy, since our spectators fool themselves!  All you need to do is avoid any words, thoughts or actions that interrupt this tendency.”

By extension, mediation can be challenging because we are working against this tendency, asking people (and mediators themselves) to identify and examine assumptions – especially those at the deepest levels of subconscious thought.

Jolts for Mediation

The overall thrust of the CoRe talk was a “jolt” for the mediators to think about assumptions in a new way, but Wendy’s willingness to learn a few magic tricks for the presentation (and success in performing for an audience!) inspired me to think too about the ways that one might use magic tricks within a mediation to provide small “jolts”.  Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. The perfect bubble

Wendy’s “signature” magic trick – “The Perfect Bubble” – struck me at the time as a brilliant metaphor for generating options in mediation.  Watch Wendy recreate her magic from the session in the following video clip.

Now imagine performing that trick at a mediation.  (As always, context is everything, but I can certainly imagine it being easy to do this in any context involving children, and probably a few where adults only are participating.  For instance, a facilitation in a workplace or with a large volunteer staff seeking to develop better conflict management tools might be appropriate.)  You perform the perfect bubble trick and then place the perfect bubble in the centre of the table where it will sit for the entire mediation.

“Mediation is like a search for the perfect bubble.  There might be thousands of possibilities for resolving the issues that brought everyone here today, but some are better than others.  We may need to look at many less than perfect ideas before we find the perfect one.  And it’s possible that we’ll need to try more than once to generate ideas to consider.  Some we’ll barely glance at; others will take a bit more consideration; but eventually we will select one that everyone can agree upon.”

2. Simple Card Tricks

Some of the easiest magic tricks to master (as I know from a phase I went through of studying magic around grades 6 and 7) are card tricks.  So many of the simplest card tricks rely on patterns or counting and can be successfully performed with minimal practice.  What they also have in common is the potential to be used to illustrate the idea that mediation is a process: if you work through the steps – even when it’s not obvious to anyone but the mediator why – there should be an answer at the end.  Mediators may also want to talk about transparency of process in mediation as opposed to the intentional misdirection of magic.  Ultimately, the mediator wants the parties to be able to perform the “tricks” themselves and to understand how they’re done.

3. Mediation Magic

Here’s a trick that I found online and that strikes me as a good metaphor for the magic of mediation.  In the Abraca-chicken magic trick (which would require a little adaption for the mediation context – especially in the suggested patter), the magician “forgot” to bring his rope for the rope trick and so uses a chicken bone.  He is going to turn the chicken bone into a rope with a knot in it, but stumbles over the correct magic words a few times and eventually produces instead a chicken bone with a knot tied in it.

I’d suggest that mediation is often like the Abraca-chicken trick: we start out by wanting to achieve a very specific result (parties bring in positions, of course, but even mediators often see possible resolutions that we can get fixed on exploring rather than continuing to open up new ideas), we make repeated attempts to achieve that result and may stumble along the way, and sometimes those stumbles lead us to an even more interesting result than the one we thought we wanted.

Photo credits:

Witch costume at: http://www.spirithalloween.com/adults_costume-ideas_witch-and-warlock-costume-ideas/

Cards: http://www.ehow.com/how_2074290_perform-teleporting-card-trick.html

Bendy chicken bone: http://www.wikihow.com/Do-the-Tie-a-Chicken-Bone-in-a-Knot-Magic-Trick

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