Posts tagged ‘Creativity in mediation’

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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December 3, 2012

Mediation “Bots”

“This Listening Bot has been programmed to listen unconditionally.”

My Listening Bot in the Surrey Provincial Court Mediation Room

If you happened to attend the mediators’ session at Mediate BC’s Child Protection Mediation Conference “Moving Toward Meaningful Engagement” last February, you already know that I discovered my new favourite mediation tool a little over a year ago.  My co-presenters, Julie Daum and Joyce Bradley, QC were characteristically patient and understanding about my growing excitement over Mediation “Bots” and my desire to proselytize their use in any and all mediation contexts.  Of course, the audience was limited to child protection mediators at that session and so there is still a world of mediators who may not have been introduced to Gary Hirsch’s wonderful “Bots” as handy tools for mediation.

Let’s start with what a “Bot” is: Gary’s Bots are tiny, handpainted robots – pieces of art painted on dominoes.  Each one is an individual, but there are categories of Bots that address different needs and “help” with specific functions.  For example, the Joy Bot “has been programmed to Create Instant Joy”.  Each Bot is accompanied by instructions.  In the case of the Joy Bot, the operating instructions advise:

  1. Allow your robot to get to know you by letting him watch you at your desk, kitchen, cubicle, or wherever you spend the most amount of time.
  2. Wait till he notices something great about you (it won’t take long) and then listen while he showers you with compliments and accolades.
  3. Share him with your family/friends and create a domino effect: slowly raising the world’s self esteem.

IMG_0054My first Bots arrived during the summer of 2011 when I was taking a short leave from mediation.  As a result, I first tested my Brave Bot on a week-long driving trip with my 16-year old daughter.  My daughter was preparing for her “N” test, but was experiencing considerable doubt and fear.  One of her earliest driving experiences involved black ice, a steep hill and lots of oncoming traffic, and she had not been able to re-capture a sense of confidence despite many hours of safe driving since then.  I proposed a driving trip through whatever parts of BC she wanted to see in the course of a week and we set off on a mission to gain confidence through marathon driving sessions on scary mountain highways.  What helped her to kickstart this trip was a Brave Bot.  The Brave Bot sat on the dashboard throughout the trip, and accompanied us everywhere.  The trip was a success, and I was sold on the Brave Bot.

While our Bots are still used within the family for lots of personal reasons – like the Get Started Bot I’m using to get going on this blog post! – I now think of Bots primarily as part of my mediator’s tool kit.

Jolts for Mediation

I’m sure you can imagine lots of uses for Bots as jolts for mediators, so I’ll concentrate on the use of Bots with parties to a mediation.  In all circumstances, I’ve found that parties are remarkably receptive to Bots.  While it may seem most obvious to provide Brave Bots to children meeting with the mediator to work out ways to bring their voice to a mediation table – and they can definitely be great for that – adults, commercial parties, lawyers, and others have all been willing to play along with my Bots as I introduce them to shift a difficult atmosphere or create a space to try a different approach to communicating.

The following 8 Bots are my favourites for mediation and form a permanent part of my “Mediator’s Toolbox”, but I encourage you to explore others as well. We could all use a Bot for something.

Listening Bots Listening Bot

The Listening Bot’s instructions tell you that the Bot has been programmed to listen to you without interruption, but for mediations I don’t share these instructions with participants.  The Listening Bot box says enough – this Bot is for Listening, and for my purposes is programmed to model listening and to help parties listen carefully and without interrupting.  This is the one Bot that I own multiples of since there’s usually more than one person who needs to be listening, although I expect that it would be quite possible to utilize a single Listening Bot as the opposite of a talking stick (or perhaps in conjunction with one?).

Zen Bot

The Zen Bot is a wonderful mood setter.  When everyone needs a break to regroup, the Zen Bot takes up its position in the centre of the table.  Alternatively, the Zen Bot can certainly be shared with a single participant in a caucus to help find enough calm to rejoin a difficult conversation.

Yes Bot

The Yes Bot is a tricky creature to use in a mediation, but opens the door to discussions of the improviser’s understanding of “Yes, and…” as it applies to listening in conflict.  The Yes Bot is programmed to offer unconditional permission, which does not necessarily translate directly when working with parties in conflict.  The idea of accepting an offer in the improvisational sense, however, can be an interesting discussion in mediation that may lead to greater willingness to engage in problem solving.  If we “accept” what the other person is saying, and that they believe it – even when we have an entirely opposed view of the situation –  we create the potential for future-focused discussion and can move away from our tendency to listen only to rebut.

Given that a discussion of “Yes, and…” deserves a great deal more development than is possible within this post, I’ll simply flag the incredible usefulness of the Yes Bot, and promise a full blog post on Accepting Offers in the new year.

Brave Bot

The Brave Bot certainly offers the learning mediator support in being brave enough to ask difficult questions.  Mediating itself feels remarkably risky when you are gaining experience, and, of course, one’s growth as a mediator depends on one’s willingness to risk learning new skills and using them.  Within a mediation in which the Bots had been introduced, I’ve used the Brave Bot to tell a participant that I am finding it difficult to raise a challenging subject matter with them, but feel that we need to discuss it before we can continue.  The use of the Brave Bot in that instance was simply a means of being as transparent as possible about the difficult nature of the topic.  Brave Bots can certainly be provided to parties as well – likely in caucus – to encourage discussion or support participation in a difficult setting.  And Brave Bots can be a means to encourage and solicit the voice of the child in a mediation.

Time Bot

The Time Bot has helpfully been programmed to “Stop Time” which allows you to “erase the evidence of [a] mistake or repeat an amazing moment over and over again”.  I like the idea of a “do over” or “mulligan” that the Time Bot permits for mediators and parties alike.  I’ve often shared with learning mediators Tom Northcott‘s wonderful advice when he was mentoring in the Court Mediation Program that “there are no mistakes in mediation, just great recoveries”: the Time Bot offers a wonderful tool for this recovery!  “Let’s just wind that back and start again…”  Similarly, the chance to repeat great moments fits well with the mediator’s efforts to underline points of agreement when possible.

Decision Bot

The Decision Bot has been programmed to help one decide.  While not everyone will want or appreciate a point of focus for decision-making, once a few of the other Bots are out in a mediation, this one may just appeal to a person trying to balance possibilities.

Inspiration Bot

An impasse-breaking tool if there ever was one, the Inspiration Bot can facilitate brainstorming, inspire the generation of lots of ideas, and act as a pattern interrupt as the mediator asks parties to transition from a storytelling, past-focused discussion of what happened to a future-focused discussion of what can be done now.

Caffeine Bot

The Caffeine Bot offers everyone a boost when needed, and can act like an Inspiration Bot for tired folks who need to perk up!

 

 

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