5 Communication Techniques to Mediate Conflict.
Mediation vs. meditation
Just as meditation (with an extra T) helps to declutter the mind, mediation helps to declutter messy, emotionally-laden communication.
When it comes to mindful living, interpersonal conflict is like kryptonite.
It can breed anxiety, stress, anger and frustration. It gets in the way of productive professional interactions and causes rifts in personal relationships. It disrupts your sleep and triggers cravings for chocolate milk. (Or Is that just me?)
However, a process known as mediation offers effective methods of navigating through conflict that don’t involve indulging in our vices.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a dispute resolution process that facilitates positive communication and builds understanding between conflicting parties. Just as meditation (with an extra T) helps to declutter the mind, mediation helps to declutter messy, emotionally-laden communication.
Though an official mediation process requires the help of a trained, qualified third party (a mediator), you can apply some of the principals behind the process to simplify interactions and build more sustainable relationships in your own life.
Here are five essential mediation strategies for more mindful, compassionate dialogue. Especially, for difficult conversations.
1. Talk it Out.
As a born and bred Minnesotan, I recognize how our communities deal with conflict. Avoid and accommodate, anyone? But simply talking about issues is a good way to avoid them taking on a life of their own. When facing an interpersonal challenge, schedule a time to sit down with the other party and discuss what is bothering you. Determine a period of time that makes sense and put it on your calendar. (Try to limit this to two hours as anything more tends to be unproductive.) Knowing that you are dedicating a time and place to discussing your frustration allows you to prepare yourself for the conversation. You may also feel freedom to mentally shelve those concerns until your calendar appointment, allowing yourself to focus on other things in the meantime.
2. Recognize Truth is Relative.
Neurologists generally agree that the human brain is capable of processing about 40 bits of information per second. Do you know how many bits of information we are exposed to? 11 million. Let that sink in. 11 MILLION! We are conscious of only 40 out of 11 million bits!
This matters because the 40 bits that you experience and the 40 bits that I experience can form very different perceptions of our realities. All too often, we create our own conflict because we get caught up in a difference of opinion over what really happened. However, if you can reframe situations and acknowledge the possibility that both your truth and my truth are valid, it becomes easier to find common ground.
3. Seek to Understand.
Since differing perceptions are the basis for so much conflict, a large part of mediation is focused on getting parties to understand each other’s perspectives. This begins with listening.
Listening is not the same thing as hearing. Nor is it the same thing as rehearsing your response. Listening requires you to put your opinions on hold and “try on” the speaker’s perspective as if it were a new shirt. What does it feel like to be in this body and experience these feelings?
To practice good listening, start by giving each other some uninterrupted time to talk—say 5-15 minutes. Hold true to this promise; let the other person speak freely when it’s their turn. Show that you are engaged by nodding your head and making eye contact as it feels natural. Allow for the other party to pause between thoughts. The discomfort of silence will pass the more you practice it.
Only after each party has had an opportunity to share their perspective should you ask clarifying questions and engage in a back and forth dialogue. Keep in mind that the goal is to share information, and doing so is easier when you show compassion. Ask open-ended questions that start with how or what and be cognizant to speak in a tone that conveys support. Restate what you have been told to confirm that you are correctly understanding the speaker’s thoughts. You don’t need to agree, you just need to try to understand.
4. Forget What, Focus on Why.
Chances are that before you even sat down to talk, you knew your desired outcome for the situation and you might have suspected the other party’s desired outcome as well. While those outcomes may seem important, they don’t usually reflect the true essence of conflicts.
As you exchange ideas for how to move forward, try instead to articulate the why behind desired outcomes. How does achieving your goal meet your needs, values and interests? What expectations or beliefs are behind your desires? If you can begin to understand each other’s motivations, you will have better luck coming up with creative solutions.
Speaking of solutions, how have your needs been meet in previous similar situations? What might provide a great sense of value to the other person and not cost much from your perspective? Generate lots of options before you even begin to evaluate if they would work or not.
5. Practice Self-Care.
Mediation is a voluntary process which requires both parties to participate in a conversation with integrity.
If you sense that the discussion is getting too heated, give yourselves a break and reconvene after some time apart or schedule a follow up meeting for a different date.
You can also choose to end the conversation altogether. Relationships between bosses and subordinates or individuals with power disparities may necessitate outside help. If your discussion becomes disrespectful or veers into territory that is uncomfortable consider seeking assistance from a qualified, trained mediator. While mediators won’t provide solutions for you, they can guide the resolution process in a way that ensures fairness and respect.