Resolving Conflict: It’s All in the Details
BBYO: Learning from Mediation Skills
Recently, I facilitated a workshop on conflict resolution for youth leaders through BBYO, a Jewish youth group. We spent an hour and a half at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, learning from mediation skills how to resolve conflict in everyday life, whether at work or amongst teens in their BBYO chapters.
It was a fun and productive workshop. I love presenting and empowering people to create effective communication and diminish conflict whenever possible. And, it was fun to present alongside Barrie Seigle, a social worker who works with BBYO.
When we began, I asked the group what they hoped to get out of the workshop.
- Learn not to react to conflict with emotion
- When a hard topic needs to be brought up that is confrontational, learn how to work it out
- Different conflict resolution strategies
- If I’m a sensitive soul – hoping this will help ease anxiety when entering conflict
- Not jumping to conclusions
- Get better results
- How to deal with multiple egos (2 strong personalities)
Stories Make It Relatable
I always begin by sharing stories that people can relate to. I shared one about a couple where the husband didn’t want to pay spousal support/alimony because the wife initiated the divorce. I reframed the issue of spousal support by asking the husband what the most important thing was to him. His answer: consistency and stability for his children.
Because the wife initiated the divorce, the husband felt she could work full-time and he shouldn’t have to pay her any money.
He was defensive.
He was hurt.
I steered the conversation away from the emotional and focused in on their shared values: the children.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Then, I asked questions: What period of time do you feel is appropriate for this transition for your kids? What contributes to their stability and consistency?
When you frame the issue in a way that is likely to lead to resolution by incorporating the other side’s perspective, you can create a better outcome.
By reframing spousal support in terms both parties agreed on – stability and consistency for the children – the husband was able to see that paying some amount to his soon-to-be ex-wife would be ok. In order to give the children stability and consistency, the parents made changes over time as everyone acclimated to the new situation.
Even facilitators can be emotional. Did you ever see the movie, Life of the Party, where Melissa McCarthy plays a mom who returns to college amid a divorce, and ends up a student alongside her daughter at the same college? There is a mediation scene where the facilitator says to direct all comments to her. They get pretty vicious, but all comments are directed to the mediator – even when they’re cursing at one another and insulting each other.
Yeah, there are times when it can be really hard to be the mediator amid all the conflict!! You have to know your emotions in order to identify issues and neutralize emotions.
When I lead a mediation, I ask participants to lay ground rules. They buy into it more if they have some skin in the game.
Some other tips from the workshop:
Listen. Listen to each other. Facilitators need to find commonalities and learn what is underlying the stated positions. What interests, needs or desires must be addressed?
Use I-messages. “I” instead of “You.” Take ownership by beginning a statement with “I believe, I feel, I think…” Beginning with “You…” puts the other party on the defensive.
Reflect back emotions. Begin sentences with “So, what I am hearing you say is…” Let them know they are heard.
Listen to each other…what interests, needs or desires must be addressed?
Mirroring. Act with respect to gain respect. How you treat your co-advisor affects how teens behave. If you use a calm voice, they will mirror you. Attorneys can’t personalize issues with other lawyers. If both attorneys remain neutral and calm, the parties will be calm during proceedings.
There are times you won’t come up with a solution or resolve the conflict. But don’t worry about it. You have not failed. It may be time for a break or a time-out. Or the issue may go deeper than you realize.
To reduce tensions, always consider the other side’s perspective. Brainstorm ideas on how to resolve the conflict. Write down all ideas – good AND bad. Look at which ones are agreed upon, which ones need further discussion, which ones are workable. The conversation goes much better when everybody’s ideas are on the table without judgment.
Location-location-location. It makes a difference where you resolve conflict. Choose the right time and place to talk about difficult matters. Sitting at a round table makes the conversation easier than if you’re at opposite ends of a long table. During mediation, I use a round table so each person is seen and can feel heard.
- As a “facilitator,” you are not a direct party to the conflict or dialogue. You are there to ensure that every party understands each other, with the ultimate goal of finding a mutually-agreeable resolution to conflict.
- Facilitators may serve to simply ensure a group of individuals engages in fruitful discussion. Sometimes, full resolution is not the goal.
- Make your primary goal creating a safe, respectful, and friendly atmosphere.
- Make sure everyone around you feels comfortable speaking up.
Role-Playing for Real Life
The workshop ended with break-out groups role-playing, and participants said they gained new skills that they felt they could incorporate into their own real-life situations. They said they were leaving the workshop feeling more confident in how to handle such situations going forward.