Attention is a pivotal force in any conflict. More than that, it is the key to success in any arena because your attention defines you. Laurence Freeman said, "You are a disciple of that to which you give your attention." Gangaji said, ""Wherever your attention is, this is what you love." William James said that what we pay attention to is what we believe. They echo what philosophers have been saying for centuries and what neuroscience is now showing. From "Attention Density: New Big Thing?" (Consulting Today) [pdf]:
Where we choose to put our attention changes our brain, which in time can change how we see and interact with the world.
A mediator can facilitate where parties to a conflict put their attention and thus can orchestrate the brain circuits in their brains. This is why continuing to go over the grievance or the story of being wronged is not helpful or wise. The storyteller is strengthening his or her grievance circuits.
But people need to tell their story, you say. Yes, often that is true. I like the brain-friendly way Fredrike Bannink, in her solution-focused mediation model, handles that need. She asks each party to tell their story for as long as they wish and then not mention it again.
Because paying attention to where you and the parties are putting attention is an important part of conflict resolution, I bring to your attention (couldn't resist using that word again) a review of a new book on—you guessed it didn't you?—attention! From "Do Not Take Your Eyes Off This Review" (Washington Post), the review of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:
Take seriously, if just for a few minutes, what Winifred Gallagher describes as the grand unifying theory of psychology: Your life is the sum of what you focus on. Then consider the main implication of this theory: The skillful
management of attention is the key to happiness and fulfillment. Live the focused life.
Gallagher devotes much of this engaging book to reviewing the psychology and neuroscience of attention. ...
Happy people have the adaptive trait of focusing on the bright side of life; the depressed do not. These traits emerge early. Gallagher summarizes some elegant research from scientists at the University of Oregon showing that children differ in their capacity to control their attention: Those who are blessed with a tight grip of their mental flashlight [great phrase!] find it easier to concentrate on the positive emotions and pull away from anger, fear and frustration. ... [C]ertain exercises can improve the focusing power of 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds, and Gallagher makes a convincing case that adults also benefit from techniques that discipline our attention, such as cognitive theory and mindfulness meditation.
Once again a reminder of the value of mindfulness meditation. The benefits of mindfulness to conflict resolution professionals is a bedrock message here at this blog. Have you been paying attention?
Note (added April 20, 2009): More articles about the book:
"Please, Pay Attention" (The Wall Street Journal).
And an article not about the book but on the benefits of attention. From "Attention class" (Boston Globe):
The ability to pay careful attention isn't important just for students and air traffic controllers. Researchers are finding that attention is crucial to a host of other, sometimes surprising, life skills: the ability to sort through conflicting evidence, to connect more deeply with other people, and even to develop a conscience.
"If you have good attentional control, you can do more than just pay attention to someone speaking at a lecture, you can control your cognitive processes, control your emotions, better articulate your actions," says Amir Raz, a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University who is a leading attention researcher. "You can enjoy and gain an edge in life."