Western societies have largely lost the ability to think in images rather than words.-Ian Robertson
Is your conflict resolution process full of words, words, and more words? Then it is probable that large amounts of wisdom, creativity and innovation are absent. Full-brained mediators, and parties, know to use something more than words: Vivid thinking.
The new book Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work by Dan Roam is one of several books in which smart authors tell us that we need more than words to really, truly, deeply understand a problem—and its solutions. From an interview of Roam (Blogging about Business):
"Vivid Thinking" is a mnemonic. Vi-V-id stands for Visual-Verbal-Interdependent thinking. It is a simple idea that says we haven’t really thought through an idea until we have both talked about it and looked at it, and that we can’t really explain an idea until we can both write about it and draw it. Vivid thinking does not accept that an either/or verbal-vs-visual approach ever fully illuminates an idea; on the contrary Vivid Thinking demands that we must exercise both our verbal and visual minds in concert if we really wish to understand an idea. Talk + look; write +draw = Vivid.
Another wonderful book on welcoming both the verbal and the visual is neuroscientist Ian Robertson's Opening the Mind's Eye: How Images and Language Teach Us How To See. (Click to watch a talk by Robertson talking about brain function, and peruse a worth-the-read interview with him about the role of experience in sculpting our brains.)
Verbal and visual are related to our brain hemispheres. Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, says the division of the brain into left and right hemispheres is "something neuroscientists don't like to talk about anymore" because the popularization of it in the latter part of the last century led to theories and statements that were "entirely false." Click to watch a very clever animation in which he talks about what we do and do not know about the divided brain. Here is another video in which he also talks about the divided brain.
It is not that there is no difference between the right and left hemispheres of the brain; it is just that we are arriving at a new level of understanding and sophistication about the differences. Most self-help books of the 20th century are not good sources. I recommend you learn from Robertson and McGilchrist.
Verbal, visual, left brain, right brain. Do you want all of your clients' minds and brains involved, as well as all of yours, when conflict is being addressed? If so, I invite you to explore some of the above resources.
There are many ways to engage the full brain. Two methods are graphic recording (example on iPad) and graphic facilitation. I have been experimenting with the former and will be learning the latter soon. Why? Because we need to use new methods in this new century to take advantage of our new knowledge about the brain.
I owe it to my clients to engage in full-brained mediation. I will be blogging about other methods in the coming months. (Here's one previous post about using images as well as words in mediation, and another.)
It is important to be diligent in evaluating what you hear and read. Remember when we all thought that communication was 55% body language, 38% tonality, and 7% words? Then we wised up to the Meharabian Myth and realized we needed to be more discerning about what he hear from speakers and trainers, and read from self-professed experts.
I suspect that non-verbal communication is about to undergo new rigor of examination; see my post "In Reading Facial Emotion, Context Is Everything" (Clue to why non-verbal-communication dogma is often wrong).
Be careful out there. Myths, urban legends, and falsehoods abound. The truth as we know it thus far is available but we need to be mindful and to engage critical thought in our search. May your mediations be based on the brain, the full brain and nothing but the truth.
Note: I will continue to add resources related to using the whole brain here on this post. Please check back. And let me know if you have any suggested resources. Thank you.
Note (added May 16, 2012): Click to watch "Dr. Iain McGilchrist on The Divided Brain" (Gardiner Museum in Toronto on March 5, 2012).