Although this excerpt from Doing Something Different is about therapy, it has some good advice for mediators, too. I like the idea of extreme listening: listening like a person possessed.
I also like the title of the book, because I often feel we as mediators need to do something different. Some of the ingrained patterns of how we resolve conflict have become stale, flat, and hardened, like nut bread past its prime.
Vicky Bliss lists three considerations related to extreme listening:
Abandoning preconceived values and notions about the client and the outcomes of therapy
Having a true belief that each client knows what he or she wants to do differently, will know when he or she is moving in the right direction, and has at least some of the skills needed to achieve the desired change. If you doubt these, resign.
And one main consideration once engaged in therapy:
Listen like a person possessed.
And what's this possessed listening? Bliss writes:
Extreme listening is characterized by listening like a demon, as though one's therapeutic life depends upon coming to a joint understanding about what the client wants. It means listening twice as much as talking, with ears befitting the largest elephant. It means checking out every bit of data with the client. It means going for the detail of what the client means. It means asking a lot of questions and listening to each answer. It involves developing an obsessive, demented need to understand exactly what it is the client means ... . Extreme listening means never assuming one understands.
Extreme listening is also characterized by hearing things that are not said ... .
The extreme listener will be brave enough to follow the conversation of the client, even when that discussion goes far away from the problem, where conventional therapists might fear to go! ... The extreme listener might follow the client into areas of physics, maths, or music, or talk about other interests of the client. For some, spending an hour talking about the interests of a client might not seem like a good therapy; however, for the extreme listener, much useful information will be gained about what the person would like more of and less of in the preferred future by having just such a positive conversation.To read more, go to "Extreme Listening" in Doing Something Different.
Never assuming you understand is very much aligned with at least one of four definitions of mindfulness given in the book Ethical Space of Mindfulness in Clinical Practice. An excerpt:
[Ellen] Langer uses the term premature cognitive commitment to explain that mindlessness comes from already knowing. So, mindfulness comes from not yet knowing—from a process of what Langer calls drawing novel distinctions.
Consider a little scene in which a mindless attendee of the formal banquet confronts some playful situations ... . As his wine glass is filled with coffee, our man begins to feel a bit disturbed. When he looks at his place setting for the prime rib dinner and sees scissors instead of a knife he is horrified. Things are not in their proper categories. Rules have been ignored. This is not how his world works!
How different his experience would be if a note on his banquet invitation had said: We are trying new ways to improve your formal dining experience. Please notice as many of the small and large changes we have made tonight, and be prepared to join a dialogue about them after dinner. ...
Langer says that when we learn something conditionally—as a fact or rule that fits every context—we will use that learning mindlessly. ...
The above definition of extreme listening, listening like a person possessed, could also be called listening unconditionally—or listening mindfully.
What conflict resolution rules do we apply too often, in too many contexts? Are there any rules that fit every conflict context? I can't think of one; can you?