Pioneer of conflict resolution and long-time mediator Gary Friedman has chosen an apt title for his forthcoming book: Inside Out: Working Through Conflict. Because I too believe mediation is partly an inside job—that the self-awareness of the mediator is a critical component of effective conflict resolution—I am very much looking forward to this book. I also have much respect for Gary's skill and wisdom so have no doubt the book will be a valuable contribution to the field.
Below is an excerpt from the book; the excerpt was included in the Center for Understanding in Conflict newsletter. (Sign up for the online newsletter at Friedman's Web site.)
All this talk of feelings: Is this therapy?
Because the self-awareness work we do in our programs is so challenging, people resist it in many ways. Participants in some of our programs ask if we’ve crossed some kind of professional line in including the emotional dimension in our awareness of ourselves and our clients in our work. Does that put us in waters too deep for people who have not been trained as therapists?
That question interests me, because it is now clear in recent studies of decision-making and conflict that emotions are a central factor when parties make decisions and professionals try to understand what is happening with their clients. If we decide to avoid the challenge of understanding our clients’ feelings, we miss information that is essential to doing our jobs well.
Using emotions to inform conflict work is still not universally accepted, but my experience over decades has shown us the power of doing so—and the perils of remaining blind to the way our
unacknowledged emotions can color and undermine our work. If labeling self-reflection “therapy” gives us an excuse for excluding the emotional dimension from our work, we are in big trouble when it comes to understanding our clients. This doesn’t mean that it would not be useful to have therapeutic training to better understand this dimension, but it would be a big mistake to assume that because we don’t, we are not capable of understanding our own or another human’s feelings.
The value of tapping the emotional level in what we do seems so obvious, I have often wondered what people are actually concerned about when they object to bringing it formally into conflict work. I’ve concluded that much of the conversation is driven by our fear that we’re not equipped simply to notice feelings and allow them to be part of our professional relationships. Conversations about the line that needs to be drawn between therapy and mediation so we can ignore the emotional dimension of our work can’t really help address the underlying resistance. I find it easier to get perspective by just giving myself permission to head up the “A” and remind myself what it’s like to deal with clients from a cool, “professional” remove.
Some past blog posts about Friedman and the Center:
- Do you understand the Understanding Method of conflict resolution? Read more about it in this interview of mediator Gary Friedman
- Self-Reflection for Conflict Professionals (SCPI)
- "Moving Mediation Back Towards Its Historic Roots—Suggested Changes": An article worth rereading periodically
- If I were looking for an intensive mediation training, this is the one I would choose
- Excellent blog posts about mediation from The Center for Understanding in Conflict
- Is self-reflection important for conflict professionals? You be the judge