August 16, 2018

Use Your Power!

When I talk to people involved in a conflict, often both tell me they feel powerless. It is a very common perception.

There are many sources of power. A few examples are: formal authority, institutional, expert information, access to resources, procedural, moral and personal power. As a mediator, I am alert to the use of power between my clients and I can help them use their power more effectively.

Use of power is a method of resolving conflict. Many of us use the power of unilateral action at an early age when we grab the toy we want from another toddler. Later in life we learn other conflict resolution methods that are rights-based and interest-based.

In addition to unilateral action, another method of power-based dispute resolution is authoritative command. The manager can resolve workplace conflict by deciding the outcome, assigning work, or transferring someone to another position. While authoritative command may seem efficient, it may not be fair, just, or ultimately effective in resolving the conflict.

Power is not static. During a relationship or during a negotiation, power shifts from one person to the other. Power is not a fixed commodity which someone can give us or take from us.

If my company is experiencing conflicts with the landlord of our rented premises, I could use my power to take unilateral action. Although the landlord has power to set the lease terms within the limit of the applicable laws, I have the power to move my company to another location, and even buy a building to avoid future landlord conflicts.

The risk is that I may lose customers who are used to the old location, and possibly create an opportunity for another entrepreneur to locate in my old premises and offer competition to my products or services. That option tilts power to the landlord.

If my business is one-of-a-kind, not reliant on customers coming to the location, or the old location is hard to rent, the power dynamic shifts in my direction.

When we are involved in a conflict it is helpful to analyse our power relative to the other person. Ask, What power do I have in the situation? As in the examples above, the manager or the landlord has power, and at the same time the tenant or the employee has power also.

One of the most effective strategies is to shift from “power over” to “power with”. If I try to use my power to make you do something you would not otherwise do, it is going to be difficult. If I choose to use my power to work with you to solve our mutual problem, I am much more likely to be successful in getting a full, long-lasting resolution.

Would you like to develop your conflict resolution skills?

Register for the Mediator Education Program at Munn Conflict Resolution Services this fall in beautiful London, Ontario.

If you are considering becoming a professional mediator, our schedule gives you the opportunity to complete sufficient training to apply for the Q. Med. designation in 2018.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – September 26, 27, 28, October 1 & 2, 2018– 5 days – 40 hours.

Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Early registration discount ends August 22!

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – November 14, 15, & 16, 2018– 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – December 3, 4, and 5, 2018– 3 days – 21 hours

July 20, 2018

The Cost of Refusing to Mediate

We have seen lots of information about using mediation to reduce the costs of resolving disputes.  Now in Ontario if you do not use mediation, it could cost you money. 

According to a recent decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice when a party in a lawsuit is “unreasonable “ in its refusal to participate in mediation, the Court can reduce the award of costs to that party.

This decision is very significant for all types of disputes.  Prudent lawyers and parties involved in disputes need to bear this  in mind when deciding about the use of mediation.

This case concerned a plaintiff who was injured when stepping or jumping out of the way after a stock race car left the track and was making its way to the open pit area. The race car did not make contact with the injured plaintiff.  The racetrack’s insurer defended the lawsuit. The circumstances did not require mandatory mediation. The case is Canfield v. Brockville Ontario Speedway, 2018 ONSC 3288 (CanLII), http://canlii.ca/t/hs7v0

In the words of Mr Justice Graeme Mew at paragraphs 56 and 57,

The present case is not one of those circumstances where a plaintiff was trying to shake down an insurer by demanding mediation of a wholly unmeritorious case.  To the contrary, it is a case where the insurer took a tough and uncompromising stance. That, of course, is a defendant’s prerogative.  Defendants do not have to settle.  But if reasonable opportunities to mediate are spurned, that can be a relevant factor when fixing costs.

 It was, in my view, unreasonable for the insurer to decline mediation in this case.  That should be reflected in the disposition of costs.  Had a mediation occurred in 2015 or even in 2017, substantial costs would have been avoided.

As you can see in this excerpt, reasonable circumstances to refuse mediation seem to be limited to the extreme and unusual.

Only 3 jurisdictions in Ontario - Toronto, Ottawa, and Windsor - have a requirement for mandatory mediation in civil lawsuits.  In other parts of the province and in other kinds of disputes where mediation is not mandatory, this decision is another boost from the Court to encourage the use of mediation.

 

Join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, a 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course.

The next course dates are September 26, 27, 28, October 1 & 2, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada.

Early registration discount ends August 22!

 

March 4, 2018

Let’s Get Serious about Stopping Sexual Harassment

It is essential for all of us to have basic knowledge of human rights law, how it applies in our workplace, and what to do if there is a complaint.   In January 2018, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario granted a female retail worker one of its largest-ever damage awards. The facts of the case illustrate how much remains to be done in educating everyone in the workplace; individuals, people leaders, those with complaints, and those who observe harassment.

The award of $200,000 was “compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” in the case B v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited.  The Tribunal found that the complainant was subjected to sexual harassment, sexual assault, racial discrimination, and a poisoned work environment.

The tribunal found that the male boss of the female complainant made fun of the complainant’s accent when speaking English, her skin colour, body, and country of origin. The boss described this as “jokes’’. The complainant was a single parent of a child with medical challenges who rented an apartment from her boss and lived above the retail store where she worked. In addition to the racist comments, the boss was found to have sexually assaulted and harassed the complainant in the workplace and in her apartment many times over the long years of her employment.

The complainant’s identity was not made public by the Tribunal and in the hearing, she was permitted to provide her evidence by video link from a separate room.

Factors considered by the Tribunal in deciding the amount of the award included the seriousness of the abuse, and that it was repeated for so many years. The complainant was vulnerable as a single parent, the sole support for her family, and as an immigrant. There was also a serious impact on the mental health of the complainant, including a diagnosis of PTSD.

In the past, the Tribunal’s general damage awards have been in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. The Tribunal has issued one other decision awarding comparable damage amounts to a complainant. In 2015 PT v Presteve Foods Ltd involved two immigrant women who experienced serious, repeated sexual harassment and were awarded $150,000 and $50,000 in damages.

Workplace sexual harassment persists in Ontario. In these recent cases, women, single parents, and people new to Canada were demonstrated to be at risk.

It remains to be seen whether these two decisions are the beginning of a new trend of higher awards by the Tribunal intended to discourage workplace sexual harassment. Is this another ripple from #MeToo?

Human rights laws are for the benefit of the whole community. From my point of view, the starting point is that everyone in the workplace needs to have basic knowledge of human rights, how to do their work within the law, and what to do if there is a complaint.

Then the next challenge is appropriate training to handle difficult conversations and manage workplace conflict to produce the work environment we want for everyone, including alignment with the values of human rights.

LAST CHANCE this spring to join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, our 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada.

February 7, 2018

Just Listen!

The feeling that you are not being listened to is very frustrating. Relationships have been ended because of this feeling, in families, in workplaces and in business.

One reason this breakdown in communication occurs is that listening is not a skill generally developed and practiced. By comparison, reading, analyzing, and speaking are skills that are regularly part of educational programs.

Hearing is not the same as listening. Although it is a common saying, we seem to need frequent reminders. Just because I am speaking a language you understand and you can hear my words, I cannot be sure that you are listening to me. Vibration of the eardrums is not enough.

Many of us have not thought about how we listen. At the same time effective listening is the social glue that enables us to form meaningful relationships and connections.

Mortimer J. Adler wrote in How to Speak, How to Listen:

“We all realize that the ability to read requires training…the same would appear to be true of speaking and listening … training is required … Likewise, skill in listening is either a native gift or it must be acquired by training.”

Active listening is taught for use in many professional contexts and is applicable to any communication setting. An active listener listens with full attention, observe non-verbal components of what is said, clarify any unclear points, may paraphrase what is said, and ask the speaker to expand.

A mediator working with two or more people who are involved in a conflict, helps to resolve the conflict by facilitating active listening through words and body language, and in that way creates an opportunity for the disputing parties to understand one another.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” ― M. Scott Peck

Listen Actively = Understand + Retain + Respond

Understand

First, we must understand what the other person is saying. In most cases, this occurs without a lot of effort. Some possible barriers which can limit comprehension, include:

  • Language
  • Use of jargon or slang
  • Differences in culture, age, education, or other factors not shared by both speaker and listener.

In Eyes Wide Open, Isaac Lidsky recommends simplifying understanding by asking “Can you explain that like I’m five years old?.”' Removing jargon and explaining things in simple language results in improved comprehension of complex topics.

Retain

As an active listener we must understand and retain what the person has said.

That retention of details cannot be limited to the part of what they said that is relevant to our reply. In order to listen actively we must focus on what the speaker said without thinking about what we will say next.

One of the challenges of listening is suppressing our ego long enough to fully consider what they said.  No matter how many times we may have heard from other clients or friends in similar situations, we do not know what this particular person is going to say until we listen to them.

Possible barriers to retention include:

  • Cognitive biases and selective listening (See Common Ground Blog, March 3, 2017)
  • Distractions, internal or external, such as fatigue, noise, or mobile devices.
  • Issues with memory, such as dementia.

Respond

Tell them what we understand. After listening to understand and retaining what we heard, then we need to communicate what we understand them to have said. This allows the speaker to assess your level of understanding.

“To be an active listener, we must try to go beyond the words and form a rich picture of the other person’s emotions and intentions,” in the words of Shane Parrish, Farnam Street Blog.

In responding we need to let the speaker know that we have paid attention to their words and also observed their non-verbal communication. When you disagree with the speaker, resist the temptation to try to add meanings to your response that align with your own perspective. This is not listening; this is debating.

 The same possible barriers apply to responding as to understanding and retaining.

 

“Anyone can talk,   

   but to listen is a gift,

     we should all exchange”

J. Benson, Haiku to Live By: Life affirming messages, to hearten your day

 

Build your active listening skills to resolve conflict.   Join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, a 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada. Early registration discount ends February 12!

 

 

January 24, 2018

Guerilla Bridge Building - Conflict Management For Leaders

First there was guerilla warfare, then the concept was expanded to non-military ideas like guerilla marketing and guerilla bloggers. Now we have guerilla bridge building.

Conflict management skills are important for a leader no matter what the job title is. Left to fester, conflict can spread in the organization, consume resources, and become even more difficult to resolve.

A recent article posted at mediate.com talked about unanticipated mediation opportunities and gave examples from history. Author Peter Adler asked “Why not a new art and science of guerilla conflict management applied to the day-to-day politics that pop up when you are leading an enterprise?“  The skills to manage conflict are key for every leader and potential leader.

Imagine this: a CFO works in a family business, but is not a member of the family. The CEO is the founder of the business and reluctantly considering transition to retirement. There is a conflict between the CEO and his daughter, a 12-year employee who wants to be her father’s successor and is about to leave the company because of frustration with her father. This CFO has an opportunity to do some guerilla bridge building. The possibility of keeping this business intact and managing the transition to the second generation may hinge on whether the father and daughter can resolve their conflict.

The stories where family businesses are not able to do this are the ones that make news headlines. To me, the stand-out news items are the businesses which grapple with conflicts effectively, while managing to grow and prosper.

Where can you learn the skills to be effective at helping those in conflict to build bridges with each other? Many of us did not learn those skills in our formal schooling.  

Bridge building is also known as mediation. Leaning the skills of mediation equips leaders for effective guerilla bridge building whether they are in a large company, a small non-profit, or a community group.

Improve your leadership potential by building your mediation skills.

Join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, a 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada. Early registration discount ends February 12!

Read the full article here: https://www.mediate.com/articles/AdlerEye1.cfm

December 9, 2017

Gift- Giving Season Without Conflict: 5 Tips AND a New Year Challenge!

Surprisingly often we find ourselves in conflict with others about giving and receiving gifts. Gift giving seems like it should be simple and conflict-free.  We are making an effort to positively acknowledge another person with a gift.  However many of us have found it’s not that easy.

Woven in with the other social challenges of families and workplaces at this time of year there is the challenge of giving gifts. Recent discussion in the media about giving cash gifts with strings attached got me thinking about the complexity of gift-giving. 

Many retail businesses survive because of the spurt of purchases in the holiday gift-giving season. After all that’s the origin of the name Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., to recognize the day that the bottom line in retail business shifts from red to black. Gift giving is big business. It is estimated that Christmas gifts account for 5% of all consumer spending and about 8% of a family’s annual budget may be spent on Christmas gifts. Let’s not forget the other celebrations at this time of year which may include giving gifts, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. That’s a lot of resources invested by gift-buyers.  Added to that is the effort and time invested in choosing and making gifts that cannot be valued with money.

Family members are the people to whom many of the gifts are given. According to Psychology Today, December 2016, “Four-fifths of all gifts given by adults over the year are Christmas gifts. Four fifths of all Christmas gifts are given to relatives, especially close relatives.  No wonder the choosing and buying of Christmas presents is such a big ordeal for so many and for such a long time.”(my emphasis)

Based on my experience as a mediator and dispute resolution professional, and as a giver and recipient of gifts, here are five tips to help navigate gift-giving season with less conflict.

1. Less is more

Don’t spend more to try to get them to like the gift (or you) more. At this time of year we are surrounded by advertising messages that encourage us to spend.  In contrast this is such an old concept that there is the popular wisdom of a proverb to illustrate it: "Small gifts make friends, great ones make enemies".  

 Modern research supports this. Studies found that there is “no relationship between the cost of a gift and the extent to which it is liked or preferred. The best predictor of how much a gift is appreciated is the amount of time, mental and physical effort put into choosing, making or preparing it.” 

 Think about some of the gifts you have received which you value most. A drawing from a child or a favourite food made by a grandmother are often the type of gifts that make us smile even many years later.

 2.  Enjoy the giving.

Giving a gift is an opportunity to express your bond with the recipient. Remember the gift includes your time and effort in choosing or making the gift.

There is no obligation to give a gift. If there’s an obligation it’s not a gift. The gift captures our effort to observe the recipient, and to choose a gift they want, or even better, a gift they didn’t know they wanted.

What you are really giving is your thought, the emotion you feel for that person. The action or the item is the representation of the thought.

Psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times.

 3. Let go.

When you give, you have to let go. No strings attached. After the gift has been given, the giver has no more attachment to it. It’s not yours anymore!

Your gift might be as small as cookies you baked or as large as a new car. When they receive your gift, they can eat the cookies or throw them out. They can drive the car or sell it. And if your gift is cash, it’s up to them to decide what to do with it.

The only part that you get to keep is the happiness that giving brings you. See # 2. 

 4.  You know what gift you gave. You do not know what gift they got.

Dr SunWolf succinctly described the paradox of gifts. “I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.”

Consider your gift from the eyes of the recipient, as much as you can. How the recipient interprets your gift may be based on factors unknown to you and not within your control. Your brown paper wrapping to be planet-friendly may signal to them that you do not value the relationship very much because an ex in high school gave them an unpleasant gift wrapped in brown paper. Your gift of expensive jewellery to someone you met a couple months ago, may be seen as a level of commitment that is not shared.

  5.  Receive graciously.

 When you receive a gift, it is important to recognize the giver’s thought for you that is captured in the gift. If you make comments like “That’s too much”, “You shouldn’t have“, or “I didn’t want anything”, the underlying message the giver understands may be that you do not want their love. 

 If you receive a gift with a genuine, “Thank you”, and acknowledge the thought behind the gift, it allows the giver to feel the positive emotions that motivated them to give you the gift in the first place.

 In return for their gift, you give them back the gift of your thought and love for them.

 

Following these 5 tips is a good start to reducing holiday gift-giving conflict.

 

 New Year’s Challenge:  Do one small thing! 

What is one small thing you can do that will make a big difference for someone close to you?

You can start small. You can start today.   What change can you make that will create a big difference for someone close to you?   It might be stopping small annoyances with common sources of conflict like toothpaste tubes and toilet paper rolls.  It might be something more important like helping them out with chores.  It might be stopping smoking or getting more exercise or helping them to do that.  You might not even tell them that you have made this change, just let them experience the difference you made.  Think outside the box!  Likely this will be something that is not captured in a box or in the statistics about the economic impact of gift-giving season. 

Imagine what a positive impact you could have on the people close to you if you could do one small thing that will make a big difference for each one of them.

That’s the challenge I invite you to embrace for 2018!

 

Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation on March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018. Click here for more information.

 

 

October 19, 2017

New Hybrid Dispute Resolution Process Supports Reconciliation with First Nations

What should First Nations do when disagreements arise about treaty rights?

The courts have been one possible means of resolving disagreements. Historically there is often little trust by First Nations in Canada’s justice system. 

Mediation has  been very useful for resolving disputes.  Compared with court proceedings the cost is much less and there is more control by the parties involved in the disagreement. However the setting, the format and the assumptions underlying conventional mediation may not fit comfortably for treaty disagreements.

An new hybrid dispute resolution process is described in a recent issue of Macleans magazine. Authors John Beaucage, Alicia Kuin, and Paul Iacono have developed a culturally sensitive team approach for resolution of disputes in support of reconciliation.

 The article describes two goals which are necessary to bridge the cultural gap and sort through many layers of conflict before problem solving occurs:

  1. To create an atmosphere and setting that is culturally appropriate for all of the parties to the dispute.
  2. To ensure that the dynamics of conflict involved in the dispute are given the space and time needed to be voiced.

The new hybrid process starts with meetings with members of the First Nation communities in their communities. In the second stage the representatives take part in four talking circles which include appropriate ceremonies.  The third stage consists of the representatives talking about solutions and ultimately writing out the parameters of their preferred solutions, which are then taken back to the communities. 

After these steps are completed with the communities, the second and third stages are repeated when all the members of the First Nation Territory are ready to meet with the government representatives.

This process could also be used for First Nations and businesses to reach agreements  in a way which builds communication and lasting relationships by ensuring that the voices of First Nation people are heard.  Corporate Canada, pay attention!

Read the full article here:

http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/how-a-new-kind-of-resolution-process-can-support-reconciliation/

Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018

Click here for more information.

August 10, 2017

Build your conflict resolution skills this fall ! Reserve your place in Fundamentals of Mediation starting September 27.

"Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of a building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity, the stifling of creativity, and the creation of barriers to cooperation and collaboration," according to a post by Mike Myatt, Contributor, Forbes. *

Likely any of us who have been in a workplace with others can give examples of the effects of unresolved conflict. When I mediate in workplace conflicts I see the effects of unresolved conflict on the lives of those involved. 

Of course conflict is not limited to workplaces.  It's in all aspects of human interaction.

Would you like to develop your conflict resolution skills?

Register for the Mediator Education Program at Munn Conflict Resolution Services this fall in beautiful London , Ontario.

If you are considering becoming a professional mediator, our schedule gives  you the opportunity to complete sufficient training to apply for the Q. Med. designation in 2017.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – Sept 27 to Oct 3, 2017 – 5 days – 40 hours 

Early registration discount ends August 22. - Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada.  

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – November 6, 7, & 8, 2017 – 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – December 4, 5, & 6, 2017 – 3 days – 21 hours

Last course dates before price increase in 2018!

*Mike Myatt's full post is here.

June 25, 2017

Happiness in 5 Simple Steps


Would you like to be happier? The start of the summer season is a great time to bring more happiness into our lives. 

Recently I was working with people struggling in a long and complex conflict situation.  Afterwards I thought about how important it is to manage our emotional distress by shifting our focus to what we can do for ourselves to increase our happiness.

I found this distillation of ancient wisdom about happiness from the Stoics  in a recent post by Eric Barker in the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Simple steps but not easy.   Here’s a summary:

1. Events Don’t Upset You. Beliefs Do: Only the end of the world is the end of the world.

If you lose your job you might feel excited or devastated depending on your beliefs. If you believe that the job was bad for you and you will have no problem getting another job, you will feel excited by the opportunity.  If you believe that it was your perfect job and you will never be able to get another job like it, you will be devastated.  The objective event is the same, the emotion is different.

The emotion we experience is based on our belief. In Shakespeare’s words, “Nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

Most of the bad feelings we have are caused by irrational beliefs. The helpful approach is to focus on those negative emotions about an event, rather than focusing on the event that we think was the cause of our negative emotions. 

Ask yourself what you believe about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:

  • “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
  • “If I lose my job, my life is over.”

These are irrational beliefs, and if those are your beliefs you will likely be anxious, angry or depressed.

If you revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I get fired I can get another job.   I’ve been unemployed before and I got through it.”

 2. Control What You Can. Ignore The Rest: Worrying never fixed anything.

Remember the old serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Much of what we experience as stress and worry are events over which we have no control. If we worry about getting laid off in a market downturn, our worry will not change the market downturn or the employer’s decision.  Worry is another irrational response that we need to train ourselves to leave behind for the sake of our happiness.

However if there is any part of the event that you do control, it’s better to stop worrying and take action. Improving the quality of your work so as to be as lay-off-proof as possible and looking for other job opportunities are both elements within your control.  Not only does this cut down your stress, it also means that you are spending your energy on action that will make a difference for you.

 The image with this article explains this point visually.

Image1

3.    Accept Everything. But Don’t Be Passive: Nobody recommends denial. Accept. And then do something.

If we choose not to get upset about irrational emotional responses or worrying, what should we do? Accept things as they are and then decide what to do about them.

Acceptance is not resignation; acceptance is the opposite of denial. We may wish things were otherwise but it is irrational to deny the reality facing us. We can think, “I should not be laid off,”  but that will not change reality if we are given the pink slip.  “Should” is a very popular way of denying reality.  Denial is another irrational belief and is going to lead us to those negative emotions as in step 1. 

Instead if we accept reality we can decide what we can control, and then take action on those controllable factors, as in step 2. Maybe this lay-off is going to lead to a new opportunity which you could not imagine in the old job.

 4. Choose Whose Child You Will Be: “What would Batman do in this situation?”

Now shifting away from the reactive to the positive, take a look around and realize that you are not alone on this island. There are mentors, teachers, role models and lots of other people to learn from.

Seneca said “ We like to say that we don’t get to choose our parents, that they were given by chance – yet, we can truly choose whose children we wish to be.”

Identify a person you really admire, a person who is doing something that you would eventually like to do, including living life well. Interview them about how they were able to accomplish what they did and the steps that you could take to get to that level.

Next time you face a challenge, think of that person you admire. Research shows that asking yourself “What would _____ do?” can have powerful positive effects on your behavior.

5. Morning and Evening Rituals Are Essential: Plan for the day, then reflect on the day.

Rituals can help you recognize whether you are  improving.

Every morning think about all the negative things that will be brought to you by the people you face, try to understand why they will behave that way, and then “forgive and love them for it”.

At the end of the day reflect on what has happened and what you can improve.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” is another quote from Seneca. We all have the potential to become better.

 

One final tip:

The final tip is from Marcus Aurelius, “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

A few thousand years later, the research shows that gratitude still makes a difference to happiness. Subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.

“What if I never met my partner? What if my child was never born? I am so lucky to have them in my life.”

 

Take action in 5 steps and spend this summer being happier - and grateful that you read this blog post.

 Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts September 27, 2017.

Read Eric Barker’s full post here: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/09/ancient-wisdom/

March 3, 2017

Thinking about Thinking: Conflict and Cognitive Bias

Next time you are experiencing a difficult conflict try thinking about how you and the other person are thinking.  When I read a recent post by Buster Benson I was struck by how cognitive bias contributes enormously to my day-to-day world of resolving conflict. Understanding more about cognitive bias certainly improves our conflict resolution skills.

Recently a learner in one of my courses expressed surprise when I said most people I deal with in mediation do not lie. However often they have very different perceptions about the same situation. Frequently those perceptions develop as a result of cognitive bias.

Let’s consider an example of employees in a workplace. One feels that having their reports corrected by a colleague is harassment. The other feels that this behaviour is being helpful. Or consider the joke that one member of the team does not find funny, and feels is intended to mock her.

According to the definition in Wikipedia, a cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation from rationality, in which inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. For example, when we choose to rely on details which support our beliefs and ignore those details which do not, we are demonstrating cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, ostrich effect or post-purchase rationalization.

It takes a lot of energy to think, and then to think about how we think. Being efficient humans, for good reason we rely on the shortcuts of cognitive bias. In his post Buster Benson said:

Every cognitive bias is there for a reason — primarily to save our brains time or energy. If you look at them by the problem they’re trying to solve, it becomes a lot easier to understand why they exist, how they’re useful, and the trade-offs (and resulting mental errors) that they introduce.

Here are four problems that cognitive biases help us address and some examples of the ways they contribute to make conflict situations more difficult.

1.  Too much information.   There is so much information in the world that we need some way to filter out the majority of it. Conflict situations often include the example above of relying on details which support our beliefs and ignoring details which do not, leading to several common cognitive biases, three of which are mentioned above.

2.  Not enough meaning.   How do we make sense of all the vast information out there? In conflict situations it is common to use our cognitive biases to fill in characteristics from generalities and prior histories, (for example, stereotyping and bandwagon effect) and to imagine things and people we’re familiar with as better than things and people we aren’t familiar with (for example, halo effect, and in-group bias). Another common participant in conflict situations is our tendency to think we know what others are thinking. Examples of this are illusion of transparency, asymmetric insight, and spotlight effect.

3.  Need to act fast.    We have too much information, not enough time to figure it out and we need to act fast without enough time to be certain. Ever since our cave-dwelling days, standing still invites danger. A factor in many conflict situations is our need to be confident in our ability to make an impact and to choose to do what is important, (for example overconfidence effect, and fundamental attribution error). Another popular area of cognitive bias which contributes to conflict is the tendency to choose what we know and preserve the way things are. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not. Examples of this are decoy effect and status quo bias.

4.  Not enough memory.  There’s too much information for us to remember much of it. What we choose to remember helps us create the filters we need for # 1 above and to fill in missing information for #2 above. It’s a self-reinforcing circle. Our tendency to edit memories after the fact is a contributor to conflict, for example, source confusion, and false memory. Another frequent contributor to conflict is our tendency to reduce facts and events to a few key elements, for example, misinformation effect and primacy effect.

 

Back to our examples of employees from the beginning. Of course the cognitive biases in action depend on the specific circumstances. The employees in a dispute about whether correcting a colleague’s report is harassment might benefit from considering how the cognitive biases of asymmetric insight and the illusion of transparency are affecting their perceptions of the situation. The team with the joke that is not shared by all might be experiencing perceptions framed by the cognitive biases of bandwagon effect and in-group bias. That group plus the one who does not find the joke funny may also be experiencing the cognitive bias of the illusion of transparency.

We need to use more logic when we think about our thinking. Simple to say and definitely not simple to do. Understanding more about how we form our perceptions, the illogical shortcuts we use and the errors those cognitive biases cause us can go a long way to helping us unravel the tangled mess of a conflict.

 Read Buster Benson’s article here.

  Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

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