4 posts categorized "Anger"

February 10, 2020

Do I Have What It Takes To Be A Mediator? 

What are the qualities that contribute to being an effective mediator?  Recent conversations with people considering careers as mediators, brought me back to this topic.   

There is a great deal written about what skills are needed by a mediator to be effective.  Those skills are learned in courses which teach mediation, such as the courses offered by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.  

If I want to assess the personal traits I need to work as mediator, that subject has not had as much attention by authors.

How do I know if I have what it takes to be a mediator? 

After more than 20 years teaching mediation courses and more years as a mediator, here’s my checklist of seven essential mediator traits.

  • Adaptability
    • A mediator needs ability to build genuine rapport with many different people. Without feeling trust people will not open up to reveal what they truly need. 
    • The mediator adapts to what the people want rather than trying to impose an outcome on them.  
  • Objectivity and self -control
    • The mediator must always remain objective and never jump to the side of one of the disputing people, even in a private conversation with them.
    • The mediator must resist any temptation to try to manipulate people.
    • The mediator must be able to manage their own emotions. Getting angry right back at them is not effective.
  • Tenacity/ Perseverance
    • If the mediator were to quit when people say they can’t agree, very few mediations would result in an agreed outcome.  There is usually a way around any impasse and the mediator needs to stay focussed on the way forward, not the barriers.
  • Demeanour
    • An organized and confident professional manner is necessary to reassure people that the mediator can help even when the situation is difficult.
  • Analytical ability
    • The mediator needs to be constantly alert to what is happening with each person in the room, with the overall meeting dynamics, and how the mediator’s intervention is affecting the people.
    • Sometimes called intuition, the mediator needs to be able to discern what people need despite what they say and their legal positioning.
  • Creativity
    • Creativity is the spark that can help people to find new ideas for solutions, and to be willing to keep talking to build those ideas into a practical agreement.
  • Patience & Tact
    • It takes patience and tact to maintain rapport with people and at the same time be able to help them assess ideas that may be very emotional or challenging.
    • Also patience and tact are needed to keep listening and building understanding between people who do not believe it is possible to resolve their situation.

In addition to this list of seven personal qualities,  the mediator needs knowledge about the subject area of the mediation at least to the level of understanding the nuances of the conflict.

If you ticked off most of these boxes, consider taking a mediation course.   Maybe you have a new direction for your career.

Build your mediation skills in spring 2020!

Register now for the course Fundamentals of Mediation at Munn Conflict Resolution Services in beautiful London, Ontario. 

Early Registration Discount ends Friday, February 14!

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – March 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31, 2020 – 5 days – 40 hours.

Recognized by

  •  the ADR Institute of Ontario
  • the Law Society of Ontario.

Click here for full details about our Mediator Education Program.

December 12, 2019

Give The Gift Of Your Advice  - Or Not!

Ever been asked for advice by a friend or family member? Or seen a friend struggling with a bad situation and felt you could help them with some advice?  Then you gave your advice and they didn’t follow it. Or worse, they seemed hurt or offended by what you said.

Along with the pleasures of celebrating with friends and family, holiday gatherings often provide potentially risky temptation to give advice to the people we care about.

This year, if you feel tempted to give advice or even if you are asked for advice, consider the following ideas to leave them smiling with your response.

First of all, recognize that it’s not just about them.  Giving advice feels good.  According to a study published in 2018 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, giving advice increases the adviser’s sense of power because of the perception that the adviser influences the other person’s behavior. 

A recent article on this topic in the New York Times summarized three factors identified by researchers  that determine whether input will be taken to heart.  “People will go along with advice if it was costly to attain and the task is difficult (think: lawyers interpreting a contract). Advice is also more likely to be taken if the person offering counsel is more experienced and expresses extreme confidence in the quality of the advice (doctors recommending a treatment, for example)”.    Very often the advice we are  asked for in social situations is expected to be free and may be outside our area of expertise.

The third factor about acceptance of advice as identified by researchers is the influence of emotion.  People are less likely to be influenced by advice if they feel convinced about what they’re going to do, (example:  I’m going to stay with the no-good partner no matter what),  or they’re angry ( such as: I’ll text her now while I’m good and mad).   Holiday gatherings with additional inputs such as alcohol make it even harder to manage the effect of emotion.

So how does a caring friend handle giving advice?

  1. Assess: What does the person want? 

Make sure that the person is inviting your advice.  Sometimes they just want to be heard.

In the days when I was a new lawyer with recent and limited expertise for which people sought my advice, I had a family member struggling with a physical health problem.  Whenever I saw the person she talked for a long time about her condition.  I responded with helpful advice about what I thought she could do to alleviate her suffering.  Years later when I reflected about our relationship, I realized that she was not seeking advice.  She wanted me to listen to her.  Just that.

If you’re not sure whether your advice is being sought, ask.   “Would you like to hear some of my ideas?  When is a good time? “    

Be ready to take “no” for an answer.  If you persist in giving advice after their response is no, it becomes more about exercising your power than helping them.

  1. Clarify: What advice would they like? 

Ask exactly what they want to know that you can help with.  Then to make sure you understand, repeat back to them what you heard and check that with them. 

Improving your understanding of the context also helps to ensure that your advice is useful.  Ask what the person has already done about the problem so that you can focus on different ideas.  Consider what the person hopes as an outcome and if it is not clear, ask them.    

  1. Look inward: Am I qualified to give this advice?

Consider your own expertise.  Even if you are a close friend or family member you may not have the qualifications to give the advice.   If you have the expertise, go ahead and advise.  If not, identify the bounds of your expertise and keep your advice within that.  For questions where you do not have the qualifications, help them find someone else who is able to provide the advice.  Make sure that you are putting the advice-seeker’s needs first.

  1. Speak from experience

Be friendly and reassuring.  Start by mentioning what they have done well in handling the situation so far.  Avoid using a preachy tone and judgmental words like  “should” and “should not”.

Advice is usually received best when you speak from your own experience.  “When I was in a similar situation here’s what worked for me.” 

It may be helpful to frame what you say as  “ideas” or “thoughts” rather than talk about advice. This creates an atmosphere of collaboration rather than the adviser working on, and exercising power over, the advice-seeker.   

  1. Offer support

After discussing the problem and ideas about how to handle it, don’t expect them to follow everything you said.  Let them know it’s your expectation that not everything discussed may be a fit for them.    A positive way to close the advice-giving conversation is to ask what pieces of the discussion they will use  to take action.  Help them to identify a course of action and include what, if any, continued role they see for you.   Always respect their autonomy. It is up to them to decide whether you checking back with them in future would seem overbearing or supportive. 


Using these ideas to support the advice- seeker can help both adviser and advice-seeker feel empowered and positive. 

What great holiday gift for both of you!


Struggling  with conflict?

Build your conflict resolution skills in  spring 2020!

Register now for the course Fundamentals of Mediation at Munn Conflict Resolution Services in beautiful London, Ontario. 

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – March 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31, 2020 – 5 days – 40 hours.

Recognized by

  •  the ADR Institute of Ontario
  • the Law Society of Ontario.

Early Registration Discount ends Friday, February 14!

Click here for full details about our Mediator Education Program.


December 16, 2016

Holiday Peace Plan: 5 Tips for Peaceful Holiday Conversations

Holiday season can be a time when the things that divide us seem much harder to deal with. Especially when alcohol consumption is part of the event, holiday gatherings can be very challenging with family, friends, or co-workers who don’t share our views.  Am I imagining it or has loud, divisive self-expression become a “thing”, perhaps an outcome of the recent U.S. election climate? Some days it seems international diplomacy is simple compared with navigating family holiday events. 

It helps to approach the holidays with a Holiday Peace Plan to make sure our holiday conversations are peaceful and communicate the level of thoughtfulness that we would like. You may not find it easy but your struggle will likely provide a return that is well worth the effort.   Here are five tips to help.

1.  Listen to them. Understand them and tell them what you understand.    If you are listening carefully enough to be able to summarize back to them what you think they said, then you are listening actively. If your summary is not correct, they will likely say more to help you understand clearly. Active listening means you cannot ignore what they say and wait to jump back into the conversation with an argument, “Yah, but…” 

If you’re not sure what they said, ask questions to clarify your understanding. An interesting thing often happens when you use your active listening skills:  they will mirror back the same behavior.  No argument there.

2.  Be curious.     Your tone of voice and body language must also communicate the mindset that you are actively listening and seeking to understand their point of view. Being genuinely curious about their beliefs, values, hopes and fears helps to open up a deeper dialogue.  When you get to the core of what’s important, it often allows a richer understanding that may not have seemed possible with the previous superficial conversation. 

3.  Keep an open mind.    Be willing to learn something new, to consider other ideas. This means that you may need to question your assumptions or suspend judgment.  You might even find that you could be wrong.

If you start to feel angry or offended, take a breath. While you are breathing slowly and deeply, consider whether your own biases or assumptions are contributing to your emotional response.  Give them a chance to clarify and try to prevent a breakdown in communication.

4.  Tell them stories from your own experience.    Telling stories from your own experience to help describe your point of view is much more effective than arguing over statistics. The phrase “I remember when…” is a very helpful way to start. 

This shifts the conversation away from argument and allows more possibility for a personal connection. Your experience is not likely to invite a defensive response from your listener and may help to build empathy.

5.  End on a positive note.    You may be able to shift the conversation to the ideas you both share. There may be beliefs, values, hopes or fears upon which you agree, even if you disagree on other aspects. You may even be able to reach a complete agreement.  Sometimes when we really listen to each other we find that we’re not as far apart as we thought.

Even if you do not reach agreement, find a way to end on a positive note. Differences of opinion are a normal part of being human.  For example, you could end the conversation by saying that you appreciate hearing more about their perspective, thank them for their willingness to talk with you, or tell them that you learned something from them.  Just because you disagree with them on this topic does not mean you can’t get along well with them. You can leave the door open for another peaceful conversation with them in the future.

Invest your time and energy wisely in the people that matter to you. Use your Holiday Peace Plan to build positive holiday memories which will remain long past this holiday season for yourself and those around you. 

May 9, 2014

Anger Mastery: Taking the Fear Out of Anger

What triggers anger?  In this realm perception is reality.  Yes, it’s all in your head.  Whether we feel anger, anxiety, sadness or joy in a certain situation is a result of the meaning we assign to it.

 In this post,  I am distinguishing anger, the emotion, from hostile or aggressive behaviour which sometimes accompanies it.   The communication of the emotion of anger, without verbal or physical aggression, is communication no matter how offensive it is to the listener.  Understanding anger is the first step to being able to cope with its influence in the workplace.  Anger is a natural feeling that is neither good nor bad.  It can be managed in the workplace so as to minimize aggression.  If employees understand that it is acceptable to feel anger, they will be less defensive about communicating anger and therefore better able to find positive ways to act on it.  Managers and employees need to have the skills to deal with the communication of anger and to build on its motivating potential. 

 We all have the tendency to perceive ourselves as the lead actor in a play and to analyse other people’s behaviour in relation to ourselves.  We tend to see ourselves as innocent and good and those around us are either supporters or antagonists, good or bad.  Our focus on “I” leads us to believe that other people see the situation as we do.  We think, “They know they are hurting us”.  We have implicit rules such as “You should not do anything to hurt me.”  Then we may apply the rules rigidly making us vulnerable to the behaviour of others.  “The more we relate irrelevant events to ourselves and exaggerate the significance of relevant events, the more easily we are hurt” (Beck, 27).   Our own self-protective rules are inevitably broken by other people , who are also acting within their own egocentric perspective.

 The paradox is that the more we apply these rules that we construct to protect ourselves, the more we are vulnerable to the behaviour of others.  

Anger is not the first response to an offence against our rules according to Dr Beck (31). The initial response is distress, sometimes very subtle and fleeting. The common element of the distress that precedes anger is a feeling of being diminished in some way. If the person perceives that the feeling of distress is caused by another person then he or she is poised to counterattack. If we perceive the threat is due to an impersonal situation such as sickness or economic crisis then we may be upset or unhappy but not angry.

In our prehistoric past it may have been useful to react in either-or fashion to discriminate friend from foe, predator from prey. But we no longer need the margin of safety which was useful when our physical survival was at stake.

Is there a gender difference in the expression of anger? According to one author, men are socialized to believe that they must be brave, show few feelings and suffer in silence. They are encouraged to use their anger to fight back against threat, injustice, frustration and feelings of low self-esteem (Allcorn, 62).

Socialization encourages women to be submissive and dependant and avoid being competitive or aggressive. The threat of being labelled as unfeminine if they are not passive, may encourage women to redirect anger against themselves. A woman may believe for example that it is her fault that a conflict developed with a male in the workplace even though this was not the case. Disapproval, abandonment and harming others are so feared by some women that any expression of anger is accompanied by tears, guilt and sorrow which tend to nullify the anger in favour of maintaining the connection of the relationship.

Changing self-destructive and self-defeating interpersonal dynamics requires women to become assertive. To be able to assert her self-interest the woman needs to be comfortable with being angry and acting on the anger. Achievement and creativity are closely related to self-assertion and angry motivations expressed constructively in  person’s life. (Allcorn, 63-67) Workplace programs encouraging self-assertion must take these factors into consideration.

Mastering anger in the workplace requires an understanding of the concepts of anger and learning how to communicate in the presence of anger. If fear of anger is a factor in your workplace it is time to invest in training for managers and employees.

Most people would rather be angry than terribly sad.

J.J. Ratey and C. Johnson, Shadow Syndromes


The best time to manage anger is before it happens.

W. D. Gentry, Anger -Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing Your Anger


Anger , though a vital ingredient in individual and social life, is inherently a somewhat elusive emotion. No group or society can encourage a fully free indulgence in anger.

C. Stearns and P. Stearns, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America’s History


For more about anger see Common Ground #17 Summer 2002.   For references see www.munncrs.com and Common Ground #20 Spring 2003.