I avoid conflict.  Frequent challenges to my beliefs, words or actions wear me down and suck away priceless energy.  Despite that confession, I am in the middle of training to become a Family Mediator (primarily a Divorce Mediator). A strange choice for someone who avoids conflict, right? Oddly enough other people’s contention doesn’t bother me as much and may even give me a little boost of energy. Violent conflict never feels good but if I hear other’s having trouble getting along I have a deep desire to help them. I want to solve their problems. I want harmony. I want humanity to prevail over prowess.

How Does Mediation Work?

Mediation is about collaboration and minimizing conflict. People come together to resolve conflict by creating options, evaluating them and then selecting the best ones.  They negotiate until agreements are reached. The mediator’s job is to facilitate the negotiations, help the clients come up with proposals for solutions, keep all parties on task and offer information (not advice).  The mediator is not a therapist or a lawyer. He or she will not make decisions for the parties but will help them work together to find options that all find acceptable. If an agreement can’t be reached the parties may go to court and have a judge make decisions for them. Turning your decision-making power over to a judge is difficult.  The beauty of mediation is that it keeps the power in the clients’ hands.  There are no sides or positions. Mediation fosters direct communication (rather than talking through attorneys) which helps couples maintain a good relationship. A collaborative process versus an adversarial one is much easier on the spirit. It gives a nod to humanity rather than winning.

Conflict or Passionate Concern? 

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain describes a study done with MBA students from Hong Kong and Israel. Both groups pretended they were making preparations for their wedding. Some of them were shown a video of a smiley congenial catering manager giving them bad news — another couple wanted the same wedding date and the price had gone up.  Others were shown a video of an irritable and antagonistic manager with the same message.  The Asian students were much more likely to take the deal from the smiley manager but the Israelis were just as likely to take the deal from either manager.  The Israelis focused only on the information presented.  The Asians noted emotions AND subject. Asian cultures often show respect by minimizing conflict. Israeli culture does not view disagreement as disrespect, but as a signal that the other person is engaged and passionately concerned.

So Engaging

I think my twelve-year-old son is energized by challenging me.  I tell him to wear a coat. He says he doesn’t need a coat. I tell him no phones in his bedroom.  He asks, How many phones do you think I have?  He says the word retard is a legitimate term to call someone who has an IQ below 70.  I say, Don’t use such an unkind derogatory word. I say, It’s more important to be kind than right all the time.  He says, You’re wrong. I know other parents are out there

Even John-Boy challenged his elders

nodding their heads thinking, Yeah, telling your parents they don’t know anything is a rite of passage. I believe, like the Israelis, my son sees his words and my reaction (too often knee-jerk or passionately frustrated) as concerned engagement. The exchanges stimulate him. As much as I’d like to, I can’t run away from this conflict. Even though I see and feel them as exhausting and at times disrespectful, it helps to understand that for him conflict is a way of taking my participation temperature. That said, it’s still important he learn it’s possible to communicate or even disagree without one-upping or defeating someone.

Compassion Is the Point

Choosing your words carefully is not just a matter of semantics. It’s a matter of caring enough about the people you talk to, to adopt a mode of expression that is as rich in compassion as it is in the passion you feel towards making your point.

~ T.K. Coleman, The Conversation Begins with Respect

Conflict is inevitable but need not be debilitating. It gives us a chance to engage with others and witness their humanity. Can you disagree with as much compassion as passion? I believe the ability to empathize while in conflict is a step toward your highest self.

How do you react to conflict?  Do you like to engage or are you more likely to  move away from it? Is harmony more important than winning?