Thursday, 20 November 2014


 Cocktail talk around the issue of mediation invariably gives rise to someone sharing about how much they hate conflict. And how they would much rather run away from a potential explosive situation then deal with it head on.  Statements such as these are often met with nods of widespread approval. In many respects this peace-at-all costs stance adopted so casually by many is at face value however questionable ... especially when one meets up with these vociferous proponents of peace at some later stage in the corridors of the court-house and to find out about the long drawn out civil dispute they are engaged in against a third party.

The question that has plagued me the past while is that of – if the dislike of conflict is an almost universal issue then why is there so much conflict around us? and what is it that keeps people entrenched in cycles of conflict?

One look at the morning news is enough to lead one to the conclusion that the World is in a mess and that in reality, there are clearly too few people in the world who hate conflict enough to stop its occurrence.  Moral issues, religious issues, cultural issues, territorial integrity and plain old personal affront seem to be the seeds from which a harvest of retribution is often reaped much to the distress of the vulnerable and innocent.

The focus of this article is not to air opinion on politics, policy or World issues (which in many respects are inextricably linked to the conflict triggers noted above) but rather to look critically at conflict in the home and in one’s working environment and to assess, again rather critically, whether we are just paying lip-service for a generalised dislike of conflict, when in fact we are quite eager to roll-up our sleeves when our own issues rise to the surface.

No doubt the experts on this issue would have a field day populating any such discussion with lengthy “scientific” writings on the why’s and wherefore’s of conflict which in turn has the potential to cause more conflict on conflict itself but in a nutshell, when one gets down to grassroots on this issue – Conflict turns on the pivot of fear.

People fight because they are afraid.  Fear is the motivator

Fear ... of emotional death
Fear ... of financial devastation  
Fear ... of change
Fear ... of loss of personal integrity, reputation and standing.

The list goes on ...

People remain in conflict – despite their potential abhorrence of conflict – not because they are driven to maintain the status quo but because of the overriding prevalence of such fears.  Within the legal process this is often compounded by the fear of loss of face in the event of being the first to extend an olive branch of peace towards a belligerent adversary.

In inter-personal mediation it is of critical importance that mediators understand the underlying issue preventing conflict resolution and assist clients in moving from positions to needs and beyond. Allowing clients the privilege of uninterrupted thought and verbalization during this process is an essential element in uncovering the deeper layers of emotional content driving conflict and keeping people enmeshed therein.

Clearly this process is not applicable for all mediation matters but certainly its impact in inter-personal and family mediations cannot be under-estimated, particularly in the transformative mediation model. Fear is undoubtedly one of the most primal and hidden of the emotions experienced by mankind – sensitive handling of this issue within the mediation process has the greatest potential for relationship reconciliation and mutually beneficial outcomes, even in the eventuality of divorce, separation or termination of future working relationship.   This is certainly a laudable and achievable goal to work towards.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


 A good friend recently relayed to me a story about a meeting that started off on a wrong footing and ended with the client storming off .... listening to the story it was clear that the client was in the wrong but the story made me wonder about whether there was something my friend could have done to avert the ensuing situation from taking place without there being any loss of face for either the client or my friend.

Our first response to a verbal assault - whether valid or not - is normally to counter-respond with heightened tone, aggressive "in your face" body language and then one's own verbal barrage in self-defence of what has just been said.

The value of the momentary pause between hearing an attack and reacting to it should never be under-estimated. Not only does the momentary pause give one an opportunity to take control of oneself in the situation, but a pause of silence also give the other person an opportunity to contemplate what they have just said and to either retract, soften the words or explain themselves further if necessary.

The old adage of "it takes two to tango" is no where more applicable then in the scenario of conflict. By engaging in the pause one is in fact allowing oneself the choice to decide on whether to step into or away from the issue of conflict. Not every verbal assault or harsh and pointed comment needs or should be dignified with a response, but every person should in fact be given the opportunity to clarify what they are saying and where they are coming from. It is at this juncture that a simple question or statement requesting clarity of what was just said  such as "I beg your pardon ?" or "Please could you explain what you are saying"  is often the mercy stroke ending what could be a unfortunate and avoidable breakdown of relations. 

It goes without saying that hindsight is a wonderful thing giving us 20/20 vision. In my friend's case, the client is gone and it is unlikely that he will ever come back. All is however not lost. Turning the perfection of hindsight into practical insight and applying the power of the pause ... and then the question to those potentially explosive situations will go a long way in maintaining good relations with even the most difficult and demanding of people.