Asking the Right Questions

It is natural for people to get defensive when they are in conflict. In this post, I’d like to suggest some other approaches that are more beneficial and may produce a better outcome. Rather than engaging in defensive communication, try the following: stay centered, breathe deeply, stay positive, listen to what the other person is saying, and ask questions. Asking questions, a big part of a mediator’s job, accomplishes several objectives. First, it allows the other person to feel as if they are being heard. Second, it enables both parties to start to uncover the source of the dispute. Third, the emotion underlying the conflict is likely to be expressed. Finally, it starts the trust building process.

You also start to get to the heart of the conflict by asking questions. Anger and defensiveness are usually masking a deeper emotion, and the real problem causing someone to be argumentative. Questions asked in a calm and conversational manner may also help the other person relax and shift out of utilizing defensive or aggressive behaviors.

[Read more…]

Objectivity, Subjectivity, and the Known Unknowns: Intentions vs. Assumptions in Conflict Resolution

In my last post I wrote about asking, and the important role questions play in creating possibility for conflict resolution. Today is an exploration of important areas of objective and subjective inquiry.

Perhaps we’re all familiar with the analytical equation: in life we have our ‘knowns’ and our ‘unknowns.’ Both can then, in turn, be known or unknown. There are things we are aware that we know (known knowns) and things we know, but not consciously (unknown knowns). Then there are things we know that we don’t know (known unknowns) and things we don’t realize we don’t know (unknown unknowns). In conflict, it’s the unknowns that often trip us up, and the last category – the things we don’t even realize we don’t know – that can be the most insidious. [Read more…]

Hyperstress and your Emotional Stopwatch: Are you really crunched for time?

By now we’re all used to living by the professional mantra of American careers: I’m so busy! Every new thing that presents itself to be done, every new item for the calendar, seems like one thing too many. If only there were one more hour in the day. How many of us heard our mothers and fathers recite this lament when we were children, only to hear ourselves repeating it now as our own hyperstress mounts?

However, three researchers from Duke, Erasmus, and Stanford are challenging this cliché, and telling us that one more hour isn’t likely to help at all. In fact, Jordan Etkin, Ioannis Evangelidis and Jennifer Aaker claimed recently in the Journal of Marketing Research that those overwhelmed and stressful feelings might not have much to do with time at all. [Read more…]

The Business of Emotions: Why emotional intelligence matters in your work and mine


Being “smart” is one of the most commonly used memes in relation to success. We want to look smart, make smart decisions, and be smart about our careers. However, being a mediator has taught me that being ‘smart’ means more than we often realize.

This newsletter builds on broadly acclaimed author Daniel Goleman’s work to remind us that intelligence cannot be separated from the blessings and curses of human emotionality – and that this is a vital insight in the workplace.

In the mid 1990’s psychologist Daniel Goleman caused a stir with his book Emotional Intelligence. Intelligence Quotient (IQ), argued Goleman, is an impoverished way to understand intelligence – no matter how much we value rational faculties, anyone performing them is still human, and being human means having to deal with the messiness of emotions. Accomplishing tangible outcomes with our rational skills – publishing a book, closing a business deal, making a good decision – will automatically put us in contact with emotional boosts or complications, whether our own or those of the people around us. As Sandy Hollis and Debra Clapshaw put it, “Emotional intelligence is the partner of rationality.”

[Read more…]

Thumb Wars: Y text conflict gets us nowhere

Newsletter Edition:  January 2016

I recently watched my son and his cousin argue with each other in a furious exchange of texts – and I thought to myself how unsuited this medium is for conflict resolution. This month’s newsletter is a reflection on how our mediums change our messages – and how texting might threaten more than it promises when it comes to dealing with conflict.



What are we really getting – and missing – when we carry out conflicts through texts?

Texting, though a popular and increasingly automatic habit for all kinds of communications, appears to have more likelihood of creating conflict than resolving it, due to its built-in one dimensional nature. Productive conflict – conflict that gets us somewhere, brings something to light, produces changed perspective or altered behavior  – involves a whole host of processes, only a few of which involve the literal exchange of words that could be translated into a text message. Read on to reflect on how we ended up ‘duking it out’ with our thumbs, and how the medium of texting changes our attempts to communicate. [Read more…]

Appreciating Anger, part III

Part III: Anger in Conflict Resolution

In my last post in this series on anger, I’ll focus on the implications of the anger research from my last two pieces (part I, part II) on conflict resolution.

As I touched on in my first piece, it can be tempting to associate nonviolent communication methods with denying our feelings of anger, or denying ourselves any way of expressing those feelings. But anger can communicate much more than the desire to hurt another person. Greek philosopher Aristotle thought that a certain appropriate level of anger – directed at the right things and at the right time – was an element of virtuosity. For Aristotle proper anger was a way of expressing self respect, and also an attunement to injustice. [Read more…]

Appreciating Anger, part II

Part II: When does anger work?

In my last post I wrote about anger’s “good side,” and the importance of appreciating its importance, but I left off with a warning: we need to develop a thoughtful and wise relationship with anger in order for it to play a positive role.

In his New York Times Sunday Review piece, “The Rationality of Rage,” Matthew Hutson explores a range of social, psychological, and behavioral research regarding the positive and negative ways that expressions of anger tend to manifest in different scenarios. [Read more…]

Appreciating Anger, part I

Part I : Anger’s Good Side

In many of my posts and tips as a mediator, I emphasize the use of mindful dialogue strategies, nonviolent communication, and reflection over reactions. These are some of the core cognitive tools that inform the practice and philosophy of mediation, and thus I write frequently about honing them for the purpose of developing better intentional practices in mediation, leadership, and communication.

I have also acknowledged the importance of emotion in conflict regarding, for example, analytical frameworks for understanding conflict, or the multiple dimensions of resolution.  However, one emotion that can often go unacknowledged – and unappreciated – is anger. [Read more…]

The Mindful Mediator


We all strive to develop practices that help us become better leaders, better practitioners, better team members. And given that so many of these goals rest on interpersonal relationships, this means developing practices to navigate misunderstandings, diverging viewpoints and, inevitably, conflict.

Mindfulness can be a crucial mental tool for handling interpersonal interactions, but this term has become so popular that it’s not always clear what it entails. In this newsletter I explore the role of mindfulness in conflict, and how a mindful mediator can change the tide of a conflict.

Today “mindfulness” has become a mainstream meme for dealing with the hectic fray of modernity while still trying to cultivate some inner peace and meaning in our lives. From The Huffington post’s “3rd Metric” page, to mindfulness trainings at work, to the yoga studios popping up all over our communities, we are being encouraged to address the physical and mental fallout from lives lived on the run by being more mindful. Conflict, too, we often say, will benefit from a mindful approach – it’s a word that admittedly shows up frequently in my posts. But mindfulness can’t be tacked on to the end of a to-do list or scheduled in like an extra Bikram class. Changing a situation through mindfulness requires altering your approach while the scenario plays out. This is not a small challenge – especially when tensions run high. [Read more…]

Meditations on Mediations: Looking back on a year of challenging cases


As I write this a few crocuses have poked their heads out of the sodden soil but the forsythia, a harbinger of spring me is not yet in bloom! This winter just doesn’t want to let go !

Our newsletter articles also appear in our blog and you can now subscribe to our RSS feed.

This month’s article is a reflection of some of my recent cases and lessons learned.

Last year was a breakthrough year on many fronts for Alternative Resolutions, LLC. We developed new strategic partnerships and grew our client base.   We were fortunate to have the opportunity to handle some interesting and challenging mediation cases. In this blog post I want to summarize a few of these cases, and reflect upon lessons learned. Looking back on my experiences provides a window into the process of mediation: its strategies, difficulties, and benefits. Since mediation is confidential I have altered some facts in the case summaries to protect this private and confidential process.

There were various factors at play that made some cases this year challenging. The disputants’ status and reputation within their organization were an issue in a handful of cases. Post-traumatic stress disorder was a factor in several cases, requiring careful and sensitive management. In some matters parties had equivalent amounts of power, whereas in others one party was responsible to the other, who was a high level manager. As I describe in my post on conflict climate, interpersonal communication is ultimately a collaborative task, and this kind of institutional power imbalance can add an extra layer of complexity to a dialogue.

What are some lessons that can be learned and shared? To reflect appropriately I turned to a book by Michael Lang and Alison Taylor titled The Making of a Mediator: Developing Artistry in Practice. [1] Lang and Taylor pose that “to attain artistry requires three essential elements: practice skills, theoretical knowledge and the ability to make useful and appropriate connections between theory and practice.”[2] Reflection, then, is the process by which practitioners integrate these three elements. It occurs both during the mediation and afterwards, as the practitioner dissects and analyzes the case. The authors then describe that there are six hallmarks of artistry in professional mediation practice: attention to detail, curiosity, exploration and discovery, developing and testing formulations, interpretation, and patience and vision.[3] In the case discussion below I have explored how these benchmarks played a role in my work and in determining the outcomes that were achieved. [Read more…]