Book Review » A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation – Creating Safe Environments for Conversations about Race, Politics, Sexuality, and Religion

By Wayne Jacobsen, Arnita Willis Taylor, and Robert L. Prater

Although there have been periods of fierce and violent division throughout human history, there is a growing sense that there is no room to discuss the issues about which we differ. People now struggle to settle on a standard set of facts while decrying media “echo chambers” where they only hear those perspectives that align with their sense of reality. It may have become impossible to engage in reasonable discourse with people with opposing views in today’s fractured discourse landscape.

In A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, three academics from diverse backgrounds engage in a conversation about this very dilemma. Each chapter of the book unfolds as a conversation where each author offers their perspective on a different topic, such as “cultivating compassion,” “disarming the binary bomb,” and “willing to be disruptive.” The book offers meaningful suggestions about discussing these issues and, through its conversational format, provides substantive recommendations while modeling the types of discussions mediators might hold. 

Students of the Understanding-Based Approach to Conflict model will appreciate the many techniques and suggestions available as, in broad strokes, the authors call for deep listening and striving to understand opposing views rather than remaining stuck in our reactions to them. The conversations held are productive and hopeful despite each author’s religious and ideological differences. They undoubtedly possess an accepting and open minded perspective, leaving the reader to wonder if the language offered would influence discourse with persons who seem to lack curiosity or devalue tolerance. 

Unless we start the conversation, there can be no hope of mutual understanding. 

Review by Ivan Alter, CUC board member, collaborative attorney, and mediator

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Take Your Time at the Starting Line to Help Everyone Reach the Finish Line

By Gary J. Friedman and Katherine Miller

Contracting is a decisive moment in the conflict mediation process. At this critical point, two parties at odds with one another and a mediator will enter the room like fighters entering an arena. Both sides have an agenda, emotions, and the drive to win out for their cause. Some will be looking for a fight, others for the fastest way back out the door. In this, at times hostile moment, lines are drawn consciously and unconsciously around the battle most participants assume is about to take place. It can be tempting for conflict resolution professionals to step in the middle like a referee, quickly laying down the ground rules and commanding each side to a “good, clean fight.” 

With the Understanding-Based Model, the reality can be much different. The empowerment mediators bring to this critical juncture can be instrumental when we take time to thoroughly explore the deep-seated emotions and dynamics at play, establish ground agreements instead of rules, and allow both parties to address pre-existing traumas. We can become a catalyst for change and guide participants to where they understand and support how the process will unfold – a crucial and critical principle in embracing the human issues at the heart of the conflict. With that key, we can open doors to a mutually beneficial and lasting solution built on an understanding instead of an adversary. Whether our clients choose to walk through that door is up to them.
By unlocking the potential of a thorough and conscientious contracting session, we can help individuals know they have a voice while fostering confidence and clarity in the steps to follow. The result is a calmer experience for everyone involved, where agreements are shared, and disagreement is allowed and embraced as an essential element in resolving conflict.
In How Can Contracting Take a Whole Session, Katherine Miller and Gary Friedman outline a fundamental four-step process to help remove assumptions, decrease tensions, and move from a hostile environment to mutual respect and understanding.

Join them on August 15th to learn how.

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Interfering Influencers—What to Do About Them?

Interfering Influencers—What to Do About Them?

By Catherine Conner and Katherine Miller

The influencing factors in a conflict are never limited to the parties in the room. None of us live in a vacuum and outside influencers such as family, friends, other professionals, and the internet, can impact how parties work through the conflict resolution process. Influences exist on continuums, from minor or major, helpful to harmful, and implicit to explicit. When working with parties, we find that acknowledging and understanding outside influences is an important part of the resolution process.

Sometimes a party feels that they have a deficit in knowledge and they may turn to an influencer they feel is more knowledgeable in an area relevant to the conflict, such as finances. Sometimes a party, researching for themselves, turns to “Professor Internet” for help which can provide conflicting or wrong information, so we may need to find ways of addressing this misinformation without shaming the parties. Not all influences are consciously known to the party, and that add another layer of complexity for conflict professionals trying to identify influencing factors that are shaping the conflict resolution process. 

One of the problems conflict professionals face is not knowing the framework the outside influencers are using to advise the party.  Influencers often rely on different sets of information, and nobody, including the party, may realize that the information they are using is faulty or lacks context. Sometimes we find that parties misunderstand a conversation with their lawyer and they bring that misunderstanding into the conflict conversation. Influencers also have varying motivations—perhaps they are trying to help the party, maybe they have a vendetta against the other party, or both.

There is not one approach to address all the external factors that are helping or hindering the conflict resolution process. Sometimes we find that bringing outside influencers into the room can be helpful to get everybody on the same page. Having those people in the room also gives the conflict professional a better understanding of the more powerful influencers, their motivations, and the role they may play. One caveat though, before bringing anybody into the room, it is important to think about the power balance in the room and how the presence of influencers may shift that balance. 

A party may not be willing to talk about an influencer—perhaps it is a new romantic partner giving advice to a party going through a divorce and mentioning the new partner could exacerbate the situation. In this situation and others where an influencer will not come into the room, other approaches may be needed.  

In our webinar on July 11, we will discuss ways to identify influencers outside the room, how we can address their impact, and focus on the people who matter without making anyone wrong.

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Podcast Episode Recommendation » Taking the War Out of Our Words

Podcast Episode Recommendation » Taking the War Out of Our Words

With Guests Sharon Strand Ellison and Ami Atkinson Combs Episode on the Healing Ground Mindset Podcast

Review by Caitlin Meredith

Powerful non-defensive communication experts Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter Ami Atkinson Combs were recently interviewed on the Healing Ground Mindset podcast in honor of the 25th anniversary of Ellison’s book, Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication. In this interview with host Dr. Carly Hudson, Ellison and Combs discuss the data showing the dramatic effect power struggle has on our thinking in conflict. Recent studies indicate that the chemical impact on the brain when you are in a power struggle is actually identical to the chemical impact in the brain when you are addicted to drugs or alcohol. “Power struggle is actually the most pervasive and least recognized addiction on earth,” Ellison said. “That means all of us, to varying degrees, have this addiction.” Ellison and Combs describe the system they have developed to change how you use language to have the person you’re talking to drop their defenses, describing the four main areas: intention, tone of voice, body language and some parts of phrasing. Their approach and techniques are invaluable tools for conflict professionals (or just plain humans!) in any context.

If you haven’t read Ellison’s book, (or Combs’ book Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting) this interview is a great overview of their work; if you have read it (or listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend) it’s a good reminder and update with the research they’ve done since the original publication of Taking the War Out of Our Words.

Listen to the episode »

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Disability Inclusion and Accessibility in Conflict Resolution

Disability Inclusion and Accessibility in Conflict Resolution

By Lainey Feingold and Melanie Rowen

When our work is to facilitate understanding between people in conflict, we are already committed to values of empathy, party ownership of conflict, autonomy, connection and more.  These values, mandate that our processes and methods are inclusive of people with disabilities, respect privacy and ensure independence. 

Accessibility is a civil right and the law is the floor, not the ceiling. We recommend having an accessibility statement and using open and friendly language. Put forth the question of whether your clients need any disability accommodations to fully participate as a lawyer, party, expert, etc. Ask how you can be more accommodating and  inclusive. The law dictates that we all have obligations to incorporate accessibility into our work, but most people still do not know how digital accessibility fits into their current settings.

Digital  ​​accessibility is the quality of technology and content that makes it possible for people with disabilities to fully interact and participate. It is our responsibility as conflict resolution professionals, to ensure that our technology and content is accessible.

While we may not quite realize it, in today’s technologically driven world, most of us already use “assistive technology”, such as voice memos or captions in noisy environments.The ability of disabled people to use technology and consume and create content depends on our commitment to create accessible content and utilize accessible platforms.. 

Have you ever considered how a person with visual impairment interacts with your website? Or how someone who cannot hold a mouse navigates your site? Do your videos have subtitles or transcripts available so that the information can still be accessed if a person is deaf or hearing impaired? 

Following universally accepted guidelines and best practices can make your content inclusive of people with disabilities.  Ignoring those guidelines and practices excludes people. Starting with an audit of the ways that we communicate with clients—both prospective and current—can help us find, and then remediate, accessibility gaps.

Accessibility is essential for some and useful for all. Most of us are barely scratching the surface of accessibility and inclusion in conflict resolution, which is why we encourage you to watch our webinar recording to develop a better understanding of the intersections of conflict resolution, disability inclusion and accessibility in the digital and built environment. Our guest speaker is a disability rights lawyer who has worked in the digital ​​accessibility space for more than 25 years.  She and her clients have advanced digital accessibility using a dispute resolution process called Structured Negotiation – avoiding conflict and lawsuits in favor of relationship building and long-term results, sometimes with the help of mediators.

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Book Review » Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How To Be An Ally

By Emily Ladau
Book review by Caitlin Meredith

Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau is a practical guide to making our language, approach and practices as inclusive as possible for those with disabilities. With her wit, personal insight, and interviews with thought leaders in diverse disability communities, Landau invites readers to challenge our preconceptions about how people living with disabilities experience the world, and actively engage with expanding access and inclusion.

Much of her guidance is especially useful for mediators and other conflict professionals who want to make sure our practices are accessible for all.

Landau’s book challenges conventional assumptions about disability and explains the way ableism, rather than disability, limits disabled people’s access to “normal” life. She defines abelism as “attitudes, actions and circumstances that devalue people because they are disabled or perceived as having a disability.”

For people who don’t use wheelchairs, for example, the tendency is to feel sorry for people who do; that energy would be better spent, Landau points out, advocating for accessible bathrooms and subway elevators that are the actual obstacles to full participation in common life activities, rather than the disability itself.

Like racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice embedded in our culture, ableism is often hiding in plain sight for those it benefits. Through sharing her own experiences as a wheelchair user, and interviews with people with other types of disabilities, Landau connects the dots between common abelist comments (using mental illness conditions as insults, for instance) and the harm they do.

For conflict professionals, inclusion starts with our language – how do we talk about disability with parties and colleagues?

While Landau advises that the best approach is always to ask someone their preferred terms, she also provides a table of “best practice” language (use: disabled; don’t use: differently abled, handicapped or special needs) that is a great reference for everything from website content to conversations with parties.

Another aspect of accessibility Landau encourages readers to consider is how our offices, sessions, events and trainings (virtual or in person) might be experienced by people with a wide range of disabilities. She lists potential accommodations from providing written materials beforehand to designating seating areas for people with mobility disabilities to live captioning or interpreters for presentations.

As with language, Landau emphasizes that asking a disabled person how you can support their participation is the gold standard. Her suggested way of asking: “Hey, do you/does anyone have any accessibility needs to participate? Let me know how I can support you!”

Preparing for easy access should be on the preparation check list, not on the day of. To help with this, Landau provides great resources for organizations that provide free information and guidance on accessibility.

Landau is the first to point out that her book is a starting point for becoming an ally – or accomplice as some prefer – for reducing stigma, stereotypes and access for people with disabilities. She admits that she is in a constant struggle to update and improve her own blind spots within the varied disability rights communities. She provides many resources including organizations, books, videos and other media that explore, explain and advocate for increasing our understanding of a wide variety of disabilities to continue the process.

Get the book »

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Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

By Gary Friedman and Amanda Ripley

Want some truth? The two of us, we lie. We bet that you do, too. While lying is not one of humanity’s more virtuous characteristics, it is part of what makes us human. As journalists and mediators, we are faced with special challenges: in journalism, we don’t want to perpetuate a lie, and in mediation, we don’t want an unnoticed lie to lead to an unjust outcome.

There are many reasons we tell lies. Sometimes our lies are status-seeking, like when we peel off and rearrange the stickers on a Rubik’s cube so other people will think we are smart (of course, neither of us have ever done this!). Other times, we may lie for self-protection or to prevent a worse outcome, like taking our sister’s Girl Scout cookie money (nor have we ever done this!).  Lies can also be manipulative. Sometimes we lie for multiple reasons all at once.

In our professions, it is important that we have ways of dealing with lies as they come up. Some lies are easier to manage than others. Knowing when and how to call out a lie is heavily dependent on context. Understanding is a fundamental tool that we can use to develop a deeper sense of what is at the heart of the lie. What are the emotions and wants of a person when they choose deception in a difficult conversation? It may seem counterintuitive to empathize with a liar; however, it can be helpful to us to remember that we all lie and that understanding the liar within us can open us up to people who are typically “othered” as their lies get exposed. 

Lots of people have claimed they can detect when someone is lying, and we all want to believe it’s possible. Is someone making too little eye contact? Wait, or is it too much eye contact? Detecting a lie is not nearly as simple as procedural cop shows may have us believe. Research portrays a more complicated picture. And even with our long experiences, neither of us have a perfect track record for detecting lies.  

On May 10, we will be hosting the webinar, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. We want people to come away with more sensitivity to themselves, and an ability to connect with someone–even though they are lying–while still retaining integrity. We will focus on understanding why people lie, how to deal with lies, and how to think more creatively about the best response to a liar. We may even share with you a couple of our own lies. 

Want to hear about lying from this pair of liars? Be sure to register by May 10 (11 AM EST / 8 AM PST) by clicking here

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