Looping Tip #5 – How do you loop someone who is very quiet?

How do you loop someone who is very quiet?

The short answer is “with sensitivity and care.”

Looping (the loop of understanding) is seeking to understand the other and confirm that the other has, in fact, felt understood. That implicitly assumes that the other does indeed wish to be understood. The very quiet person may wish to be understood and simply have difficulty expressing him/herself.  Or she/he may not wish to be understood, at least at that moment.  So looping the quiet person may best start with an inquiry.  (Indeed all looping is an inquiry – “this is what I understand you to be expressing.  Do I have it right?”)  In other words, looping is based on the premise that I would like to see if I understand what you may be seeking to express if that is OK with you.  (Like everything else in mediation, it means “proceeding by agreement” — one of our core principles.)

With the quiet person, it can be important to make that premise explicit. We can seek to see if the party is willing to express himself and what support he might need in doing so.

“I want to try to understand what is important to you here, and I would like to see if that is OK to explore this with you.  As you often seem fairly quiet, I do not know whether you generally express yourself in this way (quietly), whether you find it difficult to express yourself here, or whether you would prefer not to do so, at least at this time. Are you willing to say if any of those are true for you or whether there may be another reason?”

In other words, we are “looping the dynamic” that may flow from the nature of the party’s quietness. It may be that the quiet party might also have a concern about how the other party might respond (getting upset or angry) which may need to be explored with one or both parties (if they are willing to do so), and an agreement reached how to proceed (which will need to be monitored if there is a willingness by both parties to proceed).

Assuming that the quiet party indicates a willingness to express herself, and agrees she wishes to do so, we can then have that dialogue about the substance of what the party might wish to express (perhaps with difficulty and/or hesitation). Of course, we will need continually to check whether the effort to understand (and be understood) is going well and whether we are correctly understanding what the party seeks to express.  And we will do well to continue to be mindful of the dynamic surrounding the party’s effort to express himself.  For example, asking of the party, and of oneself, “Is this alright that we continue in this way?”

Read more about The Loop of Understanding, and see all tips

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Looping Tip # 4 – How to Loop When Someone is Aggressive or Domineering

When faced with the challenge of looping someone who is aggressive, domineering, or blaming the other person, it can be very daunting.  We particularly don’t want to loop the blame as blame.  Our suggestion is that we reframe the blame in a way to hold the speaker accountable for their own experience.  For example, “So from your perspective, the impact on you of what the other person did was frustration.”  We are trying to refocus them on looking at and expressing their own experience.  When looping the person in this way, one approach can be to meet them energetically so that they feel that you have captured the way that they feel, not just with the words you use to loop but also your means of expression.  We can reframe their expression as something that may be able to be heard better by the other person while showing the speaker that they can be passionate about something without expressing it aggressively and thus provide a path for expressing their strong feelings.   Because people who are aggressive, domineering or blaming may trigger a reaction in us, it is important to be aware of our reaction but not loop while caught in that reaction.  If we can be aware of our reaction and maintain our own composure with a full acceptance of the speaker as a person, we can more effectively loop the speaker.  Sometimes, a looper who can calmly loop the aggressive speaker while capturing the essence of their communication helps the speaker to regain his or her composure.

Read more about The Loop of Understanding, and see all tips

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Looping Tip #3 – Looping the Speaker’s Emotions and Non-Verbal Communication

When people speak, paying attention to the words they use to communicate is only a part of understanding what they are trying to express.  Various studies have found that nonverbal cues comprise 80-93% of what is communicated.  So when we loop, if we loop only the words that people are using, people will often not feel very well understood.  Looping their feelings may require us to use our own feelings to pick up what the speaker is trying to express.  One way to loop the feeling is to name it.  Sometimes, the most effective way is to feel and show the feeling as we loop back the content of what was said.  Because looping has a self correcting mechanism, if we are wrong in guessing what the feeling is, we’re still likely to reach a greater understanding since we are pointing to the emotional level and the correction will hopefully be at that level.  So as long as you don’t decide you are right, don’t be afraid to take a chance to loop the feeling.

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The Loop of Understanding – Tip #2

One of loopers’ biggest challenges is to loop people whose tendency is to speak for long periods of time.  Our normal tendency when people do this is to be polite and not interrupt them.  We think that this is not so helpful to the speaker or the looper since the looper will reach a point where they may forget some of the important parts of what the client has communicated and the client will be unclear whether or not they have been understood.  And the speaker might feel lost in the complexities and detours that might have occurred in their own expression.  So we have to overcome our natural reluctance to interrupt.  Our attitude in doing this is critical.  If our attitude is to shut down the speaker, then that is what will be communicated.  But if the effort is to understand, then the interruption in the service of understanding will be more acceptable.  So our tip is to pick a moment when it seems appropriate and say something like, “Excuse me, but I just want to be sure I understand what you have been saying so far.”  And then loop.

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The Loop of Understanding

Developing understanding systematically, authentically, and compassionately is core to our approach to mediation and the loop of understanding is central to that effort.  Looping is a technique that helps focus the dialogue and develop understanding throughout the mediation.  Although the approach is similar to and borrows much from what others refer to as active or reflective listening, looping captures a fuller sense of the challenge.  There are four steps to the mediator’s loop:

1.  Understand each party

2.  Express that understanding

3.  Seek confirmation from the parties that they feel understood by the mediator

4.  Receive that confirmation.

This last step is crucial.  Confirmation completes the loop.

The Loop of Understanding is more fully described in our trainings and in Challenging Conflict:  Mediation Through Understanding

In the next five newsletters, we will be providing short tips for looping.

Tip #1 (When to Loop)

Many people in our program wonder whether or not they should loop everything a party says, as it would be extremely arduous and even patronizing for the mediator to loop everything.

We think that looping is most essential when it is apparent that there is either a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up, as well as when the mediator senses a party needs the kind of affirmation that comes from the demonstration of understanding.  It is particularly important when people disagree to be sure that there is understanding of the difference between the parties’ views and looping is a very effective way to clarify the disagreement.  In addition, when someone repeats something several times, particularly if it’s with feeling, it can be very important to fully loop what that person is saying as well as the feeling that accompanies it.

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