Conflict professionals who attend our programs are often looking for “tools” to add to their “toolbox.”  When I attend conferences, I often end up with a list from one of the workshops such as “Top Ten Interventions for Difficult Clients”.   I wrote a book for Collaborative professionals that is a compilation of forms and checklists to use in Collaborative cases.  For many of us, it is comforting to have a framework for how to manage a case so things don’t fall through the cracks and to have that “tool” to bring out when things get messy.  Our anxiety decreases when we have these support systems in place.

But there is a risk that the tool, form or checklist may become a barrier to being fully present and connecting to people in all of their unique, quirky selves.  When I am too attached to my checklists and tools, I may filter what is happening in front of me to fit it into something that will respond to my “tool”.  Or I may ask questions to complete my checklist (actual or mental) rather than following the path a party is taking.  When we do this, the process becomes more about us than the parties.

So how do we integrate the helpful use of tools and being fully present and connected?

First, practice and become familiar with the use of your tools and checklists. When we first use a screwdriver, we feel graceless, but when we are experienced, we have a better sense of the right time and way to use it. One of our core tools is looping – demonstrating to a speaker that the listener/looper has understood what the speaker is communicating.  In order to be able to loop successfully in the most tension filled moments, you have to practice a lot in easier moments.  Loop your family, friends, a clerk in a store, colleagues, anyone that you are having a communication glitch with.  As you practice, you become more adept, it feels less awkward, and you are more likely to use it in a high tension meeting.  Learn when it is a helpful time to use a checklist and gather appropriate information in an organized way and when it is time to set aside paper, pen, stop taking notes and just listen.

Second, prepare in advance, both for your use of tools and to be present and connect.  For example, if you are relatively new to mediation, it may help to review what you have learned about the process right before a meeting, reviewing materials or notes from a training.  Or you may want to consider tools you may be using. However, once you have done this more cognitive preparation, take the time to be present.  Take three breaths.  Let go of the other cases or pressures in your life that chatter in your head.  Imagine the parties sitting with you and open your heart for them.

Third, during the meeting, pay attention to your body and gut.  Learn the signs your body sends to you.  What does it mean when shoulders start to rise towards your ears?  Does your posture change in certain types of interactions?  What happens to your breathing?  As you become more familiar with your individual signs, you have more information to understand the situation and decide how to respond.

Finally, use your intuition.  If you have practiced and are familiar with your tools and you are fully present and connected, your intuition will guide you.  And your intuition may even be to throw out the tools, checklists and toolbox and say “I’m not sure what to do next?  Any ideas?”  Sometimes, the best tool is to open up the opportunity for everyone’s input and to work together to figure it out.

~ Article by CUC Instructor Catherine Conner, Mediator/Collaborative Practice Attorney