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Do I have your attention?

“Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.” 
Mary Oliver, American poet

“Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought…It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state.” William James, The Principles of Psychology, p. 403

We’ve all seen them, in the streets of our towns, in public transport, driving on our highways, possibly even on the sofa at home – the person clutching the modern [...]

Responding to Conflict

This has been a bad week. With the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris, I found myself despairing about the state of the human condition. And I know that the issues are complicated. On the one hand, the right to free speech balanced off against the right to exercise free speech responsibly. On the other, whether, even in the most extreme exercise of free speech can justify the actions leading to loss of lives. I don’t propose to get into those issues here. Minds better than mind can ruminate and argue about them till the cows come home.

I am concerned in this entry with one question. Why do we respond to conflict the way we do?

Readers who are familiar with the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode In [...]

What Mediators Know (or Can’t Help Noticing) About Conflict


(This is the second of three parts of a keynote address to the YMCA Conference “From Reactions to Relations” in Burton on Trent on 20 November 2014)

Last month I wrote in this blog about the fact that mediators “can’t help noticing” certain things as a result of the work that we do. We are witnesses to an unusual form of human interaction, in which we have at least two clients with opposing interests. It’s a bit like riding two horses at once. This month I turn to what we can’t help noticing about conflict. In the best tradition there are three.

What Mediators Can’t Help Noticing About Conflict:

1. When conflict escalates – we are not very good at guessing other people’s intentio [...]

The Big Irish “What If?”

A couple of years ago in January I wrote a post on likely developments in Ireland in the New Year which, if I recall correctly, had the expression “High Hopes” in the title. Those hopes related primarily to the publication of a new, comprehensive piece of legislation on mediation and the impact it might have upon the practice and profession of mediation. Two years down the road, Ireland’s mediators can be forgiven for feeling nothing but disappointment and frustration.
The General Scheme of the Mediation Bill was indeed published in 2012 and, pursuant to a changed legislative process, a consultation period and public hearing at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence took [...]

Who’s Running The Show?

Something is in the air at the moment. And it goes to the heart of what we mediators do.

On the one hand, noted mediation thinkers such as Robert Bush and Joseph Folger write an empassioned challenge to the profession “Reclaiming Mediation’s Future: Getting Over the Intoxication of Expertise, Re-Focusing on Party Self-Determination”, arguing that mediation has shifted radically away from the party self-determination which is its essence. They maintain that the context in which many mediations take place – the court system – has over-influenced the behaviour of mediators themselves, noting that:

“We were drawn in by the culture of helping, the drug-like “high” of reachin [...]

Do we need laws to help us say sorry?

On the last day of the year, like many of you, I find myself reflecting on the events of the past 12 months, the highs and lows, the tensions and the takeaways. Here is one of the takeaways.

In January this year I spent a day hiking through some spectacular scenery in Hong Kong. We were six adults, including one couple and their five year old son, Max.

The trail we had selected was long and the hike would take a good part of the day. We had set out early with sunscreen, water and food provisions. After several hours of glorious weather, and good humour, one of our merry band, Mike, strained a leg muscle. He could still walk but only with a limp and it was painful. As we were half way along [...]

Small businesses are Big !

Nowadays, more than ever, we live in a relationship-based environment, where networking, information and experience exchange form, among others, very important pillars of large and small organizations. These important concepts have been widely recognized by large corporations and successful small businesses but, unfortunately, there are still some skepticism from some small business segments, especially from self-made entrepreneurs, as some still tend not to trust or seek third party advice. The ability to remain competitive and ahead of competition is more than ever associated to the capacity to fully understand and interact with its nearby environment.

In an attempt to further spread the [...]

Reflecting on mediation as a new year beckons…..

As 2014 comes to an end, it is good to reflect. How privileged many of us are. I often remark to others that my “job” is better than “real work”. What do I mean when I say that?

As mediators, we have an extraordinary window through which we view life, other people and what happens in times of difficulty or distress. It is a vantage point which we need to cherish and respect.

In a period of ten days recently, I worked as a mediator in a number of diverse situations. These, anonymised here, have included an evening with townspeople explaining to a quarry operator their distress about the effects on a community of nearby blasting. I have sought to help a national sports body handle a very sensi [...]

Wanting It Too Much. When to Let the Babies Cry Themselves to Sleep

Imagine a marine layer floating over a coastal town. A family in this town is hopeful that the sun will burn the fog away so they can go to the beach and enjoy the great weather. The day seems to go on forever and the sun never comes out. The family ends up being stuck in their cabin, agitating each other while the parents are trying to figure out what to do with their children who are driving them crazy. The children are totally bored and expect their parents to figure out ways to keep them busy.

Consider the same scene in the mediation room. Lawyers are antsy because there is not enough movement in the negotiation. They refuse to take the mediator’s recommendations or respond in a meanin [...]

(My) Books of the Year 2014

At this time of annual reflection, I always feel it is worth looking back and picking out some of the better readings and materials I have come across over the past number of months. My father recently said he wished he had been in possession of a wheel barrow when visiting Harvard University’s bookstore, and I would have to express a similar sentiment when it comes to recent books related to conflict, mediation and the general area in which we work. So here are some of my highlights:
The Dance of Opposites: Explorations in Mediation, Dialogue and Conflict Resolution Systems Design by Kenneth Cloke
I must confess that while I loved this book when I first read it, I am now thoroughly inspir [...]