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Non-Adversarial Communication: Speaking and Listening from the Heart


is an excellent book--clear, concise, well laid-out, and practical. It deals with how each of us can communicate in ways that: prevent exchanges from becoming conflicts, help us better understand ourselves, and help us meet our needs. It presents the concepts and methods we need to incorporate this approach into our everyday lives. That's a lot to ask from one book, and this one delivers.

Conflict is a perennial aspect of life, and in today's world it seems to be an accepted part of discourse. The American public seems drawn to watching or listening to "talk" in the form of who can yell the loudest and longest without yielding an inch from their initial position. Talk radio hosts set up straw men and women or straw causes, yell at them and make fun of them ad nauseum, and no one yells back. The theme here is that respectful two-way conversation about political, economic and social issues is becoming an endangered species.

In reaction to the proliferation of polarized rhetoric and adversarial dispute resolution, a movement developed to bring balance and honest-to-goodness give and take back into communication. The first efforts were made in the form of "alternative dispute resolution," which sought to structure mediation of disputes in such a way that each party has a chance to be heard and resolution rests in real agreement about solutions rather than domination of one party by the other.

Non-Adversarial Communication reflects a second, more ambitious strategy based on changing the way individuals think and behave even before conflict might occur. By learning to reflect on their own needs, motives and emotions, individuals can dramatically improve their capacity to see what is needed, both by themselves and by others, and to ask for what they need without ignoring the needs of others. Extending the early work of Marshall Rosenberg, authors Brownell and Bache-Wiig spent several years developing a workshop program aimed at teaching the philosophy and skills needed to neutralize adversarial habits of perception and communication. The book closely follows the concepts and methods used in their workshops.

The value of being able to communicate without becoming adversaries is obvious and few people would disagree with the idea. What is not so obvious is how it can happen. Non-Adversarial Communication: Speaking and Listening from the Heart invites readers first to look inward to find their intention to see their own needs in a context that respects the needs of others. From this intention, they can then focus on what they observe in a situation and what they feel in that situation, which can then lead them to understand what they need in that situation, and ultimately to be able to articulate what actions they could request from others that would genuinely address their concerns. This process can also be used to listen compassionately to what others say.

The authors recognize that although a philosophical shift is a prerequisite, real change requires a commitment to incorporate the non-adversarial communication process into everyday life. The book is filled with dozens of exercises and suggestions for keeping the intention toward non-adversarial communication fresh and alive.

This book is highly recommended, especially for those who regularly encounter people with views that differ from their own. I guess that means everybody.

Review by: Robert C. Atchley, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Gerontology (Emeritus), Miami University, and former Chairman of the Board of Conflict Resolution Services, Oxford, Ohio. 


The Heart of Conflict: A Spiritual Transformation


by Elinor D. U. Powell, Northstone Publishing: Kelowna, BC.

2003. 252 pages. $34.00 Cdn. ISBN # 1-896836-57-7.
The book is available from the
US distributors, Pilgrim Press, 700 Prospect Ave.,
Cleveland, OH 44115
, toll free 1-800-537-3394.,publishers at 1.800.299.2926 ext.200, or through local bookstore.

Reviewed by: Larry Fisk

No matter how much you already know or don't know about conflict resolution methods or what your particular religious beliefs about peacemaking might be, this book gently guides the reader through the dominant styles of dealing with conflict while viewing its spiritual core.

Irish-Canadian author Elinor Powell, physician become peace activist and conflict specialist, calls our attention to the personal hungers (for identification, meaning, honor) and community longings (for recognition, security, justice, an end to suffering) which constitute the conflicts amongst us. The strength of this book is its capacity to recognize both the complexity of conflict situations and the immense hunger for resolution. The many factors which go into conflicts at all levels - interpersonal, family, community, international - are in essence matters of the spirit or heart. These factors reflect the need for dignity, fairness, identity, health, meaning and vision.

The successful mediator is a spiritually mature listener, capable of hearing with his or her heart to the anguish, oftentimes rage, of continuing pain and injustice. If we are to deal with the most intractable conflicts at all levels we will have to accept the depths of suffering and ugliness which make them what they are. This is a spiritual quest, not merely a problem of technique and clever objectivity. Those who are profoundly hurt want their hurt to be understood if not shared, and to be acted upon with empathic justice. The mediator acting at arms-length risks the fury of those
whose wounds are deepest.

The "methods" of dealing with conflict are therefore paramount. Spirituality is understood to be "our attempts to grow in sensitivity to self, to others, to non-human creation, and to the Creator who is both within and beyond this totality" (p. 25). Paradoxically a "method" shaped by moral and spiritual idealism may prove to be the height of practical realism. This is so because it is prepared to work with the "vital and non-negotiable at the centre of our lives". These are the matters of "human honour, dignity and quality of life" (p. 34).

So-called political realism perceives that power, government control, cultural coercion and legal restraints play a central role in containing violent conflict. Elinor Powell describes the inability of such views and practices to reach deeply enough to embrace the centre of group lives. Even the principles and practices of law, which may set a minimal standard of comparison and appropriate behavior, are incapable of assuaging the profound sense of long-standing injustice and destruction of personal and community well-being.

For Christians, or spiritually sensitive persons of other persuasions, Elinor Powell's book is a challenge to grapple with one's essential capacity for justice and compassion, to face those in deepest hurt and social/cultural dislocation. For only by so doing will the mediators amongst us, or we ourselves, be positioned to aid the resolution or transformation of unwanted or violent conflict.


Reviewer's Bio: Larry J. Fisk is the Past-President of the Canadian Peace Education & Research Association and Professor Emeritus of Political, Peace and Conflict Studies,
Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, NS. He is now a proud resident of Calgary, Alberta.



Please excuse the impersonal mass mailing, but I wanted to let you know that my book, The Way of Conflict: Elemental Wisdom for Resolving Disputes and Transcending Differences will be released this week from New World Library (Novato, CA).I am thankful for a wonderful foreword by Matthew Fox and endorsements from Arun Gandhi, Diana Eck, Bill George, Harrison Owen and other distinguished supporters.


You can order through your local bookstore, Amazon and the other online bookstores, or through the book’s website, www.wayofconflict.com. The book seems to be most often catalogued under the Personal Growth, Business and Conflict Resolution categories.


Here’s a brief description:

The Way of Conflict provides dispute resolution techniques from the spiritual traditions, quantum physics and mediation and systems theory. All these disciplines not only believe conflict to be a powerful resource, but they also prescribe similar practical principles and methods to progress safely through discord. Whether it is an internal struggle, an interpersonal dispute or a battle within a community, anyone can apply The Way of Conflict’s four-phased skill set to find an energizing and creative solution.


...And a sample endorsement:

"An invigorating and thoughtful book that manages to capture and foster one's spiritual growth as it works on giving practical solutions to conflict. I just found my new guide as I work in wars and witness the worst and most beautiful aspects of humanity." -- Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women, www.womenforwomen.org, an international relief organization for women in war-torn countries.


Thank you for your interest and encouragement over the past six years. I hope this book supports all of your efforts to develop creative solutions for the vexing challenges of our times.


All my best,



Deidre Combs






Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life (2001)

by Debbie Ford

Whether you are a person going through a divorce, contemplating a divorce, living in the aftermath of a divorce, or counseling another who is, this book will serve you for the rest of your life." (p. xii) The shelves of bookstores are jam-packed with books on divorce. Spiritual Divorce is a healthful, healing shower of warm, compassionate and inspiring light among the volumes on divorce.


As mediators, we try to harmonize and soften the traditional divorce process controlled by attorneys, judges, experts and court appearances. We inquire as to our client's physical, mental and emotional health, encouraging the pursuit of professionals for the treatment of various illnesses. We encourage or require consultation with lawyers for legal advice, financial advisors for money issues, and appraisers for valuations. In mediation, experts are relied upon for creative problem solving rather than support for adverse, divergent positions.

I wonder how many mediators have every asked a couple, "How is your spiritual life?" More often than not, I do ask couples this or similar questions. I have never received anything but a positive response.


I make a distinction between spirituality and religion. Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who have been there. Debbie Ford defines a Spiritual Divorce as, "...one in which we use our divorce to improve our lives and our experience becomes one of gain rather than loss." (p. 5) Debbie Ford shares the experience of her divorce and others, and the decision she made, "...to use my divorce as a catalyst for building a new foundation for my life." (p. 2)


When I experienced my divorce from my high school sweetheart I was devastated, as are many of our clients. I developed an image of being on a ladder climbing out of a deep, dark hole. The only thought I had was to put my head down and start climbing; move the body and the mind would catch up later. I wish Spiritual Divorce had been available for my wife and I, and I recommend this book to the large majority of my clients.


Spiritual Divorce starts with an overview entitled "A Holy Moment," where Debbie Ford introduces the Seven Spiritual Laws of Divorce, which are more fully explored in later chapters. Each chapter explores how to transform pain and confusion into acceptance and healing. Debbie Ford engagingly accomplishes this transformation through self revelation, the experiences of others, beautiful quotations and compelling stories.


I love her acronym for the word fear: Forgetting Everything Is All Right. I was captivated by her stories. My favorite revelation was about the transformation from caterpillar into a butterfly (see p. 190). And, each chapter ends with concrete suggestions referred to as "Healing Action Steps." I was most impressed with Debbie Ford's imagery involving a bus ride, filled with an assortment of people, stopping periodically to exit and having a discussion with one of the passengers (i.e. a subpersonality of the self) (see p. 124).


Debbie Ford also discusses issues such as "resentments" which, as she relays, "Our resentments are like a steel cord wrapped around our past, forever binding us to those we see as our opponents." She then leads us on a "Forgiveness Exercise" (p. 180) followed by suggested "Healing Action Steps." At the end of Spiritual Divorce, Debbie Ford shares a divorce vow she has created, and from which many couples could benefit.


I urge you to share this invaluable resource with every client you think might benefit. Also, I believe as a mediator, you will realize a tremendous benefit from this book. Over time, the path that was previously unseen, will become visible.


Debbie Ford has created a warm and engaging Website: http://www.spiritualdivorce.com. Also, if you are so inclined, you may wish to join the Spirituality Section of the Association For Conflict Resolution (ACR): http://www.ACRnet.org. A final resource for your consideration is the North American Institute for Conflict Resolution: http://www.crtraining.com which has been created by Barbara Ashley Phillips, a prime mover behind the Spirituality Section of the ACR.


Review Prepared by:

Timothy J. Mordaunt, Esq.


Board Member

Grand Island, New York

Email: Mediator@TimMordaunt.com

Web: http://www.TimMordaunt.com




by Michelle LeBaron


See a review of this book at http://www.peacemakers.ca

Available at http://www.josseybass.com/remtitle.cgi?0787948217

Here's what some people have said about the book:

"Run, do not walk, to buy a copy of Bridging Troubled Waters! Just reading it will make you a better mediator, no matter what level you are currently practicing at." - Zena Zumeta

"At last, here is a book for conflict resolution practitioners that goes to the heart of what being a practitioner really means." - Susan Collin Marks

"She [Michelle] gives us the concepts, tools, and insights from narrative experiences we need to analyze and navigate the rapids. Whatever boat you find yourself in...keep Bridging Troubled Waters close at hand. It will guide you to safety...and beyond." - Peter Adler


If you would like to add an article to the Spirituality Section website, please forward your submission to Jill Sarah Moscowitz at info@transformationthroughmediation.com.