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by Jeff Thompson
December 2010 Jeff Thompson
Discernment (Lantern Books), the title of Buddhist nun Venerable Yifa’s new book, provides the mediator and other ADR practitioners a valuable tool to add to their ‘ADR toolbox’.

Venerable Yifa defines discernment as, “the quality of mind that analyzes and perceives accurately the nature of something and then forms a thoughtful and accurate judgment about it.” The definition can be viewed from an ADR perspective by embracing the role of a reflective practitioner to a much deeper and intense level.

Venerable Yifa describes Discernment as a two step process of seeing and acting. The first allows us as the mediator or conflict practitioner to see a situation (think case, consulting job, or coaching opportunity) fully for what it is and what all the contributing factors are that led to it. The second step allows us to then act in a way which will benefit ourselves and more importantly the clients or parties that reached out to us.

The 7 seven chapter book is just over 100 pages on a title that could at first seem overly complex and strictly for Buddhists practitioners or ADR scholars. On the contrary, Yifa once again takes an intense subject and is masterful in describing discernment making the book a wonderful read for the first time and one that you can go back to help you, pardon the pun, discern situations you might be involved in as a mediator, conflict coach, ombuds or private ADR related consultant. In each chapter, Yifa uses various Buddhist stories to explain each chapter’s titles while staying within the theme of discernment and its attributes, such as mindfulness, which comprise it. She also reflects on past experiences to show how she applied a discerning mind to her own situations. Although the stories are from Buddhist perspectives with many involving monks, and her reflections are that of a nun, the reader can easily apply the stories to their own life experiences. The stories along with Venerable Yifa’s comments are witty and practical while also possessing deep meaning. The stories’ topics include dealing with perception and bias; a reminder of how we are always learning; and how to allow others to learn and make their own choices and decisions. Those three topics have all played roles in my past mediations and I am sure for many of you in your roles.

Reading Discernment will allow you to further your practice as a reflective practitioner in the ADR field by looking deeper at your situations and see all the contributing factors while also reminding yourself your own viewpoint is a factor as well. You will be better prepared to stop and look at things from the multiple perspectives each case or situation offers us and allows you to use to your valuable ADR tools, now with discernment included, to act more compassionately.


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)

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