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<xTITLE>Difficult Conversations</xTITLE>

Difficult Conversations

by Phyllis Pollack
December 2020

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

Recently, a friend of mine challenged me to write a blog about how to survive Christmas/Hanukah/Holidays dinners considering our recent election. Some will be happy while others will be distraught at the results; yet we will all be sitting around the same table (virtually?) breaking bread together.

She then told me a  story about her kid sister who as a preteen suddenly announced that she hated country music. When questioned by her family about why, it turned out she had never heard country music, but she hated it! So, to determine if her feelings were real, the family trotted down to the music store and bought all different kinds of country music by all different types of country music singers. After listening to all the different types of country music, the kid sister sheepishly admitted that there were indeed, some kinds of country music that she did like. Some of the singers were really good!

With this challenge in mind, I looked at my emails only to discover a post on Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “Mediation: to Survive ”  by Sophie Tkemaiadze (November 3, 2020)  in which she recounted an interview in which she was asked to name the one core reason why society should use mediation. Her answer: to survive. She  then recounted one of the reasons  why mediation developed in Georgia (the country):

Mediation emerged as means to avoid extinction of the feuding families. This was particularly the case in Abkhazia, Svaneti and Khevsureti, three beautiful, mountainous parts of Georgia, where revenge and redemption through blood was a deep-rooted custom. Many families became extinct as a result of this custom. To survive, members of the society, those with authority and trust, started facilitating the possibility of reconciliation of the hostile families. As one historian notes: “mediation proceedings […] prove that certain forces are born within belligerently minded, independent social groups which aim to eliminate and restrict the indefinite, never-ending, rampant revenge and somehow limit the destructive custom of redemption through blood.” (Id.)

Which brings me back to the Holiday table. The hallmarks of mediation include curiosity, non-judgment or impartiality, and active listening. Like the kid sister hating  country music, we all tend to make conclusionary statements without any real back up or reasoning behind them. So, like the rest of her family, we need to be curious and ask a lot of questions in a non-judgmental and impartial way–  in a way that is absent of prejudice, bias or favoritism. We ask the question, and simply listen to the answer, without putting into motion that part of our brain that generates a response. We do not think about what our retort or comeback will be; we simply listen to the response and follow up with more curiosity to learn as much as possible the reasons why so and so thinks/ believes the way she does. This is known as “active listening”. We are not trying to  change minds, but simply to understand others.

And this is what mediation is all about and how the ancient Georgians avoided extinction. They listened and I mean, really listened to each other, not for the   purpose of revenge but to  build trust and  reconciliation.  Mediation brought these Georgian families-each from very different backgrounds- a means of avoiding extinction. Rather than seeking a blood bath, through mediation they sought to understand each other’s point of view and perspective rather than to simply denigrate it without reason. They learned that to acknowledge is not necessarily to agree. We can acknowledge the other person’s views though not agreeing.

So, this season, along with the roast serve up some curiosity, non-judgment, impartiality, and active listening. Start with asking “why” without judgment, bias, favoritism or prejudice and let your curiosity and  active listening do the rest!


…. Just a lot to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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