Interruption and Self-Determination

Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by
Dan Simon

“That’s not true!”

“Will you please let me finish?!” turning to the mediator hoping she’d agree that the interrupter was out of line.

“Not if you’re going to lie.”

“If you’d let me finish, you’d know what I was going to say.”

“Fine, go ahead.”

Chaos?  A mediation out of control? A weak mediator? I don’t think so.  In those six seconds, the parties came to an agreement about who would speak and who wouldn’t.  A recently trained transformative mediator told me about this exchange in her first attempt at a transformative mediation.  The parties went on to have a conversation that ended with them happily agreeing, “we’re friends again!” The new mediator shared how refreshing and inspiring it was to see the parties change their interaction.  She also appreciated that if she had intervened to enforce a no-interrupting rule, the change might not have happened.

From the transformative perspective, that quick bit of dialogue included:

  • one party speaking up about something he thought was untrue (maybe an empowerment shift)
  • the other party asserting her desire to be fully heard (maybe an empowerment shift)
  • the first party suggesting that he cared about what the other party had to say and that he was not happy with what he was hearing (maybe both a recognition and an empowerment shift)
  • the second party indicating that she wanted the first party to hear her out, and requesting that he do so (maybe a recognition shift and an empowerment shift)
  • and the first party choosing to honor the second party’s request (maybe a recognition shift)

That’s a lot of potential shifting happening.  It’s the sort of interaction that gives parties a greater sense of control of the situation, better understanding of each other, and renewed belief that they can collaborate, at least in having a conversation where each of them gets to say what they want.  A mediator attempting to control that interaction would interfere with those sorts of shifts.

It’s understandable that mediators imagine they should prevent interrupting. It’s consistent with the idea that we control the process.  In the transformative approach, we don’t control the process, we support it. We support the party complaining about interruption (by attending to her, allowing her the space to say that she doesn’t want to be interrupted, and maybe by clearly reflecting what she’s said about that).  And we support the person who interrupts (by attending to him when he talks, allowing him to do so, and maybe reflecting what he’s said). In this sort of conversation, parties choose how to interact, when to interrupt, when to hold their tongues, when to genuinely listen.  As transformative mediators, we support a conversation characterized by that level of party self-determination.

                        author

Dan Simon

Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served… MORE >

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