a mediator, why do I need to worry about mindfulness?”
Not an unusual response when we
suggest how using mindfulness techniques can increase mediator
effectiveness. By using techniques
that lead to higher levels of consciousness, conflict resolution practitioners
can better prepare themselves for success during transformative
self-awareness, practitioners can minimize, if not eliminate, personal
influences that can contribute to an unhealthy environment and prevent them
from recognizing opportunities for positive change within the resolution
process. Well developed,
transformative resolutions can only come out of healthy situations. Sadly, without focus, practitioners can
become part of the problem.
How do mediators find the focus
that can in turn help parties transform their conflict? We suggest spirit guides
transformation. And, spirit
requires contact. Spirit is our
connection with the world, each other, and the ineffable. Through mindfulness, practitioners call
spirit forward into the present.
Current writing on mindfulness
practices as they affect conflict resolution centers primarily on its ability
to provide a sense of calm to those who practice meditation. There is very little discussion on how mindfulness can
directly influence practitioner success within a transformative conflict
resolution framework. This may
result from practitioners viewing themselves as neutrals standing outside the
conflict dynamic and not needing to
improve their levels of consciousness.
This short article seeks to expand the dialogue by providing mindfulness
techniques that practitioners can use to enhance their professional conflict
Practitioners can facilitate
conversation and sound decision making by being in the moment, completely
attentive. Conflict resolution
professionals engage at many levels during a conflict intervention. They are busy focusing on spoken and
unspoken narratives, body language, and metaphors in use. And, these are just a few of the
activities to which practitioners must attend.
Engagement requires focus,
centering. Mindfulness is about
being aware (Dunn, et al; 1999).
Practitioners cannot be fully engaged if they are mentally or
emotionally absent, somewhere other than in the moment. It is easy to check-out mentally and
emotionally from a conflict resolution intervention when thinking of the
inconsiderate driver that cut us off on the highway as we drove to a
session. Or, we are still upset
about spilling coffee on our shirt or blouse at the breakfast table. Possibly, we are re-living an argument
with a neighbor, or thinking of what lies ahead during a busy day. Too, the parties in conflict can remind us of someone,
possibly we find their behavior personally irritating. We need to center.
We suggest that focusing on
resolution can take practitioners out of the here and now where opportunities for transformation show
themselves. When not in the
here and now we miss opportunities for transformation. The mindful practitioner balances the
competing interests of transformation and resolution.
Mindfulness is the here and now.
Conflict resolution professionals
can begin their journey to mindfulness by becoming aware; aware of themselves,
the world around them, and their role as a practitioner. We have spoken with many practitioners
who see their role as exclusively helping disputants arrive at a just
resolution to their conflict. We
suggest this is an outcome, not a role.
A role is a function.
Mindful practitioners are guides.
practitioners guide disputants to peace.
Mindful conflict resolution practitioners look to peace. Positive peace is the way. A peace maker guides others to peace
through reestablishment of mindful relationships.
Mindfulness is applicable to all
forms of alternative dispute resolution, and regardless of professional focus,
practitioners will achieve improved results and positive transformation by
implementing mindfulness practices.
For that reason we use the term practitioner to include mediator,
facilitator, neutral, and the entire range of titles.
When practitioners are focused
and mindful of their role within
the resolution context their value is enhanced. Strategies to develop mindfulness should
include pre-intervention, intervention, and post-intervention.
Getting started — Pre-intervention.
Professionals get mentally
prepared. Athletes go through
routines to psyche themselves up for
a game, put themselves in the zone.
Their focus is bounded by a game’s time limit. During that time an athlete must be on the field. Like athletes, conflict
resolution professionals need to mentally place themselves in the intervention
context, ready to play. Mindfulness brings the mind to the here
and now. It privileges the present.
The future is a collection of
presents. By being mindful of the
present, practitioners guide disputants to a better place in the future. Practitioners should place themselves
into an appropriate frame of mind before walking into a conflict
Roth (1997) proposes that
mindfulness is purposeful, focusing on bringing the mind to full attention of
the present. It purges us of the
mental clutter that can obscure our view, preventing us from seeing the entire
activities focus on bringing the self to the present; on leaving the mental
clutter outside the door.
When the mental clutter is left outside, practitioners engage, fully
focused, as conflict transformation guides using insights and wisdom (Weick K.
& Putnam, T., 2006) leading disputants to higher levels of consciousness.
Here are some
pre-intervention activities that can help bring you into the present.
Meditation techniques of
centering and deep relaxation are very useful. Prayer is a form of meditation. What’s often conjured up is the
image of the monk, sitting cross-legged and uttering “om” over and
over. Mediation is not that
restrictive. Traditional meditation
can take years to accomplish, which may frustrate mediators who need assistance
Meditation can be as simple as
stopping, looking, listening, and being aware of the moment. Maya Fisher, a teacher and trainer in
mindfulness, suggests selecting a word that can act as a cue and selecting the
response you want when the word pops up.
For example, as a child she used the word “cease.” Every time the word popped into her head
or showed up in other ways, she would stop what she was doing and observe the
world around her. Tom Fisher,
another mindfulness guru, has suggested using a bell to signal being mindful of
what you feel, see, and hear. One
mindfulness master has set the alarm on his wristwatch to help him remember to
be mindful. It need only take
Sacred texts are those that have
deep spiritual meaning for you.
Sacred texts are not necessarily linked to a faith tradition, though
they can be. Reading sacred
material can move the mind and emotions to a higher place. They can remind you to take the
“you” out of a mediation process.
The same with scared music;
sacred music is that which raises you up, increases your consciousness.
candles or burn incense. We
experience the world through all our senses.
Tom Crum, author of the Magic of
Conflict (1987), suggests that conflict resolvers choose to be centered. This “centered state is simple,
natural, and powerful (p.54).”
It requires awareness, an awareness of our natural center, typically a
couple inches below our navel. This
is where our stability comes from.
Centering may be experienced by mediators differently. For some it may be a vibration, for
others it may be a feeling or vision.
Centering encourages mind and body integration. It’s not necessary to constantly
think about your natural center, but practice and repetition bring it into your
daily routine. Centering is not only
valuable for pre-intervention, but can also be utilized in the intervention
phase of a mediation.
Years back, tennis players were
taught to imagine the game before the game. They were told to see themselves
returning serves, executing a perfect back hand, and other moves that would
lead them to success. The practice
had great results. This can work to
help mediators become more mindful as well. Before a session, mediators can envision
the session going well, parties openly communicating positively with each
other, themselves being still and mindful of what is happening in the room. When the time comes, the behaviors kick
in more automatically because they have been practiced recently.
Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction
and relaxation, also promotes healing. It is accomplished by laying on hands and is based on the idea that energy flows through us and
is what causes us to be alive. If our energy is low we are more likely to be
stressed or get sick. When it is
high we are more likely to be happy and healthy. Mediators can use Reiki to be more
mindful. As a practitioner, a
mediator can give Reiki to themselves or the mediation space to open up the
energy fields and promote being open, aware, and mindful. If not a practitioner, a mediator can
find Reiki practitioners in most communities.
Practicing what we preach — Intervention.
The mediation is the
message. The peace that we bring
into the room can create an environment of calm, establishing a context within
which transformation is possible.
Concentrate on bringing the relationship to a healthy present. Hostile environments do not engender the
peace needed to arrive at just resolutions to conflict. Justice comes from peace. As Gandhi so rightly observed, we must be the change we want to see in the
Create an environment of peace,
live compassion by understanding the place where others are. Allow inner peace to grow and keep
stress and anger away.
During an intervention remind
yourself that what is, is. Remain
centered, alert to the here and now.
Welcome silence as it can provide the time needed to reflect on the
present. Remember, all situations,
given time, will become different.
Maintain a state of being in
Learning to Let Go — Post-intervention.
It is critically important to
purge oneself of toxins that can develop during an intervention; toxins such as
anger, hostility, contempt.
Conflict resolution practitioners are not immune from the effects of
unhealthy people or unhealthy environments. Just as we can catch the flu from being
in an environment with flu germs, and around others with the flu, we can catch unhealthy attitudes when in
emotionally toxic places.
Practitioners need methodologies that will help eliminate the toxins and
bring the body and mind back to health.
Techniques discussed as
pre-intervention activities can be used post-intervention. And, here are some post-intervention
techniques that can be employed as well.
Running, walking, and going to a
gym are all examples of activities that can help purge the mind and body of toxins. Focus on each step as you clear your
mind of the event and bring yourself into the present.
Without breaking confidentiality,
focus on writing about how you feel
at the moment. Reflect on the
process noting key points.
Working with a partner provides
the mediator a built in opportunity to debrief the intervention while
maintaining confidentiality. This
is much like a snorkeler purging their snorkel upon return to the surface so
that they can breathe fresh air.
Debriefing a mediation permits practitioners to talk about what went
well, what they would like to do differently next time, and how they worked
together (Strahl, 2007). Sealing
the mediation with this discussion encourages mindfulness and helps the
mediator know what works for them and what doesn’t.
Without a partner, debriefing can
still take place if mediators remember to talk about their performance instead
of the case. They can share with a
co-worker, a significant other, or a mentor. It may be helpful to prepare these
people in advance by telling them you would like them to be a sounding board
for you in your pursuit of mindfulness.
Once debriefed, a
mediator’s performance can be left behind allowing the body and mind to
relax. Those moments that you were
present are sealed in your person and those moments where you were not present
are likewise acknowledged and cues become embedded in your mind for the next
Practitioners need mechanisms by
which to move out of harmful places and into healthy ones. To be as effective as possible,
practitioners should put a premium on caring for their physical, emotional,
mental, and spiritual health.
Possibly, practitioner emotional and spiritual health receives the least
attention by professionals in the field.
This short paper was an attempt to enhance the dialogue needed in this
Through the deliberate act of
developing mindfulness, practitioners can prepare themselves as guides leading
those in conflict through the here and now and into healthy futures.
Thomas F. (1987). The Magic of Conflict: Turning a Life
of Work into a Work of Art. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hartigan, J., & Mikulas, W.
(1999). Concentration and mindfulness
meditations: Unique forms of
consciousness?. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 24,(3), 147-158.
Roth, B. (1997, Fall). Mindfulness-based stress reduction in
the inner city. Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health, 13,(4), 50-59.
Strahl, B. (2007). Mediator
Weick, K. &
Putnam, T. (2006). Organizing for mindfulness: Eastern wisdom and Western knowledge. Journal
of Management Inquiry, 15,(3), 275-287.
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