Fight or Flight?

Emotions were running high.  These two were each enraged by the other.  Distrust pervaded the room.  Both had just painted a picture of the other as ill and vindictive.  Was there any way through this?  My heart pumping, I plunged in.  “You’re furious”, I said to Chris, “From your perspective, Pat is out to get you”.  Chris, still angry, replied,  “Absolutely and I won’t take it”.  “You believe you deserve more respect than you’re getting” I said.  “That’s right” was the retort. turned to Pat,  “And you’re hopping mad, from where you sit it seems that Chris shows you no respect”.  “You’ve got that right”, was the response.  “Clearly respect is very important to both of you” I said.  The two, a bit calmer now but still glaring at each other, nodded in agreement.  As I continued to name the feeling and acknowledge their interest in respect, the tension in the room gradually began to subside.  Eventually both calmed down and we began to talk about the issue that divided them, including the disrespect each felt from the other.  Together they made a plan about how they would treat each other in the future and eventually they resolved the issue that resulted in their appearing before me as their mediator.

This story, although vastly simplified to make a point and with gender neutral fictitious names, is a drama that plays out often in mediation.  With the help of a neutral third party mediator, a way through a situation headed to an all out battle can often be derailed.  Deep in the emotions surrounding conflict, it is hard for people to acknowledge each other and discover what the other person really needs to move forward.  Even someone who is not part of the conflict but who stands in a power position over one or both of the parties may have a hard time helping people feel safe enough to let down their guard and discover what they really need from each other.  That is why mediation by a third party, who has no relationship to the parties in conflict, works so well.  Next time you are involved in an intractable conflict at work or you see one that is hampering productivity, give me a call so that I can help analyze the situation and together decide if mediation is right for you.

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