In addition to owning a mediation and business communication consulting business, I am also an educator and researcher at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. My ability to participate in the practitioner and academic fields supplements how I approach conflicts. During mediation the goal is to facilitate understanding by helping craft a productive conversation that is completely client-centered. My mediation philosophy can be summarized according to two acronyms: AEIOU and The Three C’s.
I believe that many conflicts can be mediated if people let their guard down and make an honest attempt to talk and listen. Verbalizing Assumptions, Expectations, and Intentions in an Organized manner will lead to Understanding (AEIOU).
Whether we are disagreeing with our spouse, providing advice to a coworker, or evaluating a complex organizational process, the goal is always to understand the situation and convey that meaning to another person. Conflict emerges because of disagreements over a wide variety of issues. Relationships develop and fall apart. Organizations grow rapidly, stabilize, and then begin to change. Conflict escalates because people attach their identities (feelings) to other people and organizations. When a relationship or organization begins to change, people temporarily lose part of their identity. Change and conflict are natural but difficult parts of life, and learning to deal with them improves our lives.
Conflict also escalates because people do think about the Context in which it is occurring. Context is a frame of reference that leads to understanding. This means that disagreements are tied to many other factors and the goal of a skilled conversational facilitator (mediator) is to determine which factors matter and which don’t. I build a bridge between parties by using their experiences, facts, and understanding of the issues as planks – and I encourage them to meet half way on that bridge.
By asking a series of questions to more fully understand the context, people have already participated in the first step of dealing with conflict by simply answering the questions, which is to talk about it. People incorrectly assume that Communication means agreement. Communication is an authentic attempt to look at the world from another viewpoint. Seeing the world from another person’s perspective is difficult to do, and this is why a communication process expert is an effective mediator.
I help people understand that talk is not cheap or easy, and that it is all the more important during conflict. We don’t look at appliance policy manuals until something goes wrong and communication is no different. We develop bad habits but don’t think about them as long as everything functions normally. Since we were never given a communication policy manual, I remind people about basic communication skills for “how to” communicate properly. Communication should not be an unconscious action like breathing – effective communication should be thoughtful, conscious, and planned. When I am mediating, I always try to use questions to draw out assumptions, expectations, and intentions to produce a more holistic understanding of the situation.