3 Steps to Compassionate Conflict

I was recently reading an article about a man with a condition that renders him numb to his own feelings while the feelings and emotions of others are experienced as his own.  That is to say if he sees someone in pain he experiences their pain in his own body.  Neurologists claim that the cause of this condition is an over developed prefrontal cortex.  He also has more grey matter than the normal person.  The connection that the article didn’t make is that meditators have been found to exhibit similarly developed areas of the brain.


There is a Buddhist practice of Exchanging Self with Other —to step into the shoes of the other, take their perspective, and ultimately not to differentiate between ones own pain vs the pain of the other. Why?  So that we work to end the pain of others with as much vigor as we do our own. 


This got me thinking about how different conflict would be if we could literally feel what the other person is experiencing.  If we walked around life motivated to end the pain of others as naturally as we work to end our own.  Now, to do that completely and all the time is difficult.  But a simple perspective changing exercise can make the world of difference in diffusing a hostile situation once safety has been established.


As a mediator, if one can walk into the crossfire and hold compassion for both parties, perhaps we can hold the space for that conflict to transform and indeed be an agent for that change.


The practice of exchanging self and other often begins with looking at our level of equanimity. Doing so may just be the key to holding this balanced compassion and thus engaging in compassionate conflict.  Conflict does not have to be a negative thing, it can be the stimulus for positive change.


So here are the three aspects that a mediator should explore to gain equanimity to engage in compassionate conflict:


1)   Consider someone that you dislike.  Is it the case that because you dislike them that you also wish them ill?  Not typically, right? And even though you may not see eye to eye, is it not the case that they are just human and likely suffering just as much as you, if not more?

2)   Next consider someone that you don’t know — maybe you catch sight of someone on the subway that you’ve never seen before.  Think of all the people that you see but never look at.  You rush along in your own little world and ignore the rest.  Is it not so that they too are suffering?  Shouldn’t you feel as much compassion for them as you do anyone else?

3)   Finally consider someone that is very close to you.  When they are suffering, does it feel as if it is your own? Isn’t there this wish in your heart to take that suffering away?  And if so, what would it be like if you felt that way about everyone?


The goal is to see how differently you hold people and what the potential is.  This isn’t something you do once and then forget about it.  This is something you do daily.  Bring to mind and use tangible examples of each.  Then really think about what it would mean to feel compassion towards everyone.  How would it change your world and the conflict at hand?



Posted on October 23, 2015 .

From Meditation to Mediation in 3 Steps

By: Lisette Garcia, PhD

While reviewing my training manual, I was reminded of the 8 Core Values of Facilitative Mediation.  When I was trained, I was told that all needed to be present for the mediation to continue, all 8 at once, that’s a big deal!

Let’s take the value of ensuring a Quality mediation.  This seems simple but it does require a certain amount of humility to know that you are in over your head before you are irreparably over your head.  This state of chaos invariably compromises the quality of the mediation. 

Then there is physical and emotional Safety.  This seems a bit more difficult because it requires one to be empathetic to the degree that one has the ability to look beyond the words and read their client’s body language and perhaps their subtle energetic shifts that happen under fear.  And that is just two…

The core value I really want to discuss, however, is Neutrality because it demands all the above in addition to a certain level of personal, emotional insight and balance that allows the mediator to remain “untriggered” by the topics at hand.  It’s more than just “not triggered,” it is to remain above opinion! Is that really possible? 

As a long time meditator I have found that the best way to combat emotional bias is to follow the same advice given to keep meditators on their object of focus: RELAX, RELEASE and RETURN.

1)   RELAX

When one is meditating ones habits off the meditation cushion hold while on the cushion—same goes for mediators whether we want to admit it or not.  As New Yorkers there is a certain drive and persistence we tend to have that doesn’t help in deeper states of meditation—in other words, we can’t push our way into a calm, still mind.  It is a different muscle that allows us to sit back, observe, and indeed, relax! Only then will the emotion pass us by like a cloud crossing the sky.


After one is able to relax and catch the thought as it arises then the goal is to release it. For some things, it will come easily but for the big things it will be more difficult.

Consider that you, the mediator, have just gone through a difficult divorce. Your clients are also going through a divorce.  If the parallels are similar you may find yourself like a fish caught in a hawks talons.  That is to say, it is incredibly unlikely that the hawk will drop the fish—likewise, it is equally unlikely that you will be able to release yourself from that strong emotion that was triggered.

Once we are in the grip of an emotion we are unable to remain neutral and the quality of our mediation has been compromised.


If we are able to extricate ourselves from the emotion then we must quickly recall what our original goal was for the session.  The more practice you have, the more quickly you will return.  Because we are human we will need to work through these steps with some regularity. When we become really well practiced, we will be able to go through these steps within a few breaths. This allows us to get back on track without jeopardizing the mediation, thus maintaining the core values of the session as well.


The New Normal

By: Taylor Yess

The Pope came to New York last week and midtown was apparently held at a standstill, which annoyed many a Manhattanite. Politicians jockeyed to have lunch with him and stand near him during photo opps. It all felt a little like a spectacle at times to me.

While the Pope’s physical presence was quite inconsequential to me, there was something hidden in his message that I’ve been holding onto…he is kind of a normal person.

How can this man, this leader of the Catholic religion, be rather normal. And in comparison with American politicians, quite normal.

On September 24th when Pope Francis spoke to the United States Congress, he scolded us and he exemplified what it means to lead a population. I’m not saying I agree with everything he said, but I think he characterizes something that is hard to find in our political system, a real representative.

While our media is picking him apart from both sides, calling him too conservative or too liberal, I think we are missing the point.

There is something in between.

In my opinion, Pope Francis had the difficult position of needing to modernize the Catholic Church. In order to stay relevant, they had to evolve. He had to begin looking at science and accepting global warming while holding on to the tenants of the religion. It’s not easy, but he is bringing the Catholic Church into the 21st century by listening and adapting to the sentiments of his population while our politicians seem to be taking us a step back in time through division.

There is a lot of fear mongering happening in our system right now, but what I am most of afraid of is the duality. We can no longer talk to our neighbors, friends, and coworkers about politics because it’s too loaded. People, normal people, are nuanced. They have interests and values and goals that differentiate them from the next Joe, those are what should be celebrated, represented, and publicized.

And on the eve of another government shutdown, I have to wonder, who is winning?

6 Smart Ways Female Founders Resolve Conflicts

By: Elizabeth Clemants

Women and mothers negotiate daily with their children, spouses, and bosses–but if they are imitating a man’s negotiating style, it’s a mistake. There is a more powerful way.

Throughout my 18-year career of helping resolve disputes as a professional mediator, I have seen first-hand how women and men negotiate differently. But contrary to the stereotype that men are better negotiators than women, I believe women have the natural instincts to win most disputes.

Here are six techniques our mediators use at the Small Business Arbitration Center of New York to help resolve everything from tenant/landlord disputes to small business conflicts. As you’ll see, most of these techniques are inherent to women, and when applied in nearly any situation, will give you an edge.

  1.  Focus on interests, not positions. Don’t state what you want, state why you want it. By expressing the motivation for your position, it will uncover many new potential solutions, not just the one.
  2. Help the other side save face. Allow those on the other side to meet you in the middle by opening the door for them. Men especially might view compromise as a form of losing. By reframing the circumstances in a way that makes everyone look reasonable—the other side is more likely to accept your side.
  3. Establish credibility by first reflecting what you heard the other person say.  Social science proves women are better listeners than men and by showing you understand the other’s point of view, the other side will be more open to hearing yours. Active Listening is the cornerstone of any negotiation. Women are more likely to hear early on the viewpoint of the other, and therefore get to the heart of the negotiation more quickly.
  4. Powerful questions will open up the conversation to new solutions.  Assumptions about motivation, interests, or history can block a solid negotiated agreement.  Admit when you don’t know or don’t understand where the other person is coming from. Women usually feel more comfortable admitting they don’t understand, and therefore can resolve misunderstanding more quickly. Ask a question that targets an assumption. This pointed questioning allows the conversation to go deeper, bringing more potential solutions.
  5. Concern yourself with what the other wants.  If those on the other side see that you are invested in mutual gain, they will be more open to giving you what you want.
  6. Pay attention to body language. Roughly 90% of communication is tone and body language.  Women are typically more adept at reading nonverbal cues, and therefore often more able to see the undercurrent developing in a communication—giving them an edge in negotiation.

Originally posted here on June 2, 2015

Posted on June 4, 2015 .

Turn off the Filters...Just for a minute

By Elizabeth Clemants

Last week, after listening to a client tell me about the deep pain of her life, she said, “Your friends must be so lucky to have someone like you to listen to them.” Actually, I wish it worked out that way. Having a friend that listens for a living doesn’t always equate to having a lot of left over energy for listening to friends. My poor friends, I love you! When clients say that, I think what they really mean is: You are a good listener. You take time to see me.

Let’s talk about how we can listen like that. There are two types of listening – there are more, but let’s talk about these two. Filtered listening and Empathic listening. Filtered listening is what we are all great at – listening through our filters. Like it or not, we are always passing judgment on what we hear and see all the time. We naturally compare what someone is telling us or doing to what we know to be true from our experiences. We silently ask ourselves, is this Right or Wrong? Is this Good or Bad? Is this Safe or Unsafe? And our brain spits out an answer.

There is nothing wrong with filtered listening. In fact, it is how we categorize the world, and make sense of it, for ourselves. Our unique experience is developing as we move through life and it makes us who we are. It gives us the abilities that make up our unique set of skills and purpose. In fact, we do keep ourselves safe, on the right path, and feeling confident through our filtered listening. So it is a good thing, that we are all good at that level of listening.

But that isn’t what our friends want from us, or our family, or our colleagues, or our clients. They want empathy. They want a mirror held up so they can understand their own experiences better – and nothing will make that more convoluted or messy than adding your own filters into the mix while you are listening. When someone is telling us about their lives, what they really want is a reflection of how we see they feel. It shows them that they’re being heard and seen and cared about. And in most cases, when you’re talking to a friend, they want these things more than your judgment, sympathy or problem solving, even when these things come from the best place. Empathic listening starts with remembering that what someone is saying is about what they think or feel. It’s not about what you think or feel in that moment, or what you would feel if you were in that situation. And it’s not about what you think about that situation. It’s solely about them and their experience. Can you reflect the subjective experience that they seem to be having? That’s good listening.

Here’s how to do it. Start by putting yourself in their shoes. Listen to what seems to be going on for them. Begin your sentence with ‘it sounds like you feel ____’. You might be wrong, but if you stay open to getting it right, you will eventually be rewarded with the: “Yes! Thank you!” Then you can watch as they calm down, feel seen, understand themselves and the situation differently, let go, and move forward.

That’s a great friend.


Posted on May 26, 2015 .