A TODDLER'S WISDOM ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION
THE WORDS YOU USE MATTER WHEN MAINTAINING OR REPAIRING RELATIONSHIPS
Readers will recall that last year's newsletter was a series of "Life Lessons", in tribute to my late mother. This year, I am happy to report that I am learning and re-learning new life lessons through the eyes of the next generation, my granddaughter. Like "My Mother's Legacy", these are lessons that serve me well as I apply them to mediation.
This month has seen an explosion of language in our little toddler. She has learned important phrases from "Go Sox" to "I love you, Amma". And most of the time, she already knows how to use them.
In mediation, both the informality and the confidentiality of the process can sometimes lead to a relaxation of the basic rules of human engagement. Insults and accusations can fly--making it harder to get to the kind of cooperation and collaboration that is required to achieve an acceptable deal to settle the dispute.
What's more, the presence of an empathetic neutral third party may even facilitate the worst of negativity during the course of the mediation. In the privacy of a caucus room, we mediators hear all kinds of negative things, true and untrue, in an attempt by one side to discredit the other. Yet, lashing out and making mean-spirited accusations against the opposing party (or even their lawyer!) can have consequences that permeate and even poison the atmosphere of cooperative negotiation. Speech designed to embarrass, insult or cause emotional pain or distress is simply not productive in mediation or elsewhere--even in private caucus. Instead, focusing upon the negative facts or allegations and defenses raised will be a more productive means of analyzing and evaluating the strength or weakness of the case. And doing so respectfully can go a long distance towards getting to "yes" between the two conflicting parties.
In Jewish tradition, there is a term, lashon hora, which means derogatory speech, whether or not it is true. Essentially, it is forbidden to speak evil about someone else unless it is for a positive, constructive purpose. Negative talk or gossip is considered a sin. Speaking loshan hora carries the potential of causing catastrophic harm, tearing families and friendships apart. Essentially, you can't take your words back once they are spoken.
These are powerful lessons which, if learned adequately when speech is first acquired can lead to avoiding unnecessary harm and instead creating the kind of cooperative atmosphere that fosters an enduring settlement of conflict. (And also a lifelong White Sox fan!)
P.S.: For my many readers who are Moms, and those that have Moms in their lives, Happy Mother's Day. This message, of course, could readily have been brought by your Mom, too.