Mediation Training, part 2

Today went much better than yesterday, no doubt mostly because we all got an extra hour’s sleep, although I wish they’d cease and desist with the interactive analogy-building team games right off the bat. My brain barely functions for the first hour or so that I’m awake and what juice I do get from it tends to be heavy on input (I can listen, read email, check messages, etc – passive thinking stuff) and low to non-existent on output (ie active thinking, answering emails that require thought, coming up with cogent new thoughts, writing and so on). So games that require me to cogitate fresh out of bed are just about as doable as nailing Jello to a wall. Gah.

I usually just hover around looking participative until someone else figures out the big secret or whatever, and then just go with the flow. Gods fortend I should have to report of what we learned or what the purpose of the game was. 😛

Other than that, though, I think today we really made some serious headway into getting a handle on this mediation thing. We moved on to taking the discussion from the storytelling phase (each party telling their side of the story) to summarizing what’s been said and the main points that need to be dealt with in the final agreement and on to bridging into brainstorming ideas and creating solutions.

BTW, I learned today that if you have what you think is a good suggestion, but it’s obvious that the two parties aren’t going to come up with it on their own, while you can’t just say, “Hey, why don’t you ask your school counselor to help you find an after school job?” (since outside ideas may be way off the mark, may distract them from coming up with their own or could just not get total buy in and then it’s all your fault if it doesn’t work out), you can say something like, “So is there any way your counselor could help you with this?” So my rant from yesterday is tempered somewhat. It’s still tempting to just jump in and rearrange all their problems for them (ah, the lure of the busy-body!), but it’s easier knowing I can subtly steer them in a direction if I feel it will help, with it still being their idea in the end. (And we role-played a scenario that ended up having something very like that happen in the process, which gave me a great idea of how that would look in action, which was awesome.)

It’s kinda cool. We’ve been role-playing and practicing our mediation skills enough times now that we’re starting to sound like we know what we’re doing – sometimes for minutes on end! – and we’re beginning to see how it all comes together as a solid process.

We’re also getting into greater detail about tricks and tools for dealing with things like emotional escalation among participants, sticky questions like what do you do if it’s not going anywhere or if you think there’s a power imbalance that’s getting in the way of the process (for example, one participant is the other’s boss or parent). And our role-plays have been letting us each deal with stuff like this in action as well as in discussion, so you get a real(er) feel for how different it is to know what to do and to actually be able to do it smoothly and professionally on the fly.

I must say that I’m finding myself extremely grateful for my years of life coach training, and leaning heavily on those skills during this process for tools like communicating cleanly without using trigger words or tonality, reframing, being comfortable with discomfort, listening for what’s not being said as much as for what is and just all the stuff I’ve done over the past few years as a coach. I’ve been pulling tricks and tools out of my “coaching bag” that I haven’t used in a long time trying to keep an even keel in the role-playing exercises. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for me without this pre-existing training.

Heh…speaking of coaching, I told my favorite coaching joke today (it’s a conference favorite that speaks to the difference between coaching and therapy), and it was a big hit with one of the trainers whose background is in counseling but who has recently become a coaching convert. Basically, the joke goes as follows:

A therapist has been working with a client who has a phobia of someone hiding under her bed and attacking her in the middle of the night. But after several years – during which the therapist has pulled out every tool and strategy he has to get to the root of the problem and followed the client down every rabbit hole of possible causes – they’ve made no progress.

One day, the client misses her appointment. Then she misses the next and the next. Worried, the therapist calls her up to see if she’s okay and she tells him that she’s fine – in fact, she’s been seeing a life coach for a few weeks and she’s been completely cured of her phobia! For the first time in years, she can sleep soundly all night long without a care.

Curious, and not a little jealous, the therapist asks the client what it was the coach did to cure her phobia – hypnosis, talking therapy, visualization, what? What did he miss?

Laughing, the client says, “It was nothing like that at all. My coach simply told me to cut the legs off of me bed.”

That’s what I like about mediation. We don’t care if your daddy didn’t love you enough or your mamma didn’t potty train you well and that’s why you have anger management issues and ended up clocking your neighbor at the block party over a borrowed tool that wasn’t returned. We just want to find a way to fix the problem today, based on what we have to work with right now. It’s a lot like coaching, just way more structured and narrowly defined in terms of what you’re doing and why.

Anyway, one more day and then we’re off to Greensboro for the Spring Summit, which should be fun. So don’t expect to hear from my until Friday night at the earliest and more likely this weekend.

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