Go Towards The Heat

Go Towards The Heat

Go Towards The Heat

Conflict is a part of life whether we like it or not. And while many people shy away from it, mediators are trained to ‘go towards the heat’. Because every conflict has at least one point of disagreement and emotions (heat) that come with that. Mediators go towards the heat because, rather than viewing conflict as a problem, we see it as an opportunity to resolve differences and reach understanding.

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

There is a common misconception that mediators enjoy conflict. Otherwise why would they put themselves in its path with such reckless abandon?

Are you telling me that you don’t have enough problems in your life that you now want to insert yourself into other people’s disputes?

While it is true that we have our own problems, it has not stopped us from embracing mediation as a mechanism for conflict resolution. Part of why we mediate is because we know how destructive unresolved conflict can be and we have seen how mediation can help. Especially during COVID with frustrations high and tempers shorter than usual.

So while we don’t love conflict in itself, we view it as a pathway to understanding. We have seen firsthand how conflict enables parties to learn new information and share their own perspectives, demonstrates that change is required, and ultimately leads to new options. An open-minded and conscientious mediator can provide parties with a safe space to have difficult conversations and freely share what is bothering them.

But that still leaves mediators walking into rooms fraught with emotions and having to diffuse toxic situations. You may assume that the way to resolve a conflict is to focus on the positives and to steer clear of the most contentious points. But this is not our philosophy at Venn Mediation. Our training with the New York Peace Institute taught us that the key to resolving disputes is to identify the pain points and to help parties communicate what is causing the pain. There are times this approach can lead to emotional outbursts, sometimes shouting or crying. And often, the situation will escalate before things start to calm down. Because so long as a party is in pain and does not feel heard, their conflict cannot be resolved. That is why as mediators, we do not shy away from the tough topics. We go towards the heat.

We start by asking parties to explain what brought them to mediation and what outcome they desire. We listen to the parties and reflect back their words, both so that the party feels heard and so the other party hears it too. This second point is critical because sometimes when we’re in conflict we start to focus only on our own side and tune out what the other person is saying. When a party expresses an emotion we explore it with them and try to understand where that emotion is coming from. And we encourage the parties to communicate directly with each other, even if they start yelling; because that is communication too.  

You might think that letting people yell at each other would just make things worse. And we certainly have our limits for how heated the discussions can become. But a funny thing happens when you deal with the emotions and allow them to be expressed rather than suppressed. People start to hear each other and feel heard. In fact, for many mediations, this is the first time the parties genuinely start to hear each other. And more often than not, this is the reason they are in conflict with each other. The mediator will also use some techniques to help draw these emotions out. But ultimately, going towards the heat is what gets parties moving and that is how we get them to amicable agreements.

Mediation has taught us that we cannot control how much conflict we have in our life. All we can control is how we respond to it. And sometimes that means having difficult conversations and dealing with painful issues. If you have a conflict with someone, contact us about the nature of the disagreement and find out if mediation is right for you. We are based in New York but do online mediations as well. Disputes are never easy, but dispute resolution does not have to be hard. We would love to help.

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