Breaking the cycle of conflict – mediation plays a part

Last week I saw a video of a young boy in the US tutoring his little brother to calm down with breathing exercises . My first thought was how inventive the little chap was in recognising his brother was losing it and finding a way to stop a difference becoming a major tantrum. I compared this with the ways we respond to early day conflict setting down parameters with a firm hand gently removing the trigger that would otherwise have led to uncontrollable disruptive behaviour. Applying this to mediation we see parties in the same sort of behavioural extremes of mutual demonisation – neighbour A considers neighbour B to be a noisy bully and neighbour B considers neighbour A to be an interfering busybody. Neither is able to take a step back from the brink. This leads to disruptive relationships with zero communication. At this point those exercising a degree of control be they within the housing department or the police, are left with having to intervene and often to exercise sanctions over those they consider to be in the wrong. That is both administratively costly and damaging to long term relationships.

Now take it back a step and look not at the way each communicated with the other, but look at the individual. You cannot deal with the relationship issue divorced from self, and being able to transform a potential ticking time bomb from one of disconnection, separation and competitiveness to one of connection, belonging and positive communication you need to be able to calm troubled waters – it starts with you and then once you feel strong enough to cope with any tsunami that hits you, whether you are a party to a problem or a mediator intervening in one, then and only then can you help others deal with their own personal tsunamis. Like the older boy in the video he feels confident enough to intervene, to encourage his younger brother to breath slowly to enable the cerebral cortex, the contemplative part of the brain to govern the response, shoving the fear and stress responses to the back of the queue. Mediators constantly deal with people whose dominant reaction is fight or flight –  reaction that isn’t dissipated by involving housing officers or police or at least the sharper end of those interventions. We have all dealt with interventions that need to restore communications where people seek an imposed solution; as mediators we should not only be able to bridge chasms and heal broken relationships, to get there we need to be at peace with our ourselves before we can be seen as trusted peacemakers for others. Beginning with the basics and becoming small voices of calm in troubled waters, that provides the confidence and persistence to get to agreements that would otherwise be impossible. Call it meditation or being at one with yourself that can spread so easily to those involved in conflict and that can help change the dynamics from ‘no can do’ to ‘yes we can’.