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For a long time now, I’ve been wondering about some disconnect, or lack of congruence, in an area that is a major source of pride for the ADR field (particularly for mediation): Dealing with emotions.

We pride ourselves, as a field, on identifying parties core emotions, dealing with parties’ real concerns, and tapping into their underlying motivations. In teaching and training we teach future practitioners to address emotions, rather than to fear them as disruptive; to see them as a key area to engage parties in, as opposed to something to be brushed under the carpet.

However, it seems to me that we might not be fully preparing – and priming – these practitioners to elicit and deal with emotions that make up the true Dark Side of human experience. By these, I’m referring to emotions and emotional states that are often out of control, un-nameable and seemingly unmanageable. I also include emotions that parties will often not raise or name themselves, and might even try to hide – as they are seen illegitimate, unsuitable for the civilized working-out-of-things the mediation setting seems to call for these are. They might not even be admitting to themselves that they are experiencing these emotions.

Mediators, and their teachers, certainly discuss anger, worry, concern, frustration (the name-able, manageable emotions that might be dubbed ‘light’ emotions, colored with negativity though they are), and so on. However, do we teach practitioners to identify, and cope with rage? With jealousy? With desire for vengeance? With spite? I’m not sure.

Moving from teaching to practice, I’ve noticed two dynamics related to this omission, or resulting from it, in mediation sessions: First, as mediators listen for emotional content, we call off the hunt when we identify emotions that fall into the ‘lighter’ category. Figuring ‘We’ve  got it!”, we certainly often don’t ask questions designed to elicit the darker emotions. Second, even when parties bring emotions from the Dark Side into the room, we might have a tendency to transform them, through words, into lighter emotions. No matter how much we stress the importance of recognizing the level of parties’ emotions, we still tend to tamp them down – if not through ‘constructive’ (read: ‘selective’) rewording as we paraphrase or summarize what parties have told us, then through reframing. I think that instead of reframing emotions, we often ‘down-frame’ them, significantly. We don’t eliminate the emotion, but we bring it down to something we can work with: Rage turns into anger, anger into frustration. Frustration is a favorite destination of mediators; we can deal with frustration – especially as it points towards something that needs to be satisfied and therefore ties neatly into problem-solving.

I have some questions, thoughts and stories related to particular Dark Side dynamics and emotions, but first – your own thoughts. Is this just me? Or are we missing something?

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Noam,
Great post (as always) and glad to have the opportunity to once engage you (& Bernie) on these topics. Many things come to mind, and starting off first is one of my favorite areas of analysis- metaphors.

You choice of using the "Dark Side" connotes, with me at least, something bad and negative. Do you believe it is the training mediators receive, such as the practice of summarizing and reframing, that has emotions going from, as you say, "Rage turns into anger, anger into frustration"?

Just thinking aloud, or more like typing 'aloud', and playing devils advocate, if the parties remain in the "rage stage" how can he/she/they work towards a potential agreement or better understanding? For me, Rage = acting from a non-cognitive perspective but rather from strictly one of emotion. Obviously it does not have to be one or the other either and I don't think either of us would suggest it.

I also think mediators need to the prepared on how handle and work the the parties emotions prior engaging them- this falls back to first how they are trained (have they even been trained??) and then how the mediator prepares. As you said, jealously and revenge are often motivators that exist many times overtly and below the surface.

Proper emotion identification is also important. People are not always able to identify their emotions and often is is a blend of emotions while at the same time people will mask one emotion with another.

This is an important topic, and also very complex.

I am interested to hear more about how you suggest on training and priming (interesting choice of wording btw) mediators.

Thanks Jeff!

I'd like to hold off a bit on the implications for training - as I think they might easily emerge on their own as we get into this conversation - but I'm going to jump on some of your thoughts:

You write that "Proper emotion identification is also important. People are not always able to identify their emotions and often it is a blend of emotions while at the same time people will mask one emotion with another."  That is very insightful. And, it shows why the mediator's preparation and actions are important and critical. We deal with people who sometimes:

a) do not know what they are feeling;

b) do not admit to themselves what they are feeling;

c) know what they are feeling but do not want to admit them to us, so they present them in other emotional terms;

d) know what they are feeling but do not want to admit them to us, so they might easily accept (or, give in to) other frames we propose.

In any of these possibilities, I'm not sure we're doing anyone a favor by assuming that the less intense states of emotional categories are those experienced by parties. Similarly, by identifying more intense states, but trying to de-intensify them through our words. In doing so, we are either signifying agreement with parties' assumptions (or - seem to be trying to teach them a moral lesson) that the more intense states are wrong, illegitimate or to use your connotation - bad and negative. I myself believe that these intense states are - dark as it feels to be in their grasp (which is what I meant by the term 'dark', in addition to the fact that we often hide their hold on us from our ourselves and others) - where some of our most human experiences occur. I also think we acknowledge this, as mediators or mediator trainers. However - my question, in a nutshell, remains: Do we walk our talk? 

 

What to Do About Emotions? 

 

 

During one of my very first divorce mediations—over thirty years ago (ok, Bernie enough of the “I have been doing this forever” stuff)—in an intense moment in the negotiations, the soon to be ex-husband—who was an electrical engineer and always tried to put forward a rational and logical front—jumped out of his chair and started stomping around the room saying “this is the age when we are supposed to express our feelings and so I am going to express mine—I’m pissed off” (or something to that effect).  His wife, my co-mediator, and I just watched as he had an excellent rant.  Then he sat down and we finished the negotiations.  We didn’t validate, ask him to go deeper, or ask him to stop ranting.  We just waited until he was done and then went on.

 

Would I handle that any different today?  I am not sure.  It worked ok.  They both seemed pretty pleased with the outcome.  But it does not follow any particular guideline or tenet about dealing with emotions that I am aware of.  I think we don’t really know what to do with the “dark side” emotions—or for that matter with the “dark side” interests (e.g.  “I want you to suffer like I have”, or “I want to make it aclear to everyone that you are bad and I am good”).  Our ideology says we should deal with the underlying concerns and  get to the “real issue”, but I am not sure what we mean by this.  By the way, I think psychotherapists often have no clue about this either. 

 

I think that we have to help people find their negotiation or communications “zone” in conflict—where the conflict really “lives” for them—that is the place that is neither so shallow that the we are avoiding issues, concerns, or needs that are at the heart of a dispute or so deep that we are going into areas where disputants are not prepared to go and that may take them away from the concerns that brought them to us to begin with.  I do try take the lead from clients on this—I don’t want to be more reluctant of talking about really difficult issues than they are nor do I want to push an agenda of “dealing with your real feelings.”  However, part of taking this lead is really listening to them about what their interests about their emotions are—do they want to express them, explore them, work on them, hear what the emotions of others are,  cathart, etc.? People are often very confused and inconsistent in this area.  And of course, different parties to a dispute may have very different interests about emotions—so a sort of meta-negotiation often takes place concerning how much we are going to get into the expression or description of emotions in  a conflict interaction—and in what way. 

 

This is an area where our values can get in the way—that is we have beliefs about what we should do with emotions—but these beliefs should not be imposed on clients.  I would love to hear other’s stories about this.

 

 

For further consideration—what do we really mean by “validation”?  What do most of us want to do with our emotions?  When do people want to describe their emotions (a cognitive approach) versus “ventilate” (an emotional discharge process)?

 

 

Unsurfaced emotions influence outcomes to some degree. They fall into the mix of emotion and rationality and problems related to what is termed bounded rationality. Perhaps in the early stages of establishing negotiation procedues a discussion of how bounded rationality  may impede an optimal outcome for all sides should be included. What we know is always influenced by what you refer to as dark side emotions. We are often not fully aware of some of those emotions.

I promise to touch on some of those point you raised soon Bernie, Hal and others - but I’d like to toss in a segue from the road. I’m currently at the International Association for Conflict Management’s conference in Cape Town, and this evening had the honor of attending a talk by Leymah Gbowee. Ms. Gbowee co-received last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work on women’s empowerment and mobilization which was significant (and this is only a small part of what she’s done) in ending the civil war in Liberia.

One of the attendees asked her where she found the hope and resilience to carry on her work, in face of the incredible adversity she’s faced. She didn’t answer in terms of hope or resilience. Instead, she said, she was driven by the same thing that drove Mandela, Hitler, Charles Taylor, Martin Luther King and Gandhi. When her audience responded with surprised (some, stunned!) faces at the inclusiveness of this list, she explained: They were all fundamentally motivated by anger, a deep-rooted, ever-growing anger at a situation in which they saw themselves and their people. This driving anger led them to labor zealously and unhesitatingly to strive for change and transformation for their societies. Of course these people took fundamentally different paths, which shows that with great anger comes great choice. However, the fundamental driving motivation remains the same. Anger at injustice, at stupidity, at waste, at unnecessary costs paid by defenseless people, she said, is what keeps her working into the night, what keeps her constantly on the road, constantly on the phone, constantly ‘on’.

I think that the anger Ms. Gbowee is describing is exactly the type of driving motivation we’re discussing here. This indicates that ‘the dark side’ phraseology really does not connote anything negative – but just the usually unnamed sources of these intense emotional powers. Properly harnessed, they can do a world of good, or do the world some good as she has demonstrated. The same should be true, it might follow, for our individual, small-scale interventions.

Food for thought, huh?

In my mediation sessions, I encourage the disputants to vent and to express their emotions. In caucus, I listen more actively to the sub rosa issues underneath the business(financial) and personal needs or positions. For example, I find that money issues legitimatize the complaint but are only an aspect of the entire dispute. Certainly, the need to set the books straight justifies or validates the development of the case. In some emotional situations, I believe that a psychiatrist is more appropriate than a mediator. I experienced "Sybil" and the "Three Faces of Eve" in more than one mediation session. I was never sure whom I was speaking with with one defendant.

In my previous reportage about the UAW lawyer and the plaintiff's attorney, the issues were emotional ones cloaked in the shroud of overdue payments. The real issues centered on the broken bonds of friendship and trust between the disputants. The plaintiff was hurt that his trust of ten years was betrayed by the defendant for no apparent reason. The defendant was in obvious turmoil since he feigned heart palpitations and the need for a smoke when the emotional issues surfaced. The defendant owed a lot of money to other people. He was on the hook with the courts, the loan sharks, and legitimate creditors for other issues, as well as for his son's indiscretions.

Although I allowed the emotions to surface by both parties, I could not allow the emotions and related tangents to hijack the mediation process. I find that it is not so much my need to control things as it is to align myself with the judge's schedule and to work within a reasonable time frame. My personality can only take so much venting since I know myself as a direct and results oriented person. In the real world, I find that my supervisors and the courts encourage adherence to the ADR process in a timely manner. I adjusted my behavior so that I listen to the emotions and allow people to expound on certain points in a more efficient and timely manner. I am maturing as a mediator without compromising my empathetic side. In private practice, I might counterbalance time against my hourly rates. My position is that active listening to the emotional side is critical for success in ADR. I draw the line when the disputants go over the top or start repeating the same points. Yes, "I get it:" however, one also needs to use good judgement and cut through the clutter to pinpoint the significant issues. As a test, I ask both parties what they wish to accomplish within the mediation session. I find that their revelations in conjunction with the emotional expressions move the process closer to the design of a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute.

JCT

I am enjoying you conversation, I would like to share with you this article I wrote, it may be germane and then again maybe not.

Responsibility

By Delores Manwar

Moral obligation, Conscience, liability, Integrity; all equal, RESPONSIBILITY.

Webster defines responsibility as” being responsible”,  obligation,  obliged to account for duty; cause of something; able to distinguish between right & wrong; dependable, reliable, accountable, answerable, liable, constrained, tied, fettered, bonded, obliged,  other side, trusty, capable, efficient, loyal, faithful (self reliant),  able, competent, qualified, effective, upright,  firm, steadfast, steady , able, respect, action required by one’s position, moral or legal consideration; service.

Great words, but in the world of Alternative Dispute Resolution,  the idea of the participants assuming any responsibility is something that becomes hard if not impossible to accept.  In some cases you can’t give the honor away.  Instead we become irresponsible, which means at a drop of a hat we become capricious, erratic, flighty, fickle, thoughtless, rash, undependable, unstable, loose, and lax and with some of us even immoral; wild, shiftless devil make care, and unpredictable.

What would happen if we all decided that no matter what, we would make a concerted effort to examine our own definition of responsibility in our relationships, disputes, disagreements and conflict before we lash out and finger point at others?

In my opinion the absence of our ability to admit that we have some responsibility in almost everything that involves us, can be considered a direct cause of most of our conflict.  Whether the breakdown in communication involves a divorce, contractual disagreements or other family & business relationships; let us stop and examine the part we played in the outcome or results.   What should or could we have done or should not have done and can we be honest enough to admit that we may be guilty of being manipulative, dishonest, power hungry, greedy and  self serving?   All of the things we don’t or won’t readily admit we are.

Delores:

Thank you for sending me your article.  I am responsible to myself as a trusted mediator, the State of Michigan, DRCs,  the disputants, my supervisors, colleagues, and the courts.  I further believe that I must demonstrate leadership throughout the mediation session(s).  Leadership incorporates the principles of responsibility and sets one apart by sharing power with others.  A good leader passes the baton to other team members so that they come to the forefront to lead based on their abilities and talents.

 

In certain situations, I willing cede the floor to the disputants and/or their attorneys; however, I adhere to the mediation process.  I allow the process to guide me and to re enforce the principles of responsibility.  I assess whether or not the disputants and their lawyers are acting responsibly.  I appreciate your position.  Thanks for sending it my way.

 

JCT

What a fascinating discussion. I think one thing that stands out very clearly as a theme is the recurring questions of 'What do Parties Want?' vs. 'What do mediators see as their role'?

Bernie, you've been dealing with this for a long time in your writing. In another aspect, it is also a question that underlies some of the transformative / problem solving debate, at its core. You also ask how can we know if parties want descriptive ventilation or validation - and what do we do with that? John tosses in another, very practical issue - we can listen, reflect and validate all day long; how does that connect with our fee structure? Might a discussion on the nature of 'bounded rationality' at the very beginning of a process help parties figure out this balance for themselves, as Hal suggests, and perhaps relieve us of some of the responsibility for leading the conversation one way or another that Delores and really all of us are grappling with?

Boy, I wish I knew. Getting more solidly back to coping with these emotions when they are present in the room, I do have one strong intuition:  When clearly identifying a Dark Side emotion consistently underlying phase after phase of a conversation, we need to consider discussing it with the party, or with the parties. This is a decision worthy of real thought, perhaps a break, perhaps a caucus with a co-mediator.

This is a freighted situation: On the one hand, even in caucus, touching on the emotion that has not been raised might be seen as pushy, trustbreaking, even an act of 'outing'. We face rejection of a fairly firmly held understanding about what is driving the in-room dynamics, if not the conflict itself, which is a threat to our own self-security in the room. We also face a powerful reaction from the party from 'shut up!' to a walk-out.  On the other hand, we might acheive a significant turning point in the discussion. The unnameable has been named, and we survived. The secret has been shared, and the party hasn't died, or been called to task, or punished.

How do we know which of these is going to happen? How do we know which forum, which tone, which words, are the right ones? I'd love to hear people's thoughts on that because I certainly don't have any one good answer.

Bernie, I think your illustrating of your points with a story was very helpful, and I hope others add their stories in as well. Anecdotes don't make for good science, but I think we're at a very exploratory stage here where just figuring out the questions is helpful.

To kick off with one of my own, I remember a case where I stumbled on the Dark Side emotion sideways. It was in a divorce case, where the wife had met someone else and fallen in love, and the marriage collapsed. The husband was at times angry, snippy, vindictive and morose. He was also very consistent in making sniping coments regarding his wife's new partner. This was all playing out in a way that was wearing down both of their energies - and seem to get worse whenever we tried to get practical around a certain point.

In a caucus, I engaged him in a discussion but he didn't name any particular emotion - he was just 'angry at the whole story' was how he put it. When I went out on a limb and said "Look, this obviously isn't a pleasant situation, but you're not the first jealous husband to wake up and find himself cheated on - let's talk about how that feels' - he perked up and opened up. Not because I hit the nail on the head, but because (I think) I was close enough in an associative way and showed him I wasn't scared of dealing with it. He wasn't jealous at all in the 'jealous husband' sense. He'd come to terms with the fact that his wife had stepped out on him, he wasn't feeling the urge to chase after the new guy with a hammer. He was simply, but overwhelmingly, jealous in a much simpler and familiar way - sitting in the mediation room discussing money, children, etc. brought him to contrast her upcoming new life - a rush of love, an exciting new partnership, doing ok financially, having the kids, etc. - with the way he saw his own: A lackluster, lonely existence in which he ate microwaved hotdogs in a one bedroom apartment every night as he contemplated his financial ruin and his sorry excuse for parenthood. And this comparison, he said, made him feel jealous like a kid, watching his brother play with all his new birthday gifts and then getting sent to his room for trying to grab one and play with it himself. When he was in the mediation room, this jealousy kept overwhelming his rational side, his sense of being a decent person who could work things out, his concern for his kids, and so on.

We spoke about jealousy for a while. I noted how quick we were to identify it in kids, and how we always try to quickly educate them out of it. He laughed, and said that he was always doing that with his kids, and really enjoyed the moment of self-irony. 

This wasn't a magical A-ha! transformation moment after which (as those stories goes) the parties returned to the room and signed an agreement eight seconds later. But it was the key to changing this dynamic. I asked him if he'd like to let this dynamic continue, and when he said he did not, I asked if there was any way I might be able to help him. We discussed certain ways in which I might help him out in the conversation - breaks, reframing and suchlike - and continued the mediation in joint session. I did not need to use the methods we had discussed very often. I think that just having the conversation made him very cognizant of this motivation and he was determined to overcome it; the conversation helped him to decide to re-center himself.

Just a story, of course. Bet there are some other good ones out there...

I have really enjoyed the comments in this discussion.  Three issues here seem to be percolating throughout:

 

  1. Courage
  2. Responsibility
  3. Purpose

 

A brief take on each:

 

  1. Courage.  I sometimes think it is less important whether we actually hit the nail on the head in what we do or whether we bring up the most important emotion or issue or dilemma than whether we demonstrate the courage to go where the situation requires us to go.  For example, if race is an issue, and we show that we are willing to talk about race and racism, something which Americans at least have a long history of avoiding, that may be more important than if we articulate it exactly correctly or find the right framing.  If we convey a willingness to talk about issues or feelings that are really hard, unpleasant, or scary—such as jealousy, hate, depression, suicidal thoughts, violence, abuse, or greed—even if that willingness does not result in an extended or meaningful conversation, then we have done something important.  We have demonstrated that the existence of these feelings or fears is not a cause for alarm or shame, but a normal part of the human condition, and one that can be dealt with.  So the starting place for a lot of this is to have the courage to go where we need to go and this requires that we ask ourselves, what are we really afraid of as we think about raising these feelings or delving into these areas.  Of course part of it may be a fear of opening a can of worms, or igniting a fire we won’t be able to put out, or violating the implicit agreement that we are operating under.  Those are to my way of thinking valid reasons for being careful about this.  But I think often the more powerful inhibitor for us is our own fear of having to experience some of this energy, the anxiety it causes for us, our own need to stay in control and to avoid conflict.  It is our own dark side we are afraid of.  That is something that mediators (and counselors, coaches, negotiators, etc.) really need to work on and get in touch with. We are not helping people if we avoid going into these most difficult areas because of our own fear.  I think for most of us this is a life long challenge.
  2. Responsibility.  Who is responsible for deciding what to deal with, what to discuss, at what level of depth to work, etc., the clients or the mediator?  As with so much that we do, the answer here is yes.  That is we all are responsible.  As a client in a mediation, we are as responsible for our own experience as is the mediator.  In any of these roles, we have to try to act wisely, in accordance with our values, and of course courageously.  As mediators, we are committed to empowerment but also confidentiality, maintaining a safe environment, etc.  So to return to a theme from my previous post, this requires that we enter into a negotiation of sorts with our clients about what will transpire in mediation—one in which their needs and concerns are critical, but also one in which our interests are also very important.  If one party has the need to unleash all their anger on another—perhaps in an abusive way-- we have an interest in limiting this or even preventing it.  And if both parties want to spend all the available time telling each other just how awful the other is, we still have an interest in putting limits around this.  On the other hand, if the parties are avoiding the real issue and want to avoid the genuine concerns they have that are underlying their ability to work on the issues they are struggling with, we may have an interest in encouraging them to engage at a deeper more difficult level or at least in naming the problem (see number one above).  As in all good negotiations, the essential needs and concerns of all parties have to be addressed to some extent if the interaction is going to be successful and as in all negotiations, we have to be aware that sometimes the best alternative is not to continue the negotiation.  Mediators need to be good negotiations—that is how we exercise our responsibility and maintain our commitment to client empowerment and autonomy at the same time.
  3. Purpose:  As with so much of what we do, how we approach these issues ultimately comes back to our  purpose.  Why are we entering into this interaction?  Are our purposes and our clients purposes at least compatible if not the same or similar?  Can we change our purpose mid-stream (say from working out agreements to healing) as we reassess what is going on?  And if it is our job to bring up the most important underlying issues or the dark side emotions—why—to what end?  Our purpose is not a rigid, mechanistic determinant of all that we do, but it is a driving force that frames our thinking, our ethics, our training, our technique and our marketing.  I continue to use the general idea that “ I am here to help you have the conversation that you need to have”—but of course the next questions is what does “need to have” really mean.  Understanding, owning, and refining our sense of purpose is an ongoing challenge, sometimes frustrating but a source of great creativity, reflection, and growth.

 

In three hours I am off to the UK where I will attend the Olympics and where I expect to see lots of emotions both motivating and inhibiting athletes. Many of us may have seen Andy Murray give us a lesson in emotion after he lost the Wimbledon finals—controlled emotionally throughout the match, then very openly emotional—and very moving in his discussion at the end in which he said something to the effect that “you can’t be really good at this sport if you are not emotional.”  There is something to learn from this.


Noam Ebner said:

What a fascinating discussion. I think one thing that stands out very clearly as a theme is the recurring questions of 'What do Parties Want?' vs. 'What do mediators see as their role'?

Bernie, you've been dealing with this for a long time in your writing. In another aspect, it is also a question that underlies some of the transformative / problem solving debate, at its core. You also ask how can we know if parties want descriptive ventilation or validation - and what do we do with that? John tosses in another, very practical issue - we can listen, reflect and validate all day long; how does that connect with our fee structure? Might a discussion on the nature of 'bounded rationality' at the very beginning of a process help parties figure out this balance for themselves, as Hal suggests, and perhaps relieve us of some of the responsibility for leading the conversation one way or another that Delores and really all of us are grappling with?

Boy, I wish I knew. Getting more solidly back to coping with these emotions when they are present in the room, I do have one strong intuition:  When clearly identifying a Dark Side emotion consistently underlying phase after phase of a conversation, we need to consider discussing it with the party, or with the parties. This is a decision worthy of real thought, perhaps a break, perhaps a caucus with a co-mediator.

This is a freighted situation: On the one hand, even in caucus, touching on the emotion that has not been raised might be seen as pushy, trustbreaking, even an act of 'outing'. We face rejection of a fairly firmly held understanding about what is driving the in-room dynamics, if not the conflict itself, which is a threat to our own self-security in the room. We also face a powerful reaction from the party from 'shut up!' to a walk-out.  On the other hand, we might acheive a significant turning point in the discussion. The unnameable has been named, and we survived. The secret has been shared, and the party hasn't died, or been called to task, or punished.

How do we know which of these is going to happen? How do we know which forum, which tone, which words, are the right ones? I'd love to hear people's thoughts on that because I certainly don't have any one good answer.

Bernie, I think your illustrating of your points with a story was very helpful, and I hope others add their stories in as well. Anecdotes don't make for good science, but I think we're at a very exploratory stage here where just figuring out the questions is helpful.

To kick off with one of my own, I remember a case where I stumbled on the Dark Side emotion sideways. It was in a divorce case, where the wife had met someone else and fallen in love, and the marriage collapsed. The husband was at times angry, snippy, vindictive and morose. He was also very consistent in making sniping coments regarding his wife's new partner. This was all playing out in a way that was wearing down both of their energies - and seem to get worse whenever we tried to get practical around a certain point.

In a caucus, I engaged him in a discussion but he didn't name any particular emotion - he was just 'angry at the whole story' was how he put it. When I went out on a limb and said "Look, this obviously isn't a pleasant situation, but you're not the first jealous husband to wake up and find himself cheated on - let's talk about how that feels' - he perked up and opened up. Not because I hit the nail on the head, but because (I think) I was close enough in an associative way and showed him I wasn't scared of dealing with it. He wasn't jealous at all in the 'jealous husband' sense. He'd come to terms with the fact that his wife had stepped out on him, he wasn't feeling the urge to chase after the new guy with a hammer. He was simply, but overwhelmingly, jealous in a much simpler and familiar way - sitting in the mediation room discussing money, children, etc. brought him to contrast her upcoming new life - a rush of love, an exciting new partnership, doing ok financially, having the kids, etc. - with the way he saw his own: A lackluster, lonely existence in which he ate microwaved hotdogs in a one bedroom apartment every night as he contemplated his financial ruin and his sorry excuse for parenthood. And this comparison, he said, made him feel jealous like a kid, watching his brother play with all his new birthday gifts and then getting sent to his room for trying to grab one and play with it himself. When he was in the mediation room, this jealousy kept overwhelming his rational side, his sense of being a decent person who could work things out, his concern for his kids, and so on.

We spoke about jealousy for a while. I noted how quick we were to identify it in kids, and how we always try to quickly educate them out of it. He laughed, and said that he was always doing that with his kids, and really enjoyed the moment of self-irony. 

This wasn't a magical A-ha! transformation moment after which (as those stories goes) the parties returned to the room and signed an agreement eight seconds later. But it was the key to changing this dynamic. I asked him if he'd like to let this dynamic continue, and when he said he did not, I asked if there was any way I might be able to help him. We discussed certain ways in which I might help him out in the conversation - breaks, reframing and suchlike - and continued the mediation in joint session. I did not need to use the methods we had discussed very often. I think that just having the conversation made him very cognizant of this motivation and he was determined to overcome it; the conversation helped him to decide to re-center himself.

Just a story, of course. Bet there are some other good ones out there...

Well isn't this just the coolest little discussion ya'll have going on here. I have a thought or two on the subject of "Dark Side" emotions. I think they scare the heck out of most people. Of course there are cultural dimensions to consider, but speaking as an emotionally thwarted Mid-western American (of German decent).... yeah, I know, that statement is loaded with stereotypes...... I know that they scare the heck out of me. Why? Specifically?

Because they are hardly ever considered appropriate in the grand scheme of things. What I mean by that is, in the workplace, in our families, in our relationships...... a raise of the voice, a furrow of the brow, a rant or rage is a sign that things are getting out of control in a hurry. Like greasy meat on the grill, we close the cover to put the fire out. We don't consider burned meat to be tasty, likewise we don't consider burned conversations to be productive. We have been acculturated to think this is the norm. But that doesn't change the fact that they are very real and can actually be productive.

So..... what can Conflict Specialists learn during training to get skilled in allowing or encouraging disputants to feel safe in expressing these dark emotions, or emotions that come from anger, as Noam reported from Cape Town. (Btw....The press released photo of Leymah Gbowee and her co-recipients last year is proudly displayed on my Facebook wall. Made me tear up to think of their bravery.)

Anyway.....

What if we had very specific, work-shop type situations where these emotions were allowed? From the field of psychology.... a kind of flooding type experience. If we survived the workshop, no worse for the wear, would we then be not so afraid? Would we deem them less negative? My point in all this is, really, most people are just so unfamiliar with how to deal with that kind of emotion in a constructive manner. 

This is one criticism I have of a regular academic environment. It can come off as "canned". I know it is not meant to be the end of our education, but instead the basics. But this subject needs closer attention in the program. Perhaps just more awareness that it exists.... a head's up, I guess. 

I seek authenticity in my life like I thirst for water. I can't seem to get enough of it (especially this summer.) Authenticity includes negative emotions, does it not? I want my classmates to raise it in their posts. I want my instructors to allow it and encourage dissent. It depends on the instructor, but I have to tell you, I haven't gotten the good grades I have gotten by dissenting. Of course I have gotten them by writing intelligently.... but about the proper stuff. I feel a little guilty. I want to dissent more. After all, I am in a program about conflict!!!! 

Any thoughts on all this?? Anybody?

Jillian

One of the points that we uphold while mediating for the State of Michigan is an atmosphere of proper business decorum. The Dispute Resolution Centers(DRC) are extensions of the courts. We are empathetic mediators;however, when the Dark Side gets out of control, we call for order in the sessions. At the DRCs, there are no metal detectors, police or court officers as there are at the courts.
I saw a defendant vault herself across the conference room table to attack the plaintiff when their discussions got too heated. In this tense situation, the anxious staff heard the raised voices and eldritch screams down the hall. This is definitely a real world situation for which I was trained to handle thanks more to my street smarts education in Brooklyn, NY than my formal one.

Working on the Dark Side requires boundaries to observe. It is akin to a tale from Greek mythology where the hero embarks on a journey, enters a different world, and arms himself with talismans and the protection of the gods to ward off the power of the Dark Side. The Dark Side demons that I encountered on that particular day in Detroit were formidable. I am far from being a hero but my tale somewhat reflects the ideas of Joseph Campbell. It sounds like this is an exaggeration;however,this was real life at its finest.

JCT

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