Five years ago, I saved up enough scratch to get Lasik surgery and said adieu to my coke-bottle lenses forevermore.  On the whole, I'm delighted with the results, mainly because I can see better.

 

But there are two drawbacks: 1) I kind of missing wearing my nerdy-chic glasses and 2) I used to enjoy taking my glasses off for a spell to see the world in terms of basic shapes and colors, rather than a collection of details.  The mise-en-scene before me became a living impressionist painting, allowing my myopic peepers to show me the Monet.

 

I'm reminded of this when I see new mediators furiously scribbling notes  as clients speak -- at the expense of all-important eye contact. The mediators are, with the best of intentions, focusing on the details, trying to get the facts right, while sacrificing making an empathic connection, and perhaps losing the gist of the issue.

 

In most cases, it's not so important to catch every single detail we hear from our clients.  We're listeners, not stenographers.  And many people in conflict tend to repeat their concerns again and again, so eventually we'll get it all.  So, I encourage fledgling mediators to not get caught up in the minutia, and rather listen for key themes, emotions, and underlying interests. Get the impressionistic view of the client's experience before zeroing in on the details.

 

photo from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, 1971

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Comment by Jeff Thompson on August 24, 2011 at 6:37am
Brad,

Well said- eye contact and gaze is one of the most important elements in empathy, immediacy and rapport.

Along with tat, eye contact/gaze is the basic classic nonverbal cue that tells people "yes, I am listening to you."

-Jeff

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