Amid this particularly adversarial election season, it occurs to me that fighting, though great for TV ratings, rarely accomplishes anything. I’m thinking about the presidential debates, where the more the candidates assert their positions, the more defensive and polarized they become. Fighting to outdo your opponent makes sense in debate because the idea is to prove the validity of one viewpoint over another. But when you bring that kind of aggressive, self-serving stance to personal human disagreements, you usually lose.
The secret to winning in the arena of human conflict is to appreciate that the best fixes come from synthesizing rather than isolating different perspectives. Obama, speaking of politics, is known for solving complex problems by gathering several experts – scientist, economist, historian, etc. – around a table, hearing their varying ideas, and channeling the best of what they offer into a well-rounded solution more potent than what any one of those experts could have created on their own. When you get beyond a “my way or the highway” mentality to embrace rather than reject other opinions, you release yourself from limitation and enter into an enormous playground of possibility.
This process of synthesizing differing approaches into a more powerful outlook is the heart of mediation. Instead of wasting time and money by bickering endlessly from their own hard-lined mindsets, opponents strive with the mediator toward an agreement that is greater than the sum of its parts. At best the opponents come up with creative solutions they never thought possible; at the very least they each end up with solutions they both – not just one of them – can live with.
It’s not exactly easy to put ego aside and consider the perspective of someone you may be angry with or feel betrayed by. The process is less challenging, though, when you throw out questions that work well for debating but get in the way of resolution, such as:
♦ How can I beat my opponent?
♦ How can I prove that I’m right?
♦ How can I show everyone that I am smarter/more deserving/morally superior?
♦ How can I make this go my way?
Even if you regard your opponent as a complete idiot with whom you have nothing in common, you can reach a mutually palatable settlement by unlocking yourself from a single-minded position. These questions will help you to move beyond guardedness and into the sort of productive, flexible discourse that attracts enlightened answers:
♦What solution is truly best for our kids/organization/community?
♦ How do I want to feel at the end of mediation? (Victorious, unencumbered, confident?) Other than getting my own way today, how can I get to those feelings?
♦ How would I want to describe my behavior during this mediation to my children/my boss/my students/my favorite mentor?
♦ How do I want to remember this process five years from now?
♦ How can I behave today to help this process go as smoothly as possible?
♦ What might happen today if I let empathy for my opponent, rather than a desire to win/get revenge, guide my actions?
♦ How might letting go of the outcome make this process easier/more productive?
The beauty of expansive inquiries like these is that they open up potential for equally expansive solutions. And if you’re not quite convinced that letting your guard down is better than digging your heels in, I ask that you entertain one final question:
What remedies might arise were Hillary and Donald to take their gloves off, highlight the strengths they both bring to the ring, and integrate – rather than argue – their brightest ideas into bettering our country?
About the Blogger:
Psychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching. A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators. She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.
Visit her website at amywoodpsyd.com.