“Wishing for something the other person doesn’t want is called violence”
so said David Ellis after a mediation session had ended. I had been invited along with others to observe the session which involved a couple* fighting over custody rights of their child. It was eye-opening to see how David operated.
Essentially, he asked information-based questions (e.g. what is your perspective? How do you feel when you hear that? etc), then would reflect back what he heard, and asked whether that was accurate. Often the emotions of the couple ran high, yet David would not intervene. It really did feel like David wasn’t directing the exchanges, instead it was the couple that were self-directing. By the end, their negative emotions had subsided, they recognised the needs of the other and they tentatively agreed on how to split custody of their child.
Later, we had the opportunity to ask the couple how they found the mediation. One observation stood out. They both felt that the mediator reflecting back what their partner said allowed them to truly hear their partner’s words. Otherwise, their negative feelings towards their partner would tinge any words they said.
David was employing the principles of non-violent communication**and the Dialogue Road Map developed by Maria Arpa. They work as a team at the Centre For Peaceful Solutions. They’ve employed their techniques not just with couples, but with social workers, gangs and prisoners. The idea is to listen without projecting your issues on to the situation, never trying to force a resolution, only working with information given by the parties involved, identifying feelings and needs and finding agreements that can meet these needs. Fantastic work.
I’ll end with the title of a poem by Dorothy Hunt, which echoes the opening quote:
*The couple were actors, though you wouldn’t tell if you were there.
**State the facts, explore the feelings around the facts, understand the needs behind the feelings and then make a request to the other.