Published on December 11th, 2013 | by Joan Callahan

How to Resolve Your Relationship Conflict: Advice from a Professional Mediator

Toxic people don’t want to mediate and solve problems. They want to incite disharmony, it’s their bread-and-butter.

But genuine people in a sincere argument are looking for a way out, and it is this goodwill that is mined for all it is worth by a competent mediator.

The success of mediation depends not only on the skill of the mediator in picking the right moment to intervene but also on the willingness of the parties to find an amicable solution.

How do professional mediators work?

As a psychologist and a mediator, I approach mediation with a perspective on the psychology of each participant. It is important for me to spend time alone with each party and get a thorough history well beyond the surface issues because mediation usually isn’t about the noisy stuff that presents as the problem. There are often compounding issues in the background that make people unreasonable at home or at work.

Understanding how many things impact on a person is critical, and it is short-sighted to mediate only on the presenting problem. A difficult colleague at work may come across as bullying or irritable, and to focus solely on that aspect is superficial. They or someone they love might be dying of cancer, or have a child using heroin, or be facing foreclosure, or ending a marriage. A good mediator can always find the underlying issues and gain enough rapport with both parties that any vulnerability can be accommodated.

Thorough mediation requires high levels of skill. Many people call themselves mediators and embark on unraveling people’s problems without the skill to process or solve them or the strategies to move them forward.

Mediation is not for the faint-hearted, as both parties can often present extremely compelling cases, and the mediator needs to steer a just and dispassionate course. People are at the end of their tethers when they finally agree to mediation, and emotions are usually running high. High degrees of empathy generally predict a reasonable outcome with an accomplished mediator.

You can be your own mediator in your relationships

Mediating in your own relationship at home is worth trying. Try these steps to resolve your relationship conflict.

First, work out whether you are spoiling for a fight, want to be right, or actually want to reach a resolution that’s best for both of you.

Then listen. I mean really listen without interrupting. Hear what your partner is saying, not what you think he or she is saying. Don’t rush it. Don’t make assumptions. Reflect back what you’re hearing and check whether you’re understanding correctly.

No one has to win in mediation; it’s not a competition. Ask your partner what he or she needs to make the situation work better, and speak up about what you need.
Acknowledge your own contribution to the problem and ask your partner to acknowledge his or hers.

Once you understand what each of you needs, make the necessary compromise. Everyone has to yield a little, and if you don’t, you’ll end up like the Middle East engaged in an unending war. Give ground gracefully.

Put your agreement into practice and come back in a week’s time to see how you both are managing.

Your agreements need to be reviewed, whether at work or at home, whether it’s about a business matter or cleaning the kitchen.

Beware these roadblocks

When you are facing conflict at home, remember what John and Julie Gottman, gurus of relationship counseling, have defined as the greatest roadblocks:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

In some relationships, one partner is always critical and the other is always defending against criticism by stonewalling. Try to examine the way your arguments go, addressing mainly your own contribution. It’s always easy to see what the other person is doing wrong. Try to see what you may be doing wrong for a change.

Go into mediation with willingness, transparency, and honesty. Look for a solution, not a one-side victory.

Picture by Muriel Miralles de Sawicki via Stock.Xchng

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