Stage One of the ReST Method: Preparation

The entire process of the ReST Method of Conflict Resolution consists of three stages: Preparation, Communication, Resolution. In it, the mediator begins by controlling the interactions of the two in conflict and ends up giving that control over to them.

Preparation is the first stage in the ReST Method of Conflict Resolution. It lays the necessary foundation for successful and enduring resolution. The Preparation stage consists of cutting out the excess, controlling the pacing and timing, and finally, checking emotional temperatures.

The Preparation stage starts by getting rid of the excess. If you can remember the concept of Occam’s Razor, apply it here to the unnecessary hangers-on eyewitnesses who saw it all and are hanging around to offer their expert testimony of what happened. While testimony is helpful for finding out what really happened, it doesn’t help at all to empower people to resolve their own conflict in the future. That is our goal. For this reason, you need to tell everyone who is not directly involved to go away. Those who think they are involved will quickly go away if you say “Remember, if you are involved, you will be sharing the fate of these two who are fighting.” Watch the yard clear and how quickly you will be left with the two people who have a problem with each other.

(But why don’t we care what really happened? Getting to the bottom of it all is unnecessary. The combatants will always believe what they want to believe and trying to persuade them otherwise only invites more emotion. It also sets up an atmosphere of distrust, working against the entire Respect, Safety and Trust trichotomy while setting you, the mediator, up as the expert. No, no, no and NO! The point of this method of conflict resolution is to model behavior that fosters effective communication so that it will be more easily employed in the future. Remember, you are forging a new path through a virgin field. The first time you do this, you may only trample a few bushes. As you do it more and more with the same people, you will create a highway that they will go to without thinking about it.)

 

Once you have cut out the excess participants and are down to the two combatants, you will be working to set up the pacing and timing. Here you will lay down the rules the combatants must follow or suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. I usually start here by saying the following: “You will stop and listen to me. I don’t want to hear either of you talking. There will be time for that. I don’t want to hear who did what and I don’t want to hear from any witnesses. I will tell you when to talk and I will ask you what you heard. Your job is to listen until I ask you to talk.”

The rules aren’t there to be mean or authoritarian. I’m putting time between the event and the present. At this point, I am doing all the talking and have essentially stopped the locomotive of emotions and ceaseless one-upmanship yelling about who did what. I’m getting my combatants out of fight mode and into listening mode. The more I talk, the more time there is between the event that set them off and right now. I never want to dive right into trying to solve a crisis while emotions are high. The less accusations they hurl, the more ready they are for the Communication phase.

The Preparation stage is all about pacing and timing. The more time you can put between the event, the better. Time heals all wounds, right? In this case, time is your best friend as the mediator. The more time up front you spend delivering the ReST Method properly, the less time you will need to spend on the back end resolving an issue that shouldn’t involve the United Nations.

Besides time, as mediator you are controlling the pace of the interactions. You will be asking one person one question at a time. That is all one person should be handling anyway, right? When one person interrupts the other (e.g. “That’s not true! I didn’t do that!”) it becomes two people offering their side of the story at one time. You want to not be confused, so, you will simply say “You are interrupting. We are listening to this side of the story now no matter how it might sound. This is what this person has experienced. This is what is true to them. You will get your turn. I promise.”

What happens when you control the interactions as such is that you are slowing down the entire scene allowing one person to say as much as they want until they are tired. Follow up with, “Is that everything?” just to milk it a bit. You want it to seem like an excruciating and long slow-motion scene. You are deliberately slowing down the pace of their interactions to a snail’s crawl. Why? You are sending the message that this is not a race, you are in control, you want to understand, you are listening, you won’t tolerate interruptions and there is no hurry. When they realize they are stuck here for a long time and you are not performing the usual “meatball surgery” playground resolution, they will actually relax back in their seat and take a long deep breath. Encourage that.

Now that you have successfully made a wide gap from the time of the event to now AND set the stage for how interactions will be paced, it’s time to check in with your combatants. Let’s take their emotional temperatures.

Ask one person this question: “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being ‘I am the angriest I’ve ever been’ and 1 being ‘I’m not angry at all’, how angry are you right now? And how angry were you when the event happened?” After they’ve both answered this question, mirror it back to them. “Wow, you say you were a 10 during the event and now you’re about a 6, you’ve come down quite a bit but you’re still angry, right?” This gives each person a chance to share their emotional state with the other, validates how they are feeling when you get it right and puts even more time between the event and the present. Checking the emotional temperature with each person throughout the resolution process indicates to you when they are ready for the final step and it helps them show each other whether they are still ready to fight or ready to heal. Finally, it shows them that you care about how they feel which fosters the atmosphere of Respect, Safety and Trust.

 

To summarize, the Preparation stage of the ReST Method consists of cutting out the excess, setting up the pacing and timing by laying down the rules, and checking the emotional temperature of the combatants. It’s the most control intensive part of the process but it allows the next stages to flow nicely.

In future posts, we will explore Communication and Resolution, respectively, the second and third stages of the ReST Method of Conflict Resolution.

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