Stage Two of the ReST Method: Communication

The Second Stage of the ReST Method of Conflict Resolution is Communication. In Stage One we discussed Preparation and the need to establish control over the interactions between conflicting parties. In Stage Two you will be teaching appropriate communication by modeling the behavior you expect from both parties. Make this clear to them when you begin this stage. Say: We will be starting to communicate with each other now and I will be asking you first to notice certain things and then to duplicate the way I’ve done them.

The Communication stage is all about teaching effective communication. The very specific tools we use are as follows:

-open-ended questions and statements
-reflective listening

Open-ended questions and statements are those that allow the other person to give more than a one-word response. So, if you ask a question that the other person can answer “yes” or “no” to it is definitely a closed-ended question.

Let’s think about this for a minute: What’s so wrong about a closed-ended question? Going back to concept of creating a safe atmosphere as basic to the ReST Method, think of how safe a wild animal might feel when they are caged in. They don’t like, do they? They want out. Their reactivity is at its highest level because they are feeling threatened. This is not the atmosphere you want for your parties in conflict. Using open-ended questions doesn’t pigeon-hole them into an answer.

If open-ended questions and statements are tough for you, take a cue from this list and use these questions until you get used to developing your own:

-How was that for you?
-Tell me about what your thinking right now about all this?
-What’s going on inside you right now?
-Say more…
-And then what…?

It takes very little to prompt someone to speak, and once you get them going, it might be hard for them to stop. While one person is speaking you need to make sure the other party is not trying to answer each point at the same time. Assure the listener that they will get a chance to talk later.

Reflective listening is our second tool in communication. As one person is speaking, stop them from time to time and paraphrase what they’ve said in such a way that they know they are being heard, not in a way that makes them feel they are being parroted.

Speaker: “He threw the ball at my head on purpose. He was right up next to me, he saw me and he was laughing right before he threw it.”

Mediator: “What I heard you say was that you felt he hurt you on purpose, throwing the ball at your head.”

Give the speaker a chance to correct you or affirm that you were heard. Be sure not to use blaming speech such as “He threw the ball at your head on purpose” because that will make the listener feel threatened and unsafe. they will feel that what they might have to say later will not be listened to. What you’re trying to do is show respect for what the speaker has to say, not confirm it. Reflective listening is very powerful and opens up the door to establishing respect and trust in the conflict.

Validation is much like reflective listening. Rather than focusing on what was said, you will focus on the emotion behind it. Using the example above, the mediator might say: “That must have been hard for you”. If you want to take a chance and validate the emotion directly you can say, “That must have made you very angry.”

When validating an emotion directly, it is important to know exactly what the emotion is they are expressing. Sometimes guessing the wrong emotion (in this example you’ve guessed they felt angry, but they might correct you and say “No, I wasn’t angry when they threw the ball at my head. I was sad.”) puts the mediator in the place of having to re-establish trust with the speaker. Since they obviously don’t understand what the speaker was feeling, the mediator must not be able understand anything else she/he says and is therefor on the other person’s side.
Meta-messages are the next tool we try to teach in the communication stage. We’ve covered them in a separate post to go a bit more in depth on what they are and how they appear. Basically, meta-messages are the body language a person is exhibiting. A good listener not only hears the content of what is being said and can paraphrase it, they can also interpret the emotion in what is being said. Meta-message takes that a step further by bringing the speaker’s body language to the attention of the speaker.

For example:

Mediator: “I noticed when you were describing how he threw the ball at your head, your fists were clenched and your movements were quick and forceful like a hard punch. I also saw your brow come down and your mouth tense up as you were speaking. Your voice was very loud, almost too loud for this space.”

Bringing the speaker’s movements and gestures out in the open makes them aware of feelings they might not know they were expressing. It makes them aware that they might be raising the level of defensiveness in the space. It also is a hint that they might not be showing proper respect for the process or even might be violating the trust that is established between all parties. The mediator might need to say: “These forceful movements might make your listener defensive. What do you think?”

Mirroring, our last tool, is a silent sign to watch for that signals a dramatic ease of tension. When two people are communicating and they accept each other’s statements and are on the same emotional wavelength, they start to unconsciously mimic each other’s physical stance. Try to notice this in your daily conversations with anyone you bump into. Two people sitting and chatting at the local coffee shop might sit with one leg crossed over the other or a hand might be on their chin. One person started it, but the other person unconsciously picked up on it and mimicked it. We call this phenomenon, mirroring, because it indicates an acceptance of what the other is saying. It also indicates an acceptance of the emotional state of the other.


Using these tools during the Communication stage, is key to promoting the respect, safety and trust during the process. Bringing them to the attention of the two parties in conflict and showing them how to use them, how to interpret them and what they mean is the way to demonstrate that they are ready to begin the final stage of the process: Resolution.




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