1. Putting out the Fire:
Mediation Skills for Quick
2010 OCASI Executive Directors Forum
November 1-3, 2010
2. ©Conflict Resolution Service, St. Stephen's Community House, 2010
St. Stephen’s Conflict Resolution Service
St. Stephen's Community House is a community-based social service agency, serving
the needs of Kensington Market and surrounding neighbourhoods in downtown West
Toronto since 1974. St. Stephen’s Conflict Resolution Service (CRS) offers mediation
and training services for people and organizations in conflict or acting to manage future
conflict. We draw on over 20 years of practical experience in providing dispute resolution
for people from diverse backgrounds in many different types of disputes. Improving
communication and strengthening relationships is at the heart of our work.
Conflict Resolution Service, St. Stephen’s Community House
91 Bellevue Ave., Toronto, ON. M5T 2N8 416-925-2103 416-925-2271
Overview: “Putting out the Fire” Mediation Skills for Quick Intervention
Interpersonal conflicts are an inevitable part of organizational life, so a key leadership skill is
knowing how to resolve them in a timely and constructive way. This workshop will introduce
executive directors to mediation principles and techniques that will enhance their ability to respond
to conflicts as they arise, and to “put out fires” by improving communication and building
understanding between people in dispute.
Workshop participants will explore the nature and dynamics of conflict, the role of the
mediator, and learn the core mediation skills of interest-based problem solving and
active listening. They will then learn how to apply these principles and skills to resolve
conflicts “on the spot” using a “Quick Intervention Model.” By the end of the workshop,
participants will have a technique they can use to intervene as a neutral third party in
conflict situations that may arise between staff, board members, colleagues, clients,
partners and others.
Part 1: Understanding Conflict
- CRS Philosophy of Conflict
- The dynamics of conflict escalation
Part 2: Responding to conflict using mediation principles
3. - What is mediation and the role of the mediator
- Interest/needs based approach to problem-solving
- Active Listening
Part 3: Quick Intervention model
Thinking about Conflict Differently
• Conflict is inevitable;
• Conflict is an opportunity for learning, dialogue and understanding;
• There are strategies for resolution that are available and DO work.
With the right response, conflict can be an opportunity.
The Dynamics of Conflict Escalation
Interpersonal conflict is often characterized by anger and conflict escalation.
Conflicts escalate when people hear another person’s anger, accusations,
judgements, complaints etc., and they protect themselves by:
Defending and by Attacking with
 their behaviour (“I’m not doing
anything wrong.”) and
 their character (“I'm being
 criticism of the other’s behaviour
(“You’ve broken the rules.”);
 criticism of the other’s character
(“You’re being unreasonable.”);
 threats (“I’ll speak to the manager
if…”) or insults (“You’re
When the other hears the attacks, they respond similarly by defending
themselves and attacking the other. This escalates the conflict as both people
shift their attention away from the problem and focus on defending themselves
and attacking the other.
There is also a physiological basis for conflict escalation. When we are angry or
feel put down, let down, shut down or threatened, the rational/cognitive part of
our brain is “hijacked” by the amydala (the locus of our survival instincts and
emotional memory). When this happens, we can only think in terms of “defense”
4. The effects of conflict escalation include:
 communication breakdown as both avoid hurtful interactions;
 misunderstandings that result from unchecked assumptions;
 each person’s sense of legitimacy is undermined by the other’s
 minimal problem solving as each spends energy on defending
themselves and attacking the other.
If this cycle of conflict escalation is interrupted and reversed, it is possible
to build a cooperative problem-solving climate. It also increases the
chances of reaching a resolution that will meet everyone’s needs.
St. Stephen’s Approach to Mediation
Some Key Elements
Mediation is a voluntary, informal dispute resolution process in which a third
party, the mediator, assists disputants to better understand one another and to
find mutually satisfactory solutions
5. The role of the mediator:
A mediator is: impartial/”multi-partial”
in charge of the process
a communication facilitator/coach
A mediator is not: a judge
an advocate for either party
A mediator does not solve people’s problems, rather s/he empowers
disputants to resolve their own conflicts.
Three Approaches to Resolving Conflict
1. A Power-based approach uses force to make someone to do
something they would not otherwise do. Power-based approaches
include the use of one’s authority, threats, manipulation, physical force,
intimidation, public pressure, wars, strikes, acts of civil disobedience, etc.
The advantage to this approach is that it can be clear and decisive. The
disadvantage is that it results in win-lose settlements, with underlying
issues unresolved and great potential for further conflict.
2. A Rights-based approach uses general standards, rules, principles,
policies or processes that apply to everyone. You ask, "What's the
rule?" that applies to everyone and apply it in that instance. These
standards may be explicit and codified in laws, policy manuals, contracts,
religious moral codes, etc., or may be implicit in given cultures or contexts.
The advantage of this approach is that it is often seen to be fair and just.
The disadvantage is that it is less flexible and can lead to dissatisfaction in
one or both of the disputants.
3. Interest-based / Win-Win approaches seek to uncover and meet the
needs of all parties involved in a conflict. You ask: “What needs or
underlying interests are you trying to address by taking a certain position.
What is important to you about having what you’re asking for?” Interest-
based approaches seek to generate new ways of meeting as many needs
of as many of the parties as possible.
6. The disadvantage of this approach is that it can take longer to reach
resolution. The advantage is that it leads to more durable agreements, as
both parties have contributed to the solution.
All of these approaches have value, however, many people tend to use
power based and rights based approaches when an interest-based
approach might have generated a more creative, more satisfying solution
for all. In situations where quick or interim solutions are required, an interest
based approach can be used in combination with rights and power-based
*Adapted from Ury, Brett and Goldberg., Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of
Conflict. The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, 1993.
Interest-Based Conflict Resolution
Point to Ponder:
Can you think of a conflict situation with an angry person that may have had a different
outcome if you had been able to uncover and listen for his/her underlying interests?
How might the outcome have been different?
Interpersonal conflict can occur when people feel that their needs are
being threatened or not being met by others. This causes people in
conflict to become fixed in their positions, which are judgments,
assertions, demands or fixed ideas about how to resolve a problem.
Listening for the underlying reasons why someone takes a particular
position helps us identify their interests, or what they need or care about.
Reflective listening is a way of helping the mediator and the disputants
to explore underlying interests. This allows disputants to move away from
When two parties come to a mutual understanding about each other’s
interests, they can often generate multiple solutions that allow each of
them to meet their needs met without having to compete or compromise.
This approach is called win-win, or interest-based,
8. Identifying Interests
Interests are what people really need or care about. Underneath people’s anger is
often disappointment with unmet needs or a fear that their needs will not be met.
Anger often leads people to take positions, which are judgments, assertions, demands
or fixed ideas about how to resolve a problem:
- They are usually accompanied by assumptions about the other person
- Positions harden as conflict escalates. People dig into them.
- People become invested in positions. Changing them can mean losing face.
We need to understand the underlying reasons why people are angry and hold certain
positions. Exploring people’s experiences, feelings and values helps us to identify their
- Mistaken assumptions are clarified.
- Understanding people’s needs/interests leads to better solutions
Some Different Types of Interests
· Having a voice
· Feeling included
· Saving face
· Feeling cared about
· How long
· How transparent
You’ve done absolutely
nothing on this project!
I’m fed up with you!
You won’t let me do
9. Why Should a Mediator Listen Well?
 To help the mediator and disputants identify and understand underlying
 To relieve the pressure of high emotions and calm people down
 To show respect for disputants’ needs, values, & feelings
 To help disputants organize and clarify their thoughts
 To acknowledge concerns without endorsing them
Reflective listening helps the disputants feel heard.
When a person knows clearly that the things of importance to them have
been heard, they:
• Feel calmer
• Are less likely to respond with defensiveness and attacks, reducing
• Have greater willingness to listen
• Are more likely to disclose further items of importance
Reflective listening empowers disputants to solve their own problems.
When a person is invited to contribute information, they:
• Feel validated and valued
• Become invested in determining a resolution
• Are empowered to take control of problem solving
The Power of Reflective Listening
10. A Step-by-Step Guide to Reflective Listening
(1) Centre yourself and get ready to listen
Centre yourself so that you are calm and can give your full attention to the
Get ready to listen with curiosity, openness, respect & interest. Know that you
don’t know everything. Resist assumptions. People and situations are unique
and complex. Expect to be surprised. Real listening requires respect for people
and a genuine interest in what’s important to them.
(2) Listen for what is important to the disputants
Listen for what is important to each disputant by exploring what is under their
anger and the positions they take, including their underlying interests.
Some Different Types of Interests
Anger & PositionYou’re a
C entre yourself and get ready to listen
L isten for what is important to the disputants
A cknowledge what you heard
I nvite more information
M ove toward Problem-solving
11. (3) Acknowledge / Reflect what you heard & pause for a response
In order to help the disputants feel that you understand what is important to them,
reflect back what you heard and then pause to make sure that you have heard
(4) Invite Information
Asking questions can help disputants uncover their underlying interests and
express more about what they really need or care about. Take care to ask
questions that are open and follow what’s on the mind of each disputant, not
what’s on yours.
Questions that Drive
(that are driven by what is on
your mind as the listener)
Questions that Ride
(that follow what is on the
You must have really resented
How did that affect you?
After you gave her instructions,
did you follow up?
What happened next?
Driving tends to
 Provoke defensive
 Shut down communication
 Make the person feel their
ideas are not important
Riding tends to
 Help the person explore what’s
really important to them
 Make them feel listened to
(5) Move toward Problem solving
Invite the disputants’ ideas about how they would like to solve the problem (What
if… What do you suggest? What do you think is a fair solution?). If a quick or
interim solution is required, you may offer some suggestions or make a decision.
REFLECT WHAT YOU
- Key points
- Positive values &
12. Reflective Listening Techniques
Technique Purpose How to Do This
Restating Key Points
"So you've been trying to
get this problem resolved
for several weeks.”
“You find the process
too complicated. Is that
1. To show that you’re listening
and understand the
speaker’s key points
2. To check your meaning and
• Repeat the speaker’s
key points or
paraphrase in your
“You seem upset
“You’re really frustrated
at the length of time this
process is taking.”
“You were embarrassed
when he made that
comment in front of
everybody. Is that right?”
1. To show that you
understand how the other
2. To help the other person
consider his/her own
feelings after hearing them
expressed by someone else
• Identify the speaker’s
• It is often helpful to
include the reason
why the speaker
feels this way, to
Reflecting Values and
“Being treated fairly is
important to you.”
“You raised your voice to
get her attention. Is that
“So you’ve done
everything you can think
of to resolve this.”
1. To acknowledge the
speaker’s values and how
they affect the conflict
2. To recognize the speaker’s
positive intentions and
• Identify the speaker’s
intentions or positive
Encouraging 1. To convey interest and
2. To give space to the
3. To encourage the speaker to
• Be attentive
• Minimize distractions
• Be aware of your
• Pause & allow for
• Self monitor before
“Can you say more
"What is it that she’s
doing that bothers
1. To clarify what is said
2. To get more information
3. To help the speaker be
concrete & specific
• Ask open-ended
• Ask questions that
follow the speaker’s
13. Reflective Listening Checklist
(Observer: Record in the relevant box examples of skills used by the listener you observe)
• encouraging body language
• allow for silence
• invitations to say more
• ask open-ended questions that
encourage the speaker to talk
• ask questions that follow the
Restating Key Points
• briefly state speaker's main points
• encourage speaker to correct you
• identify speaker's emotions
• encourage speaker to correct
Reflecting Values & Positive
• acknowledge speaker's
values, positive intentions and
14. Communication Blockers
The following approaches tend to discourage people from telling you about their feelings,
experiences, values, needs and interests. We are not saying these approaches are
never appropriate; for instance, in some situations it may be helpful to reassure
someone or give them advice. Before doing so, however, it is good to ask yourself if you
have really taken the time to hear the person out and acknowledge their interests.
COMMUNICATION BLOCKER EXAMPLE
“What you should do is…”
Analysing / Diagnosing “The problem as I see it is…”
“you’re only worried about this because you are an
uptight kind of person’
“This would never have happened if you hadn’t…”
‘you always’ ‘you never’
Cross-Examining Fast paced, close-ended questions eg ‘what did you do
that for’ but not really asking
“What she did is not the issue. What about when …?”
Judging/Evaluating “What you’re doing wrong is…”
“The only good thing about this is…”
Using Non-Verbal Blockers Negative body language: crossed arms, frowning
Negative noises: huffing, sighing, tsking
Distracting movements: pacing, tapping, leg-shaking
Reassuring/Minimizing “Don’t worry, it’s no big deal.”
“That’s just how Bob is.”
Denying other people’s feelings ‘You shouldn’t feel like that’
Using ‘BUT’ instead of “AND” ‘I know that’s what you think, BUT’
(remember: Never put a “BUT” in the face of an angry
Defending the other ‘I know why she acts like that, it’s because, and she’s
just trying to…’
Being philosophical ‘There’s nothing you can do about this anyway, it’ll never
15. Quick Intervention Checklist
 Get the attention of each disputant
 Separate them if necessary
 Tell them you are going to listen to them one at a time
 Use Reflective Listening Techniques to de-escalate each person
& explore their interests
• Restating Key Points/Summarizing/ Paraphrasing
• Reflecting Feelings
• Reflecting Values
• Clarifying: Asking questions that “ride”
Choose one of the following approaches, based on your
assessment of the situation:
• Involve the disputants in solving the problem. If necessary,
defer problem-solving to a later time. Use reflective listening to
help disputants understand each other & communicate what is
important to them.
• Suggest possible solutions and ask disputants for their
agreement. If necessary, find a more satisfactory solution at a
later time using reflective listening and an interest-based
• Make a decision on the spot. Meet with the disputants later
and use reflective listening and an interest-based approach to
find a longer-term solution that they will “buy into”.
16. Quick Intervention Model
Mediation principles applied to resolve a conflict “on the spot”
1) Get the attention of the disputants/separate them if necessary
• Get the attention of the disputants: make sure they are looking at you and
have stopped what they were doing.
• Normalize conflict and differences of opinion – these are to be expected, not
judged. Conflict is an opportunity for greater understanding.
2) Tell them that you are going to listen to them one at a time
• Ask for their co-operation so that you can hear each person’s concerns, e.g.,
“I want to hear from each of you. This will work best if I get to hear from each
of you without interruption. Can you agree to that?”
• If someone interrupts, remind them that you need them to wait and reassure
them that they will have their turn soon, e.g, “Just a minute – I’ll be able to
hear what’s on your mind very soon. Anne, please continue. . .”
3) Use reflective listening techniques
• This is important a) to defuse the situation, b) to make it clear that to each
person that you have heard the underlying reasons for their
anger/position, and understand their needs/interests, and c) to give each
person a better chance of hearing the other person’s needs/interests,
since they will hear the other person talking and will also hear your
• Make sure to acknowledge values and needs, e.g., “It’s important to you
that time limits be respected; and right now you want to use the computer
because you need to . . .”
It is easier for each person to consider the other person’s needs if they
know that their values and needs are recognized. Acknowledging needs
will set the stage for effective problem-solving.
• Acknowledge positive intentions and efforts, as well as how they’ve been
affected by the problem.
17. • Within your time limits, allow as many short turns for each person as you
need in order to a) defuse the situation adequately, and b) understand the
• It is essential to restate/summarize/paraphrase as you are ending
• You may want to coach disputants to speak in terms that the other person
can hear, perhaps ask them to summarize what the other person is saying
• Start by summarizing the needs/interests of both people and by stating that
the goal is a resolution that meets both sets of needs, e.g., “This is the
situation: Anne needs time to do X and needs a way that she can be sure of
Y, and Bernard needs timely information about Z , assistance in A, and to
clarify what should happen when B occurs. Let’s try to find a resolution that
will meet those needs as much as possible.”
Then choose one of the following three approaches, depending on your
assessment of the situation:
• Involve them in solving the problem.
Get their ideas, e.g., “What can you suggest that would meet both your
needs?” If one objects to a suggestion made by the other, encourage them to
generate more ideas before evaluating them, e.g., “Let’s get a number of
ideas out before we talk about deciding on something.” If one person seems
to expect the other person simply to change, try asking “What can you think
of that you can do to help resolve the situation?” When they have agreed,
thank them for working out a resolution.
This method has the advantages of modeling good listening and problem-
solving skills and getting them to feel more committed to the resolution, more
than if the resolution came from an outside authority (the manager). It also
increases the chances of more comfortable interaction the next time they
meet because they have shaped the resolution together. Depending on the
situation, though, this approach may take more time to work through.
• Suggest a possible solution.
Suggest possible solutions that you feel will meet their needs reasonably well,
and ask them if they would agree to it, e.g., “Would you, Anne, be willing for
Bernard do X, then you can do Y – would that meet your needs? And
Bernard, would that work for you?” When you reach a resolution they agree
to, thank them for being willing to be flexible.
18. It may help, before you make your suggestion, to use an “I message”,
since by deciding the issue you have entered the negotiation as
additional negotiator, e.g., “Because of our time pressures, I would
like to make a suggestion. Would you . . . [describe the suggestion]
I’d like us to be able to discuss this at a time when we are not under
pressure and I’m going to arrange that.”
If necessary, find a more satisfactory solution at a later time using
reflective listening techniques and an interest-based approach.
• Make a decision.
Tell them what you have decided, e.g., refer to a rule and say “therefore you
will need to come back this afternoon if you want to use the computer longer
It may help also to acknowledge their reaction to this decision or the effect on
them and to use an I message, since by deciding the issue you have entered
the negotiation as additional negotiator, e.g., “You’re concerned about
handling the extra work this creates. I wish it could be different, but, given the
circumstances, we’re pretty limited in our choices.”
You may need to make a decision if they are not able to come to a resolution
of their own, even with your help. At a later time, you may want to consult
disputants and use an interest-based approach to find a longer-term solution
that they will “buy into.”
5) Conclude by
• affirming each person for engaging in the process or making efforts to
improve the situation,
• noting any positive outcomes of the intervention, and
• discussing follow-up or next steps (if necessary).
When a conflict has been dealt with “on the spot”, observe what happens
afterwards and consider whether a) it would be useful to provide a more relaxed
mediation which could cover the situation in more depth and in which they could
consider additional and possibly more far-reaching alternatives for a long-term
resolution, or whether b) it would be helpful to deal in a different way with the
circumstances leading to the conflict.
19. Sample Conflict Scenarios
1. You’re walking down the hall and you overhear the following:
Manager to a staff person: “You're always late! This is the last time I'm
going to warn you about it. If you can't get to work on time, don't bother
showing up at all!”
Staff person: “I told you that I have child care responsibilities. You’re
heartless and unfair!
2. At a board meeting, a director says to the president, “You’re hoarding all
of the information. There’s no transparency around here!” The president
replies by saying, “On the contrary, the problem is that you don’t bother
taking the time to read the dockets, so you come to our meetings totally
3. A staff person has requested a meeting with you and her manager to
discuss a poor performance review. At the meeting, the staff says to her
manager, “This review is completely unjustified. You’re just trying to get
rid of me!” In response, the manager says, “You’re always whining and
complaining about what I do! This is just the latest example.”