Beyond Traditional Techniques – A Day With Kenneth Cloke

And what a day it was… Inspiring, provocative - revolutionary. As promised it was all about “mediating dangerously”.

Kenneth Cloke began with a defniti on of mediation as “conversation designed to solve a problem”. Mediation as an art (as opposed to a profession) borrows widely from other disciplines. It is a highly intuitive, subtle activity, which in its highest expression can transform and transcend relationships.

The restoration of social bonds can take di verse forms. We are not restricted in our approach and can borrow from any society or practice that will help. For example, in South Africa, people talk until they arrive at a resolution – it can take many days. While members of western society tend to start with a rational, logical approach – focusing on “the mind”, aboriginal groups begin with spiritual invocations and blessings.

Conficts occur on many levels:

  • Physical Confict (the most basic form of confict)

    When we encounter physical confict in our work, we lower our voice and may physically separate people, and do what we can to stop the fighting. The best possible outcome of a confict at this level, is an impasse.

  • Mental Confict

    where we have dier ent understandings of a situation or the most logical approach to take. At this level we can reach a settlement and have a superfcial ending to the confict, however painful underlying issues may remain.

  • Emotional Confict

    Underlying hurts, e.g. sibling rivalry - “mom always loved you best”. If we can resolve conficts at this leve l, the parties will emerge with a sense of “completion”.

  • Spiritual Conflicts

    where life energy is being wasted holding onto past injuries. If we are able to lead people to forgiveness, they will be able to relieve themselves from the burden of false expectations. With forgiveness we can effect “closure”.

Conflicts at the deepest level – Heart Conflicts

We hope that people in conflict can ultimately achieve a state of reconciliation. To get there requires transformation and transcendence. To unlock a person’s centre we need to ask dangerous questions going to the part most of us reserve from sharing. If we concentrate on what the participants are saying, sit physically close and “be present” to them, we have more permission to enter into heartfelt conversations that go deeper. The whole process will change.

Transformation changes the form of the conflict. Every conflict is identical; we have to get to the centre, rather than going around in circles. With true reconciliation, the conflict disappears. Kenneth gave the example of a parent – teen conflict over a curfew. As the child matures and is able to take responsibility for his own safety, the situation is transformed and the parties reconciled.

Kenneth stressed that “You are the technique.” We need to be as transparent as possible. To deal with people who are emeshed in fear, we have to start with ourselves. To help our clients with forgiveness, we have to start with forgiving someone in our life. When we accept an apology, we need to know that, for the person offering it, the relationship means more to that person than being right. We need to care as deeply as we can about each party and not care what they decide. To be concerned about their decision is claiming something that doesn’t belong to us. Kenneth shared a number of valuable approaches to make conversations work better. For example, if people are scrapping in a ritualistic style, ask “Is this conversation working?” “Would you like it to work?” “Why would you like it to work?” This last question is a “heart opening” question. “What is one thing you could do to make this work?” “Would you be willing to do that?” “How would by rank both conversations?” Get their permission to ask a dangerous question in order to set up a question such as:

- “What did that remind you of?”
- “How much longer are you prepared to accept the cost of this conflict?”
- “How would it be possible for both of your versions of this event to be correct?”

We can ask each party to write their own version of an incident, along with what they believe to be the other person’s version of the incident and then write a third story that incorporates both.

He has, on occasion, given parties an assignment to go out and have lunch together and talk about their future. He will ask them to give a gift to each other (with a dollar limit) which is symbolic of a good quality that they believe the other party doesn’t see or respect about themselves. He asks parties to tell each other what they wish for each other. He encourages the parties to jointly create and execute a ritual of completion and closure.

Kenneth encouraged us to watch for opportunities to look behind a statement in order to promote transformation. For example, when a woman says “He thinks I am a bad mother”, she may be asking for her child’s father to tell her that she is a good mother. He encouraged us to “engage in committed listening, as though our lives depended on what we are about to hear”, to use “dangerous empathy” and “dangerous honesty”.

A mediator can try to demonstrate the truth that one cannot claim more than what actually belongs to you. It implies acknowledgement of the other person. For a person stuck in self-oriented ego, there is only one person there. We need to help them become more relationally oriented by creating boundaries that allow there to be two people. As mediators we can say something like: “I understand what you feel. Would you like to know how I (or the other person) feel(s)?”

Kenneth Cloke believes that fear is always beneath anger. We get angry at a toddler who runs out onto the road because we are afraid the will get hurt. When we find an angry person we can ask: “What are you afraid will happen?” Beneath fear is pain, and beneath pain is love. Love is the base. It’s where we want to be, and, with courage, where we will get to.