Tag Archives: mediation


I’m pleased to share the cover design and editorial summary for my upcoming publication. Please feel free to let me know what you think!

The Tell Me More Gesture: How & Why to Welcome Conflict
Editorial Summary 

Author Janet Rowles begins her work with a surprising yet profound perspective on interpersonal conflict: “Conflict is an essential and unavoidable part of experiencing life to its fullest.” With this sentiment, she has created an indispensable guide to navigating conflict in a new way, one that does not urge readers to suppress or minimize their emotions—or the emotions of others in conflict with them— even when those emotions are perceived to be negative or messy.

Rowles taps into her own experiences of both conflict mediator (professionally) and instigator (personally) to take an empathetic approach toward helping others self-manage—and even welcome— their own conflicts. She encourages the reader to lean into conflict by saying three simple words: “Tell me more.” Throughout every chapter, Rowles’ belief that embracing conflict rather than stifling it is essential for fulfilling the fundamental desires for deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Throughout the book, Rowles utilizes a rich assortment of tools, tips, quotes, examples, and outside resources to aid the reader. Many of the pages contain pertinent quotations in the sidebar, drawing on the wisdom of great thinkers to speak to the conflict we all experience in life. Exercise boxes invite the reader into personal reflection throughout the chapters in addition to the journal entry spaces that appear at the end of each chapter. This helpful dual-reflection format gets readers to engage in analysis while reading as well as after they’ve finished the chapter, giving them more time for absorption of the content. Together, these complementary parts create an invaluable resource for readers of all backgrounds.

The author also injects her own personality into the work, using case studies from her professional and personal life. This gives the book a deeper level of authenticity and relatability. The integration of Rowles’ personal voice alongside research and insights from the field makes for the perfect marriage of logos and pathos. By the end of the book, I truly felt as if I had reached a new understanding of conflict engagement in a healthy way, while also feeling as if I’d had the author as my personal guide and companion through this journey. Readers are sure to feel the same.

The Tell Me More Gesture and Alzheimer’s Disease

Recently a friend of a friend agreed to read my manuscript of The Tell Me More Gesture. He is a retired teacher who spent his career working with marginalized students – some had a specific special education label, some were in a psychiatric setting, some in alternative settings, and some in mainstream settings. I was pleased to receive his feedback and gratified to learn of his wholehearted support for the Gesture. This is the story he shared with me.

“My best friend since the ’70s is currently my next door neighbor. We have been through thick and thin together and are like foxhole buddies. We have gotten in and out of trouble together for 40 plus years. Five years ago he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and has been struggling more and more as the disease gets worse. I try to spend a couple of hours with him most days, usually hiking. He has about 30 stories he repeats over and over. I love my buddy, but I’m sick to death of the stories that are in high rotation. I feel guilty about this, but I feel how I feel.

I have a hard time trying to figure out how to deal with this. One of the stories has to do with today’s weather. It is either perfect and has never been this nice, or it is terrible and has never been this bad. So out of the blue, I tried looking him in the eye and saying, ‘Tell me more.’ He responded with a story that was desultory and didn’t make much sense, but he seemed more engaged and really happy to talk about it. When he slowed down again, I stayed with the Gesture, made a reflection and I asked him if he could tell me more.

My buddy’s relief at being able to continue on and talk to someone who wanted to hear more was apparent. His affect and enthusiasm for telling the story had increased and he shifted to expressing more positive feelings. He was less focused on his illness and sounded less depressed. This shit really works.

In addition to changing his response (which was more palatable to me), my concentrating on staying connected to him kept me engaged and feeling like I could live to my values and be the good friend I would like to be.”

A Buddhist Parable

2008 July Fishing-078

I have been writing and working on my book on how (and why) to welcome conflict, and I have been negligent about making blog posts! And I have much to say!  Today I am noting in particular that, as I am writing the book, I find interesting tidbits to add in for illustration or inspiration. Here is a Buddhist parable that I am finding particularly inspiring. This version is adapted from the book, Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter.

A farmer was covered with sweat as he paddled his boat up the river. He was going upstream to deliver his produce to the village, trying to make the round trip before dark. As he looked ahead he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. He rowed furiously to get out of the way but it didn’t seem to help.

     He shouted, “Change direction! You are going to hit me! To no avail. The vessel hit his boat with a violent thud. He cried out, “You idiot! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river?” As he glared into the boat , seeking out the individual responsible for the accident, he realized no one was there. He had been screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was floating downstream with the current.

The moral of the story is: it’s always an empty boat. The parent who never acknowledged you, the driver who suddenly cut you off, the boss who promoted the slacker – they are all empty boats. They were acting based on their own unexamined or unresolved psychological suffering. It had nothing to do with you.

STOP labeling people DIFFICULT PEOPLE or HCPs

Nowadays it is chic to label people. If we then turn that label into an acronym we sound even smarter, it appears.  At the top of the list of most-used labels is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). While people used to be merely “selfish”, a term that might lend itself to being at least somewhat transitory, we now label people narcissistic which guarantees that from then on every move they make will be proof of the label – a self-fulfilling prophecy, for sure.

In the world of alternative dispute resolution (ADR, as long as we are slinging around acronyms) mediators, evaluators, attorneys and judges love to hate-on difficult people or high-conflict people (HCPs).

According to Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., “High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing it or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of: A. All-or-nothing thinking, B. Unmanaged emotions, C. Extreme behaviors, D. Blaming others.” (http://www.highconflictinstitute.com/who-are-high-conflict-people)

Let’s look at this. If you understand conflict, you know that when people are in conflict that they generally are not at their best. They are sadder, angrier, more sensitive, more volatile, more stubborn, and/or more confused compared to their normal selves.

The “All-or-nothing thinking” is an attribute of most mediation participants when they first meet at the table. “Unmanaged emotions” as well. Sometimes people arrive to the mediation table quite calm and then, as the conversation progresses, they might get more upset! Progress in a mediation is not a straight path to an agreement. It is often convoluted and unexpected. It usually gets worse before it gets better. Think of cleaning out a room. You pull out all the stuff to go through it and suddenly the room is messier instead of cleaner. Same in a mediation: often the process is a bit messy.

Getting back to the attributes of so-called HCPs, “Extreme behaviors” is next on the list. Yes, extreme behaviors may be a sign of dysfunction, but at the mediation table, more importantly, it is definitely a sign of feelings of powerlessness. Judging people for these behaviors only adds to the difficulty.

The fourth and final attribute is ironic, at best. “Blaming others”. Everyone, and I mean everyone, blames the other participant in the mediation. If they aren’t blaming each other, they likely don’t need mediation. Like the other attributes, blaming is a symptom of powerlessness. People are more self-absorbed than they would normally be when they are in conflict so it makes perfect sense that they would not yet be able to accept responsibility for their part.

It appears that labeling people HCPs is a way of blaming them for mediators’ inability to deal with very difficult cases. We need to stop blaming the participants and start figuring out ways of improving our own skills to accommodate very difficult situations. These are the cases that are most in need of mediation.

All four of these attributes of so-called HCPs are consistently a part of high-conflict mediation. But labeling a person in the mediation as high-conflict, is a vote of discouragement and judgment. It devalues their opinions and struggles. It affects our neutrality, which is essential to a high-quality process.

These are not HCPs. These are people who are in conflict. Perhaps they have been in conflict for a long time and are steeped in their upsetness. Regardless, we must stop labeling people HCP’s because it changes the course of the discussion. It changes the interventions we choose as mediators. It closes down the discussion instead of opening it up. We should be welcoming people who are angry or upset and telling them explicitly and through our actions that we understand why they might be acting that way.

The best mediators know that it is important to understand that when people are upset, they act upset. We welcome high-conflict cases because that is exactly what we are supposed to be experts in: conflict. We don’t judge people because they are stubborn or sad or angry, even those who appear unmovable. We actually expect this and know how damaging it is to the process to judge them for their behavior.

Mediators (and others) who label people as HCP’s and difficult people are preying on potential clients that figure now they are finally going to be understood because their soon-to-be-ex-spouse is certainly an HCP! Can’t you just hear someone going through a divorce reading about HCP’s in an article or on a website and exclaiming, “Have you read the definition? It fits exactly him, doesn’t it?”

It might be true that one reason to label people is to then be able to find empathy for their behaviors, for their condition, for their struggles. Regretfully, this is not what truly happens. When we label people, what we inevitably do is stop listening with an open mind, we stop taking them seriously, we start making assumptions based on their label, which ironically, we just made ourselves.

These are people who are acting angry, interrupting, won’t calm down, won’t get to the point, and/or won’t compromise. Once someone has the HCP label, it means that we walk into the room with our guard up, watching out for the others, keeping arms length physically and emotionally, and we pretty much don’t believe them with the same openness that we do if they would just behave themselves. They suddenly have fewer rights than others do because they have been labeled HCPs.

Mediators who complain about HCPs are the same mediators that accept, and likely prefer, cases that have little or no conflict. If there is little or no conflict, ideally people would try to work things out on their own. Then if they get hung up on certain aspects of their agreement, they can find a mediator who truly welcomes and has expertise in dealing with difficult situations.

Come to think of it, there ought to be a label for people who are constantly labeling other people. Just in case there isn’t, I’m going to go against my own advice and label them. Let’s call it: Excessive Labeling Disorder (ELD).