provided by Lisa Dewar
For those of us raised in the western European world view, listening often seems less important than speaking. We want to be heard, and we often start speaking before the former speaker has finished. We expect direct eye contact. With mediation we are trained to listen more carefully, to affirm and validate. The participants may comment directly to the speaker regarding the thoughts and feelings spoken about. Sometimes there is an element of blame or accusation with one participant expressing his or her thoughts and feelings in relation to another participant, who may shut down emotionally or feel a need to retaliate or defend against the other. The mediator may then try to guide the communication to explore the basis of the upheaval, so the underlying concerns and interests of both parties can be addressed in order for the parties to consider a resolution to the issue.
For those raised in the aboriginal world view, the values of gratitude and humbleness underlie respectful listening. Usually there are a couple of seconds before the new speaker begins, so he or she is sure that the former speaker has had sufficient opportunity to finish his or her thoughts before the new speaker begins. With circles, each participant is free to voice his or her view, there is no cross-talk (so more “I” statements and less opportunity for blame or accusation), and the listeners in their own turn reflect what they have heard in relation to their own experience and concerns. Each participant has a window into the soul of the others, through which each may think or feel about their own circumstances and voice their own experiences and concerns.
In my view, the circle process has its own character that is somewhat different from western style mediation. Circles seem to be slower and less results-oriented, yet they respectfully encourage and support the rebuilding of relationships. Direct eye contact is rare. If we use aspects of the circle process during western mediation, we need to be mindful that there are cultural underpinnings that may not be easily transported.
Lisa M. Dewar
Family Law and Mediation
MILNE SELKIRK, Lawyers
Bldg #5, 21183 – 88th Avenue
Langley, BC V1M 2G5