Jedi Mindtricks of Conflict Resolution

January 23, 2018

By: ArtPlace America

At our 2017 summit we had an intriguing sounding session called Jedi Mind Tricks of Conflict Resolution. We were hoping it would appeal to Star Wars fans, and those wanting help to resolve conflicts alike.

It was led by Brad Heckman, CEO of the New York Peace Institute, one of the nation’s largest community peacebuilding services. He is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU. Brad has trained unions, police, NASA, community groups, UN programs, and corporations worldwide. He incorporates art, pop culture, and theater in his workshops. 

Whether we're working to resolve a dispute between community partners or a conflict in our personal lives, the tools of mediation are essential to problem solving. In this skills-based workshop, participants were invited to share experiences that required mediation tactics and learn from each other best practices for conflict resolution.

Ok. The lure of Jedi mindtricks is irresistible right? Who doesn’t long for the focus, composure and deep comprehension of a Jedi?

Brad let us know what moderators do, which is come together with two or more people who are in conflict and try to assist them in hearing each other and recognizing the other’s humanity and multi-dimensionality.  “The best definition of mediation or, conflict resolution, is recognizing that two realities can exist and as a conflict resolver, I can live with the idea of two opposites being there at the same time,” he explained.

Brad is working with the New York Police Academy training officers to deploy words rather than weapons, and has previously spent 11 years in the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, and eastern Europe setting up programs that enabled people to handle disagreements “peacefully through conversation in countries that were emerging from revolution and even war and even ethnic cleaning”.

He regularly conducts a workshop on The Beatles and conflict. “They all had different styles” he shared “and in a sense had a mediator, their producer, George Martin, who was able to bring out the best of their music and support them in creating really revolutionary works”. This was an eye opening example in bringing together multiple styles and viewpoints, but I wondered what makes a union like this break down over time? Fatigue, disillusionment? Maybe all three.

To illustrate his point, we were shown a film clip from The Break Up, a 2006 romance/comedy/drama, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn which offers excellent fodder for understanding contention. We honed in on one of film’s most intense scenes, an argument that begins with a dispute about washing dishes, then moves on to lemons, to flowers, then ballet, and finally the Michigan-Notre Dame game. When the clip stopped and the lights were restored, Heckman told us about positions, interests and switch tracking.

Positions, are really like icebergs. There is much under the surface and what is revealed or said doesn't necessarily reflect what we truly want. Also, when we hear positions, we respond with positions. So instead, he advised, act dumb and be curious about surface positions. Listen, as a full body experience, and try to deescalate, when appropriate, by reflecting positions back. It can be validating for the listener, and serve as a mirror that allows the person to self correct or dial back overly harsh language. If the language is aggressive or inflammatory, reflecting and reframing with more neutral language can also be a way to bring down the heat.

Interests lie below the surface. In the case of The Break Up, the was a real thirst for appreciation, support, and better communication our breakout group devised.

The phenomena of switch tracking can be identified as “two people are saying things back and forth, but what it really is, is two or more separate conversations, happening in which you’re changing the subject from one to the other.” In our Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaugh example this is moving from the dishes to the football game, and everything in between, without ever getting to the interests - the true needs and desires. In this way a simple dispute careens and “they’ve dehumanized each other, ” according to Heckman, but of course we know this to be true.