Unusually, I'm working a full day today (outside the house!). For those who aren't familiar with the kind of work that I do...I'm a mediator. I work very part time (about a half day or two half days/week). I work primarily in the context of mediating/facilitating people who are experiencing conflict in the workplace, whether they be two people or a larger group of people in conflict. The type of work I most enjoy doing is working with two individuals who are in conflict. What I find so interesting is that, although the specific issues they struggle with are workplace-related, the issues are infinitely complicated by the individuals involved - because they (like all of us) bring into their workplace all of the baggage and learned behaviours that they have accumulated throughout their lifetimes. The mediations are invariably messy and intricate, complicated by each person's unresolved issues. These very complexities are what makes the work very interesting to me, and I really enjoy working in these kinds of situations and having to be 'on my toes.'
Recently, I finished working with a pair of such clients: two women who worked closely together, and who were experiencing quite a lot of friction in their relationship; the situation had escalated to the point where they were barely speaking with each other. At this point, as is typically the case, their boss called Facilitated Solutions (the firm I'm an associate of) and, and the mediation process was initiated: first with one-on-one interviews of the two participants, and then with joint mediation sessions. In this particular case, the two participants' work issues were compounded by a stressful (healthcare) work environment, different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, radically different personalities and working styles, and some/many pre-conceived notions about the other person. This type of situation is fairly classic and, frankly, no more complex than any of the other situations I've been involved with. We went through three mediations sessions together and, by the end of it, they had come up with a written agreement as to what kinds of things would govern their relationship going forward: statements of goodwill; expressions of regret; specific commitments as to what each of them would do differently going forward; etc. It was very rewarding. I will follow up with them in about two months and possibly facilitate a final session with them, to help them tweak the agreement if necessary, or to help them sort through any new issues that have come up.
Some of my favourite work moments are those where a client makes a discovery about him/herself or about the person they are in conflict with, that fundamentally shifts the way in which they perceive either themselves or the other individual. It's a lightbulb kind of moment. The first time I witnessed this happen was when I was still fairly new to my mediation practice, about five or six years ago. The two individuals being mediated had been working together for about fifteen years and had experienced conflict for all but about the first two days of their working relationship. Talk about baggage. My colleague and I did five or six mediation sessions with them (two or three would be the norm) and, in the second last session, as we persisted in helping them break down and understand the assumptions they had about the other person, one of them finally started to cry. Hard. Finally, after a break, she was able to speak, though haltingly and painfully. She said that she was realizing that after fifteen years, some of the things she had believed to be true about the other person weren't, in fact, true - or, at least, not what the other person had intended. Her question to her colleague was this: "If all I've known about you to be true isn't true, if I've been wrong about you for the past fifteen years, what am I supposed to believe now? What now? I'm left in a vacuum - everything I've believed is now a question mark. After fifteen years, we need to start over again from the beginning so that I can see you and me in a completely different light." It was a huge moment in their working relationship and in their lives. A year later, when doing some follow-up with these women, I was thrilled to the point of tears to hear that they were doing great - they were working well together and had completely transformed their working relationship. It was a great experience, and one that I've been fortunate to see repeated in many other clients since. Not all of them, that's for sure, but certainly many of them - and enough to keep me craving the 'high' that comes from a successful intervention.
Today is a somewhat different kind of work day than the one I just described, in that my colleague and I are working with a group of people in conflict. We've been involved for the past few months and today will likely be the culmination of our work there; we don't usually work for a full day at one client's workplace, but that's the way it worked out today. It would have been helpful to have had more sleep than I had, but I'm not too worried about it - when engaged with clients, I usually find that I experience a fairly high level of adrenaline that comes from needing to be 'on' for the entire time that I'm engaged with them. The harder part will be this evening when I crash!