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Author, Author! An Interview with Michael Lang, Author of The Guide to Reflective Practice in Conflict Resolution

Q: Congratulations on publication of your new The Guide to Reflective Practice in Conflict Resolution. How do you think about reflective practice?
A: For me, reflective practice is a way to improve professional practice that involves three qualities: a commitment to life-long learning, a willingness to learn from experience, and an appreciation of the connection between theory and practice. For example, our values, beliefs, principles and contextual circumstances form a conceptual lens through which we perceive the parties and make sense of their conflict. A reflective practitioner is conscious of how her own lens shapes that perception. This enables her to pay special attention to the parties’ narrative and to their interests and be responsive, rather than foisting her own narrative on them.

Q: What brought you to reflective practice?
A: I read Donald Schon’s The Reflective Practitioner and discovered an extraordinary yet simple process by which we learn through experience.That process was reinforced when I participated in a family therapy training program. Through reading, study and practice I learned to apply this approach in my practice. When, in was invited to create a graduate program in conflict resolution at Antioch University, I introduced the principles and methods of reflective practice as a principal component of the curriculum. For example, each student had to do a simulated intervention, with observers, which was videotaped. Faculty provided feedback using elicitive questions, a process that has evolved into Reflective Debrief, explained in the new book. Students were given the video of the simulation and feedback and asked to write about what they learned from their experience. The goal was for students to understand what made sense and why, and to learn why they experienced frustration or confusion or success. They also learned the process of learning from their experience.

Q: What does this book add to your prior book, The Making of a Mediator?
A: I was pleased with the book and with its reception in the conflict resolution community. Over time, I came to realize it was more conceptual than practical. My co-author and I were introducing the idea of reflective practice to the conflict resolution community and felt we needed to demonstrate that this practice was based on a coherent and well-thought out foundation. I thought we did as much as we could in that book, but that I wanted to add material and resources to help practitioners implement reflective practice techniques.

Q:What did you learn about writing in the course of becoming a published author?
A: My first editor reviewed a sample chapter and offered critical comments that initially sent me into a funk. I quickly my editor was right. She provided advice about how to convey ideas. Specifically, I learned to write for your audience -to make something complex and conceptual accessible and practical. Finding an authentic voice was a wonderful but difficult challenge in becoming an effective writer. That lesson was invaluable while writing my new book.

Q: How did you find a publisher for your books?
A: With my first book, I had been serving as editor-in-chief of a journal, now Conflict Resolution Quarterly. When I proposed the idea of a book, the publisher already knew me and was willing to enter into a publishing contract. With this new book, the connection to the publisher came through my involvement in helping develop a joint venture between ACR and & Littlefield publishers. I was asked to become a series co-editor for the initial set of publications, The ACR Practitioner’s Guide Series – practical guides for those engaged in conflict resolution. As a result of my role, I had a working relationship with the acquisitions editor. I submitted a formal book proposal that was vetted by their editorial staff and reviewed by several conflict resolution practitioners. The proposal received an enthusiastic response. I signed a publishing contract last December and delivered the final manuscript in mid-July.

Q: Any advice to our readers for dealing with publishers?
A. Research publishers. Find one with an interest in the type of book you want to write and in the subject matter. Prepare a book proposal that reflects your passion, demonstrates your knowledge and experience, affirms the relevance of your topic, shows your ability to complete a major writing project, and identifies a market for your book.

Q: What is the publishing process like?
A. After submitting the manuscript, the next step is copy editing in which grammar, spelling, citations and other glitches are addressed. The next step involves reviewing page proofs, the nearly final version of your book. In my case, these were used to create the book index. I received the opportunity to create the cover image. I chose a spiral because our process of learning, particularly as adults, is like a spiral. We come back again and again to similar places but always advancing on the basis of what we have learned in the interim.

Q: What are the major takeaways you hope readers will get from this book?
A. I hope they will understand that this is a process different from the forehead-smacking I’ll never do that again, don’t-touch-the-hot-stove style of learning. Reflective practice focusses on how to be constantly attentive to our actions and to learn from our experiences. We are in danger as we become more experienced as conflict resolution professionals of operating on autopilot. We may overlook anything that deviates from the narrative of the conflict situation we have constructed in our own minds rather than paying special attention to the parties’ stories, their experiences and their goals. Another important aspect is developing the ability to connect our actions to our beliefs. Too often however, we are unaware of those beliefs, yet they affect our perceptions and actions. Highly effective practitioners learn to use their beliefs purposefully. Imagine how differently a practitioner responds if she sees people in conflict as victims to be cared for or protected, or as capable of making decisions on their own? It’s for practitioners to hold different values and beliefs, just so long as they are conscious of what they believe and how their beliefs affect their perceptions and actions.

Q: Does your book include examples of how to do this and do you have a favorite tip to share?
A. I include practical strategies and methods for the practitioner to use as well as self-directed exercises. I show these techniques at work in examples taken from a variety of professions. The most important tip I can share is that humility is important in learning through experience. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. “Because I think I’m making progress,” he replied.

Q: Can you name some mediator-authors who have influenced you?
A. Robert Benjamin’s writing is clean, crisp, forceful and fluid. Woody Mosten makes the reader feel like he is having a conversation with you. And Lori Lustberg brilliantly uses her own stories, bringing people into the experience, in order to deliver her message.


Judith Starr

Judith Starr is a certified general counsel of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and founder of her agency's administrative program, which recently completed its first year as a pilot and recently was expanded and made permanent. MORE >


Michael Lang

For over 40 years Michael has mediated family, workplace and organizational disputes. He has designed and presented introductory and advanced mediation and conflict management courses, workshops and webinars in the US and internationally. Michael created one of the first graduate programs in conflict resolution in the US at Antioch University… MORE >

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