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‘Holding The Calm’… Many Different Ways To Say The Same Thing

As I have previously mentioned, I am in a book club which reads and discusses books about conflict resolution. The latest is Holding the Calm: The Secret to Resolving Conflict and Defusing Tension by Hesha Abrams (Berrett-Kochler Publishers, Inc., Oakland, Ca. 2022.)

The first question one asks is what is meant by “Holding the Calm? The author  explains:

The calm is the place where you feel heard, understood, valued, and safe to make resolution possible. Holding involves creating and sustaining the space for the calm.”

Holding the Calm is an active yet simple way to create space for possibilities, drain the swamp of toxic emotions, fully let someone be seen and heard, and defuse tension so solutions can be found. (Id. at 3.)

 In short, it is active listening, being empathetic, exploring the needs and interests of each party involved (aka problem solving or integrative bargaining) and coming up with one or more options/solutions that will be satisfactory. It is “win-win” negotiation.

“Holding the Calm” is simply a basic course in integrative negotiation or problem solving (win-win) negotiation. While Ms. Abrams uses the term “Holding the Calm”, others will use different labels to present the same points.

In the ensuing chapters, Ms. Abrams discusses the various issues that will help one succeed in integrative bargaining. For example, in Chapter 2, she discusses the need for validation: when someone tells her story, she needs “to feel heard, be listened to, be valued, be understood.” (Id. at 27.)  She makes the important point that one can acknowledge without agreeing. One can respond by saying that she understands what the other party is saying but does not necessarily agree. And she points out that if a party feels validated, she is liable to reciprocate by listening to you. (Id. at 27.)

One point that Ms. Abrams makes concerns the ambiguity of words. In response to a question, someone might say, “Almost “, or “Never” or “Always” or “Rarely” or “A Lot.” While at face value, the questioner thinks she understands the answer, Ms. Abrams suggests we take it a step further and ask – in terms of percentages- exactly what the person means by “Always.” While we might think it means 100%, someone else might think it means 75%.  Similarly, when someone says “Never”, we tend to think it means 0%. But, if we ask, we may well learn that the meaning is 20%. (Id. at 31.)

This brings up two important points: how easy it is to miscommunicate or wrongly interpret what someone is saying and why it is always important to keep asking questions and to learn “why”. We can not assume that we know; our assumptions are wrong more times than they are right.

In the next chapter-chapter 4- Ms. Abrams makes the crucial point of the importance of listening- not only to what is being said but to what is NOT being said. (Id. at 37.) Critical to resolving any dispute is that the parties need to feel heard, and understood. (Id at 37.) And sometimes the silence (Chapter 5) can be deafening. As I have noted in previous blogs-people are uncomfortable with silence and will say something (often their most innermost and honest thoughts) to fill the space.(Id. at 39-44.) One can gain a lot of information simply by staying silent.

The subsequent chapters discuss emotions which are always present in any conflict and the importance of an apology, the us vs them or tribal mentality, allowing the other party to save face or to not lose and looking for commonalities or needs and interests that the parties have in common. ( Id. at Chapters 6-11 at pp. 45-93.)

As noted in my blog of last week, Ms. Abrams notes that there is no point in playing the blame game. It is best to avoid it and to simply work together to figure out what happened and how to fix it .(Id. at 103-106.) Ms. Abrams then discusses a topic that I have sometime found lacking in mediations: civility and politeness. “Politeness matters. “(Id. at 107.) Or, to state the well known adage: separate the problem from the people. Be hard on the problem but soft on the people.” (See: Fisher, Roger, and Ury, William, Getting To Yes  (Penguin Books, New York, New York, 1991) at 17-39.)

Perhaps the best chapter is the Conclusion in which the author sums up her advice in 20 suggestions. They include; “Speak into the ears that hear you”, “Clarify generalities like always or never “, “Allow the magic of silence to work”, Do not be afraid of high emotions; see them as an opportunity to diagnose”, “See problems as solutions waiting to be found”, “Find the self-interest’,… “ Understand that not losing may be more important than winning….” ,” Seek creative solutions” , Use plural we words to avoid the us-versus- them mentality”, “…Avoid the blame game”, and “ Understand that politeness and civility matter”, …..(Id. at 152-153.)

For those new or novices in negotiation, the book (in 154 pages) highlights how to negotiate successfully. For those experienced in negotiation, it provides a good quick refresher on some of the simpler points that sometimes are forgotten.

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE

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