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Positively Different

Given that compatibility doesn’t mean sameness, pairing co-mediators with very different personalities and skills can create a team that models the appreciation and usefulness of differences. Clients then learn to appreciate their differences as various gifts they bring to a joint enterprise. When working with a mediator who complements your strengths, and compensates for your weaknesses this dynamic sum is certainly greater than the parts.

The basic principle here is simple: All individuals are different and the same differences that can interfere with team efforts, when understood and intentionally blended, can be the building blocks to more effective mediations.

Know Thyself

To be intentional about difference one has to begin with the sage advice: Know thyself. Human resource experts have long used tools such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to build more effective teams using people’s compatibilities and differences. There are many such tools for identify personality types, but the Myers-Briggs instrument is one of the oldest and widely used. It is a self-report questionnaire., based on the work of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. who published Psychological Types in 1921. In the 1940s, Isabel Myers began developing a questionnaire to help people find where they fit in Jung’s typology. The questionnaire identifies sixteen basic personality types, each identified by a four-letter code. Some people are oriented more toward the outer world, extroverts (E) while introverts (I) are more internally oriented (I). People gather and access information primarily by sensing (S) or intuitively (N). They make decisions and organize primarily by thinking (T) or primarily by feeling (F). When it comes to action, people working from a judging style (J) make a plan while the perceiving style (p) goes with the flow. There are copyright and ethical issues involved with the use of instrument itself, which can only by used in conjunction with a follow-up interview from the Myers-Briggs Institute. However, similar self-administrated tools, are available on the internet. Try these sites:

These websites are light-weight, offering a truncated version of type-testing that are easy to take, so if you’re just dipping in you might start here.

Appreciating Difference

Asking about your co-mediators typology might seem as relevant as asking about their astrological sign, at very least tactless and possibly unethical. However, you can self-identify with the goal of finding compatible differences, and if you develop a keen understanding of differences types you might be able to identify qualities of good potential co-mediators on the basis of the typologies, and use these differences. For instance, both the introvert or extroverted person may present as ‘the life of the party’ in some settings, but when intense socializing goes on for several hours the extrovert will feel energized and the introvert slightly depleted. Consider how this might work itself out in a co-mediation. If you’re the introvert, you’re possibly more attuned to subtler interactions or the deeper themes being played out between all the parties, but you may need to withdraw for a short time to process these while your extraverted co-mediator keeps the ball rolling. Your partner can then caucus with you to gain the benefit of your insights.

You’ve also just modeled for your clients a level of respect for your differences that might prove useful in resolving their disputes. Perhaps in an employee/employer mediation the extrovert boss who just witnessed such respectful use of differences might suggest to the introvert employee, “We could move you to the bigger cubicle in the corner. It’s is more conducive to the creative work you enjoy, and there you can avoid the causal client contact you find so distracting.” Or the introverted parent mediating a parenting plan in their divorce mediation might suggest that the exchange with the children can occur on Saturday night so she can have Sundays as down time for solitary activities and meditation while the extroverted father can enjoy the all the kids team sports activities he’s been missing.

Know Your Shadow – A cautionary tale

Of course, it’s usually not easy to use basic differences advantageously in mediations or anywhere for that matter, possibly because these differences represent one’s shadow self, that unlived life that is somewhat haunting. Someone who is quite different can even seem terribly annoying. Daryl Sharp, head of the Jungian Association in Canada and publisher of Inner City Books, suggests an easy means of identifying your shadow: If there is someone, generally of the same gender, with whom you feel an irrational annoyance, that person probably is your shadow type.

I discovered the force of the shadow the first time I tried to use the Jungian typology in Human Relations course I offered. I set out to form small groups using the Myers-Briggs tool so that this group of aspiring professionals could have a positive experience of difference. I knew I was in trouble right away in a discussion of the model when several participants refused to refer to introverts, insisting instead on a negative term; those people are anti-social. Being sensing-feeling types, they’d quickly judged me as an anti-social mystic touchy-feely egghead (INTP). It turns they were all extroverted sensing feeling judgment types (ESFJ), all but Max.

If Max wasn’t so introverted, he might have sought me out as a soul-mate in this shadowy land where I was drowning. Instead, he intuited that his best chance here was to use his inner resources and learn what he could from his colleagues to become effective in his chosen career. After all, these were the kind of people he was going to work with most of his professional life because the governing body of this profession had chosen these seventeen people out of seven-hundred applicants, managing to weed out every who was ‘different’, probably different than themselves. Max was quietly thinking and intuiting means to get along with everyone.

Using Differences Differently

Which is just to say that opposites don’t always attract. Difference can seem overwhelming, too challenging, or simply not functional when developing co-mediation teams. However, the common goals in mediation – finding just solutions, achieving win/win resolutions, making peace – can motivate mediators to use differences to everyone’s advantage.

People bring different strengths to the process, and the greater those differences perhaps the greater will be the dynamism in co-mediation sessions, which can make co-mediations so effective. In any case, being conscious and intentional about differences is simply another aspect of being conscious and respectful of people, the bedrock upon which effective mediation practices are built.


Roberta Morris

Dr. Roberta Morris specializes in narrative and facilitative mediation models. She is author of several novels and works of non-fiction, including the resource Ending Violence in Families. Presently she is writing Artful Mediation, compiling best practices that draw upon the many gifts people bring to the table as they find means… MORE >

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