Before launching into an article, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year. I hope that your holiday season was enjoyable, and that 2018 is off to a happy and healthy start.
"I've Been to the Mountaintop"
Given this week's anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., it seems appropriate to draw my inspiration from him.
In his last speech on April 3, 1968, known as "I've Been To The Mountaintop", Dr. King invoked the parable of the Good Samaritan: "And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
Frames of Reference
Mediators often talk about the concept of "framing". Working with the same underlying information, the "frame" in which any given issue is presented can change the listener's perception of the facts without changing the facts themselves.
This is how Dr. King interpreted the different reactions of the priest and the Levite on one hand and the Good Samaritan on the other. The first two imagined the consequences to themselves in creating their frame of reference, while the latter framed the question by focusing on the consequences to the stranger in need of aid.
Using Framing Techniques
A mediator who is able to successfully utilize framing techniques contextualizes information in such a way that the listener can connect that information to what they already know. This effectively reduces ambiguity and misunderstanding, and leads parties to durable settlement agreements.
And remember that this tool is not limited to mediation. Next time you find yourself in a disagreement with opposing counsel, a co-worker, or a friend who does not understand your argument, consider reframing the issue. If you can make your point using the other person's frame of reference, they are more likely to understand and accept it.