The Power of Reflection

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I was on vacation in Florida enjoying a walk on the beach when I noticed a little boy about three years old. He was holding something in his hand which he had found in the water. “Adam,” he shouted. “Adam. Adam! Adam!!! Adam!!!!!” Each time the name got louder, each time more insistence was present in his voice. Finally, a boy of about seven, presumably his brother, turned around. “What?” he asked. The little boy immediately bounded over to Adam to show him what he had found.

I chuckled to myself, remembering my daughter's own repeated cries of “Mom” at that age. It struck me as I continued to walk that grown ups aren't much different. When we don't feel heard or recognized we have a habit of repeating ourselves. For the person on the receiving end of the barrage this can be quite annoying. Often the response is, “I heard you the first time!” But clearly there was no indication to the repetitive party that this was true, otherwise they wouldn't be repeating themselves. Training mediators I often ask them to listen for repetition. It is a clear indicator that someone is feeling weak and needs support. While saying “I heard you” seems logical as a response, as mediators we know that we need to reflect what was said in order for the person to feel truly heard.

Reflection is a key skill used by almost all mediators. It is a way to offer clarification, to ensure we understood the content of what was said. In Transformative Mediation, it is a primary skill used liberally throughout the mediation and done in a way that mirrors, as closely as possible, what the person said, as well as their tone in saying it. This kind of reflection provides an opportunity for the person to hear and consider what they have said and how they have said it. This might help them gain clarity and decide to go deeper, “that's right and furthermore...”. Or, they may decide to change or retract what they said, because upon hearing it they've decided they are coming on too strong, wish they wouldn't have said what they did, realize their feelings aren't coming across clearly, or for some entirely different reason which we as the mediator may never know.

Reflection also helps to calm a client. Neuroscience has proven that the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for judgement, reason, and decision making (among other important functions like empathy), tends to shut down when we are angry due to a hormone flush that lasts for several minutes. It is impossible to reasonably negotiate in this condition. Reflection helps a person to focus and calm down, kind of like a “time out” from the action. Once the person has regained a sense of control (literally gotten their “mind” back), they can then move forward and continue the conversation. I believe reflection is the most important tool the mediator can use. Just like the little boy who increasingly became frustrated and more and more demanding because he wasn't being heard, the client who appears the most unreasonable may simply feel like she's been hitting a brick wall, over and over. As the mediator, when you reflect what she is saying, you may be the first person in a long time to acknowledge the importance of her feelings and what she has to say.