Reminder: Lead with your humanity, not the toolkit.

April 15, 2024

A toolbox with MEDIATION emblazoned on its side

Don’t lead with your toolkit, lead with your humanity. The tools and strategies we gather over time are useful, but a prerequisite to their wise use is to pay attention to what’s in front of us before defaulting to them.

Imagine this:

You’ve been training to be a guidance counsellor for years and have finally landed a full-time job at an elementary school. At the top of your graduating class, you know all the answers to all the hypothetical questions posed on the exam. When the first student gets sent to your fresh new office, the situation is familiar with what you’ve studied and so you give the answer that would have gotten you an A+ in class – but, to your surprise, it falls flat in the real world.

Knowledge is great, but before we leap to solutions we need to put them aside so that we can turn clearly to what we’re facing. With openness, we can be present with the people involved and understand what action might be appropriate – instead of bulldozing through a step-by-step checklist without listening.

We chat, we ask questions, we find a pause in the critical moment before we respond…this is effective communication. In doing so, we learn that every child who walks into a guidance counsellor’s office has a unique background and what initially caught the attention of an adult is just the tip of an iceberg. The answer we know well may still apply, but perhaps now it can be given sensitively so that it falls on receptive ears.

So too it goes with mediation and so many other social frameworks.

We need to be careful about the roles we embody. At times they are necessary and functional, providing some needed sense of structure and predictability. However, when we over-identify with a role it both defines us and confines us, narrowing our vision and limiting our options.

Clinging to roles, we lose touch with who we are beyond them.

Beware of the intermediate mindset that assumes we know best. Embrace a beginner’s mind which looks at everything with a freshness, assuming nothing and therefore wholly open to listening.

And then we reach into our toolkit with discernment as to what will best serve the situation at hand.

A name tag that says: hello I am human (with hooman crossed out)

With practice, the frameworks and strategies we learn for dealing with conflict become more ingrained. This is a boon in that it optimizes our reactions to challenging situations, but there is also the risk that we act too quickly and without conscious thought. Biology is simultaneously amazing and frustrating.

Humanity plays a crucial role in mediation and conflict resolution, as these processes inherently involve human interactions, emotions, and perspectives. At the core lies a recognition of our connected existence and acknowledgment that all parties involved are human beings with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. Acknowledging these differences, it makes sense that conflict is both inevitable and prone to different perspectives.

How can we work with the fact that each of us is unique? Perhaps, it’s easier to answer if we flip it around: how would you like others to treat you when friction arises in an interaction?

Empathy and understanding, communication and dialogue, compromise and flexibility…different situations require different actions, but the commonality is a curious and open mindset behind them. If ever we notice that our efforts are falling flat despite following best-known strategies, remember our shared humanity. Once we can accept each other in all of our human-ness, we can find better ways to move forward together.

Looking for ways to fill your toolkit well? The team at Mediation Services leads conflict resolution training developed from decades of community service, resulting in proven frameworks for you to utilize. We aim to offer you an agile proficiency in addressing conflict in your own life – focusing on the process and integrating humanity in each step forward.

Check out our ongoing in-person training in Winnipeg or our expansion into accessible online webinars.

Remember: start with a proper toolkit, but don’t forget to lead with your humanity first. Every situation is unique.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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