Today was a very special day for me. I conducted a mediation I had worked on with my Mastermind Group the week before.  I brought it to my Mastermind Group in order to get a better handle on my own emotions and better serve the clients in this mediation.
Let me explain.
I belong to a Mastermind Group whose focus is on Mediation and Collaborative practice.  My colleagues and I meet once a month for a discussion of one of our cases to help one another become unstuck in a case where we might be stuck.  Usually it is a divorce or child custody case because the members of my Mastermind Group are divorce and family mediators and collaborative processionals.
I am the lone wolf, so to speak, since my practice focuses on conflicts between people involving animals.  My colleagues always come to the meeting at which I present because my cases are so different from the norm and out of their comfort zone.  It is new and interesting territory and they love to help me solve my glitches.
This time I presented my mediation ‘glitch’ at the last meeting.  It was a case involving a dog who was injured while in one of the parties care and who ultimately died as a result of those injuries. The clients were stuck on the question of whether or not the entire vet bill needed to be paid or could be reduced.
I was stuck as well on this tidbit.  It seemed I was trying to move my people forward with no success.
My colleagues at the Mastermind Group were wonderful.  They all read my write-up and called me on my stuck-ness!!  I listened intently as they helped me gather information about myself, what was blocking the progress of the mediation and how I may have made one or both of the parties not feel heard.  It was amazing.
While they were constructively criticizing me they were also role-playing this mediation to give me the opportunity to feel how they felt when I spoke to them.  It was mind boggling how ‘in character ‘ they were willing to go to help me understand how I was ‘stuck in my own beliefs’; ‘not listening to parties’ and ‘not feeling their beliefs’.
While on a break, one of my colleagues commented,  ”You know, I bet it is hard for you to listen to these kinds of situations since you have pets and you wouldn’t want them to pass in this way.  How do you cope?”  In an instant I realized, from this one simple observation, what was going on within me that got me stuck in place. 
When a pet dies, I compartmentalize my grief over the loss of a pet and move on.  To me, it is the only way to survive.  If I continuously allow myself to grieve over my loss, my grief would be unbearable and would consume me.  In this instance, I understood what had me stuck.  I couldn’t understand how one of the parties in this mediation was holding on so tightly to her grief instead of compartmentalizing her grief so she could survive, move on and thereby resolve the conflict.
I needed to stop putting what I do to survive the loss of a pet on her and start recognizing and feeling her pain in a whole different way.  If I didn’t or couldn’t, I would never be able to get past the impasse I had created.
I Asked for the help of my Mastermind Group in a matter I felt I was handling correctly and was simply confronted by a difficult participant.  I Listened and realized the solution had nothing to do with the participant and had everything to do with me!  It is about asking the parties how they feel and empathizing with them in real time.  It is not about listening and then asking them to move on.  It is about really listening to their pain and reflecting it back to them in such a way they feel respected and understood.
Animal conflicts are all consuming to the parties involved because we are uniquely created to hold these animals close to our hearts.  When they leave us,we all deal with that loss differently.  It is the ability to Ask the right questions and then Listen to the answers that will help an Animal Conflict Mediator give his/her clients closure and resolution to the conflict.
I Asked and then I Listened.
I learned one needs to listen when they ask a question and hear what the party is saying and not what I feel they should be saying.
I greatly appreciate the dedication of my Mastermind Group and will forever be indebted to them for their help and their commitment to make each of us a better practitioner of Mediation and Collaborative practice.
Ask…. and then Listen.

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