Monday, April 02, 2012


This is an article that Nick Stadnyk and I wrote for a Conflict Management class at Selkirk College. You can see the same article on Nick's blog - nstadnyk. Give him a look!


Nondescript humanoids mediating
Mediation is a form of conflict resolution. In using mediation, two parties come to a mutually agreeable solution. While this process can serve to resolve conflict, the root of conflict is not eradicated in either party. Mediation is a means to resolution and not to transformation; thus, it is very effective for reaching quicker solutions when compared to counseling. We see mediation being employed in many parts of our everyday lives. It is used in the workplace to come to solutions over conflicts that inevitably arise in day-to-day operations; we also see mediation being used in more global forums, such as the UN. Whether mediation is being used on either a macro- or micro-scale, the process remains quite similar.

The Mediation Process

Mediation is employed in many situations every day. Some examples where mediation is used are:

  •         Divorce
  •         Union disputes
  •         Estates
  •         Wrongful termination
  •         Contractual arguments
  •         Custody of children
  •         Workplace Conflicts
  •         Family Conflicts

The mediation process typically involves three or more people that each sit in their own roles. There is the two that are in conflict and a mediator or facilitator. The mediator sits between the conflicting parties and maintains the civility of the mediation session by interjecting when tempers start to flare or when the discussion becomes destructive.

For any process of conflict resolution to be successful, both of the conflicting parties must have a desire to end the conflict peacefully. Without this desire, there is no point to embark on the mediation process, as forcing one party to go against their will can result in further conflict. After agreement is reached, each party should be allowed the opportunity to explain their side of the conflict. Each explanation should be free of interruptions from the other side of the conflict. One strategy employed to create a less hostile environment is only using “I” statements:


“You always come into my office with pointless questions and disturb my workflow.”


“I am distracted easily by interruptions while I am working and find it difficult to return to work.”

By using “I” statements, each party is called to analyze only their side of the argument and not cast blame. This eases the process by singling out the emotions each party is feeling internally rather than attacking the other party. “I” statements also cause each party to reframe the situation from an assault to a personal reflection that reveals new facets of the conflict. 

After each party has had an opportunity to voice their side of the conflict, the core issues must be identified. The mediator hopefully was able to identify issues within each party’s initial statements; otherwise the mediator may ask additional questions to create a clearer picture of the conflict and then attempt to identify issues. Mediation exists as more of a band-aid solution that will work more in the short-run, so the solution exists to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause.

The mediator may identify the issues present, but is not responsible for creating the solution. The conflicting parties must collaborate and create the solution themselves. In doing this each party has their ideas invested into the solution and should buy-in to the solution. While the solution is the end goal of mediation, the collaborative process is invaluable to healing the rift between the conflicting parties.

The Role of the Mediator

The role of the mediator is to facilitate the mediation session. Facilitation means that the mediator is not dictating the solution to the conflicting parties. They are essential in creating an environment that fosters cooperation, collaboration, and safety. As a facilitator, the mediator is required to maintain civility within the mediation session by: extinguishing tangential or peripheral conflicts that are unrelated to the conflict at hand, insuring the confidentiality of the session, seeking equal input from all parties, acknowledgement of parties of feelings without exploring in-depth, and remaining neutral to both parties.

Staying out of it!

Neutrality of the mediator is essential. If one party believes that the mediator is siding with the other, there will be resistance to the mediation session and no solution will gain both parties agreement. So where does one find a neutral mediator? In the workplace you may consider using a manager from HR to meditate; however, if the conflict exists between an employee and manager, the employee may carry a preconception the HR manager is already sided with the manager in conflict. The best mediator for most situations is an outside party agreed upon by both conflicting parties. With a externally-sourced mediator, there is no risk of either party preconceiving a bias in the mediator.

MICROISSUE workplace

Mediation is usable in solving issues in many environments, the workplace being one of them. As we all know, problems arise every day in the workplace, be them minor or major. Mediation can be a useful way to bring warring parties together to discuss these problems and reach solutions that please everyone, thus creating in a happier work environment for everyone. Using a mediation process can help people recognize their emotions and determine the real issue at hand. Since mediators aid the process, it is the involved parties that truly break down the issue and reach a mutual agreement at the end. Sitting down for a mediation session can help both parties feel at ease and release tension for everyone in the surrounding environment. 

A little workplace tension

While the mediation process is valuable in solving these micro issues, there are still weaknesses to the system. For example, what if one party does not agree to sit down in a mediated session? The process has already been halted. The process of mediation does not address the counseling that could be required to have a peaceful discussion. It can also be extremely challenging to find a good mediator that can remain neutral and encourage productive conversation, especially in small companies with little budget for outside consultants. To try to acquire a mediator from within the company proves to be difficult as well – regardless of their position, all employees will have certain biases, and therefore a mediation session could not be conducted in the best way.

Another downfall of mediation is that it can take up a large amount of time for employees to resolve issues – time that would be better spent accomplishing their daily work tasks.

Mediation can also alleviate the spending of money in lawsuits. Mediating a case before it hits trial can save both sides large amounts of dollars and solve the issue just as effectively. The cost of mediation compared to litigation is minimal. While mediation may not keep your case out of the courts, it can help to educate both parties on the opinions, emotions and values of one another to help reach a settlement sooner.

Ultimately, mediation in a microclimate is attainable with a facilitator that can help both parties towards a mutual agreement. If the people involved are not articulate, able to set emotions aside, and looking for a positive outcome, the session could be a failure, or even create larger issues.


While mediation can come into play in everyday situations, it can also be a valuable process for larger issues affecting the world as a whole. The United Nations (UN) recognizes the value of mediation processes. In fact, it has a whole system in place to assist and support in mediatory efforts around the world. 

Led by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the UN has established a Mediation Support Unit (MSU) that provides financial, logistical and advisory support to peace processes. It also provides a bank of mediation knowledge, policy, guidance, and best practices. It maintains a database of peace agreements and documents on peacemaking. To keep the peace, the department relies on advance planning and readying resources to be effective in the field when crises are imminent.

However, there are some that question the effectiveness of the UN’s ability to mediate. In the 1980’s, the Soviet Union used UN mediation to maintain a decent reputation when withdrawing from a losing battle in Afghanistan.

Between 1987 and 1991, UN mediations led to the end of fighting between Iran and Iraq, the withdrawal of Soviet Troops from Afghanistan, and the end of El Salvador’s brutal civil war. However, mediation expert Saadia Touval suggests that the end of these struggles was inevitable with, or without UN mediation. He suggests that the parties involved were eager to abandon the failing ventures and used the process of UN mediation as a save-face mechanism. The success of mediation in these situations was sprung from a set of unique circumstances that don’t necessarily occur in every worldly scuffle.

Since then, UN mediators have attempted to solve issues in Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, and many other countries with little success, and in some cases, worsening the issues. This leads one to believe that perhaps mediation is not always as effective as we are led to believe. While it is apparent that mediation is definitely part of a means to an end, it is definitely not the only process that should be utilized. 

When looking to solve the world’s problems, or a fight between your kids, it is important to consider alternate ways of problem solving to complement the mediation process. Deciding to utilize counseling, appreciative inquiry, and other methods to combat issues will result in a solution that satisfies more people.


In conclusion, mediation is a valuable process that has use in many situations, small and large. While there are some flaws when mediation is used alone, the theories are solid and proven to work when partnered with additional problem solving methods. While the desired outcome is to reach a mutual agreement, sometimes this is not possible – after all, the world is based on winning and losing, isn’t it?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Must. Travel. Now.

So, lately I've had a craving to travel, to Spain in particular. Thought I would share this video by Education First. It's their new campaign for Live the Language and this video is for Barcelona! Love it, enjoy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Brain Science of Communicating

Originally, it was believed that the heart was the seat of all intelligence. From the heart came our emotions, our mental power, and our ability to communicate and make decisions.  However, modern science has disproved this theory and we now know that it is the brain that holds our intellect. Scientists have been studying the brain for hundreds of years, in fact, the science of neurology dates back to 4000 BC! As early scientists poked and prodded, they discovered that the brain is the control centre for our body and mind. Perhaps if we can learn to harness power and potential of our brain, we can become more efficient communicators, and better decision-makers. Therefore, through study of the brain, and exercise of the brain, the average human being can improve their communication skills on their own using simple tools.

The first step to increasing our brain power for the purpose of better communication is to define the term communication.

“The act or process of communication…”
“The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”
“Something imparted, interchanged or transmitted.”
“A document or message imparting news, views, information, etc.”
“Passage, or an opportunity or means of passage, between places.”

After analyzing these definitions, it is fair to simplify:

Communication – the process of sharing information through various mediums

But what really makes up good communication skills? Let’s analyze a set of steps known as the communication process

Step One: The Source – Planning your Message

Stop! Before you start communicating with anyone, take a moment to think about what you truly want to say. Eliminate unnecessary information and think about the receiver’s personal biases that may come into play. 
  • Why are you communicating
  • Who am I communicating with? What do they need to know?
  • What is the direct point I’m trying to communicate?
Try to create a message that will be received positively and utilize KISS – Keep it Simple and Straightforward.

Step Two: Encoding – Creating a Clear, Well-Crafted Message

Now that you know what you want to say, decide how to say it. Your responsibility is to be clear and concise. To do this, you need to think about not only what you will say, but how it will be received. If our message is delivered without considering alternate perspectives, it’s likely that you will be misunderstood:
  •           Understand what you truly need and want to say.
  •           Anticipate the other person's reaction to your message.
  •           Choose words and body language that allow the other person to really hear what you're saying.
Think about how you can use pictures, graphs and charts to convey your message. Consider cultural background and perspective to prevent misunderstandings.

Step Three: Choosing the Right Channel

As you encode your message, consider the best method of communication to utilize. Be efficient, yet choose the appropriate method to convey your message in the most accurate light. Emails will work for simple requests or standard information, but when it comes to more complicated messages and assignments, it could be more appropriate to meet face-to-face. Face-to-face can set up a desired context and can help to ease misunderstandings. Also, think about how does the receiver want to get the message? Is there a time constraint? Will the receiver need to ask questions?

Step Four: Decoding – Receiving and Interpreting a Message

Good communicators have the ability to step back and listen, but listening isn’t a passive activity. Listening requires focus and attention. The best and highest level of listening is empathetic listening. This technique utilizes a structured listening and questioning process that helps you to develop and enhance relationships. It creates a stronger understanding of what is being conveyed, both intellectually and emotionally. It also includes paying attention to body language:
  •           Avoid distractions.
  •           Nod and smile to acknowledge points.
  •           Most importantly, allow the person to speak, without thinking about what you'll say next.
  •           Don't interrupt.

Step Five: Feedback

When we are sending out a message, we require feedback. Without it, how will we know if we are being understood? Sometimes feedback can be verbal, but sometimes it is not.  A lot of feedback comes from body language. By watching facial expressions, gestures, and posture we can understand a lot more from our listeners. Look for:
  •           Confidence levels.
  •           Agreement.
  •           Comprehension
  •           Level of interest.

As we analyze body language, we can adjust our message to make it more understandable, appealing and interesting to suit the receiver. We can ask questions to make sure we are being understood, and this can help us to avoid miscommunication.
Feedback can also be formal. If you're communicating something of utmost importance, it can often be worth asking questions of the person you're talking to, to make sure that they've understood fully. When you receive feedback, repeat it in your own words to check your own understanding.

When we break the communication process into steps, we can see just how complicated it is to communicate well. If we can’t communicate well, how will we make the most of life’s opportunities?
Ultimately, you are responsible for making sure your message is understood.
The benefits of good communication skills are obvious. So, as an average human being, how do we expand our communication skills on our own? Sure, we can go through the steps to analyze our level of communication, but how do we do it better? The answer lies in the “heart” of our intelligence – the brain.

An Introduction to the Brain

Your brain is a thinking organ. It learns and grows through interactions with the world around you. When we stimulate our brain by learning, exercising or changing our environments and habits, we can improve brain function. This actually can protect against cognitive decline. Even in old-age, the human brain continually adapts and rewires itself. Age related loss in memory or motor skills can simply result from inactivity and lack of mental exercise and stimulation. However, if we begin to stimulate our brain again, we can regain the entire information that was lost. In other words, use it or lose it! 

Only recently have scientists been able to learn how the neural network of the brain forms. Throughout life, the vast network of neurons continues to expand, adapt and learn.  As we receive new stimuli and learning experiences, our neural networks reorganize and reinforce themselves in response. This body-mind interaction is what stimulates brain cells to grow and connect with each other in complex ways. When we learn, brain neurons connect; we can have over 100 trillion connections in our brain. This is the structural basis of your brain’s memory capacity and thinking ability. Your brain is basically an internal map of your external world.

Recent science has shown us that regular people can do simple exercises to become more advanced intellectually and increase our brain-power on our own. As we learn more about how the brain learns and the value of learning to the brain, scientists are developing training programs that build on certain cognitive areas. is leading the way in brain games. Their accolades are extensive, and millions use their program to develop their own brains.

Lumosity’s primary areas of focus are:
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Performance
  • Creativity
Many other skills expand from these areas and games have been developed to enhance them. Speed, flexibility, and problem solving, also come into play when exercising these parts of the cognition. When exercised, these areas can drastically enhance your brain’s ability to recall facts, notice details, and process information – all valuable skills when communicating.
 “Susan! Let me introduce.... uh.... what was your name again?”

Has this ever been you? Being forgetful can not only be inconvenient, but it can be embarrassing as well. Forgetting details, small and large, can impact our lives greatly. To help you combat this, there are exercises directed at improving memory functions in the brain. Your ability to remember can be dramatically improved.
Usually when we speak of memory, we are actually referring to memory recall, which is the process we use to bring up stored information. However, we also need to learn about encoding – or translating information to memory, which is the initial step. If something isn’t solidified in the first place, how will you be able to recall it? Many cognitive processes must work together to create an effective long-term memory. Working memory is the most important – this is the function that allows us to work with new information.

For example, if you were to meet several new people at once, your working memory temporarily stores representations of their names and faces and then forms long-term associations between them. To be able to recall these names later, we must effectively encode the scenario into our memory using working memory.
Working memory is exercised by challenging:
  •  The ability to hold onto images and visual patterns
  • The ability to update working memory with new information
  • The ability to discard data that is irrelevant and update with useful information
Everyone can benefit from a strong ability to focus. Attention gets divided up between a vast number of items in our world and it is beneficial to learn how to focus on one single item, or when it is required, to focus on a few, separate, major tasks. This is a critical cognitive area in a digital age - people are no longer able to focus on one subject for an extended period of time.If we can improve attention, we will better retain the information we are focusing on with our working memory.
Focus and Attention are exercised by challenging:
  •  The ability to distribute attention across a visual field
  • The ability to focus on something for an extended period of time
  • The ability to allocate attention to hone memory and processing skills

Performance is about tying together five cognitive areas. The first area of improving performance is speed. If we can analyze information faster, we can solve problems, access memories and adapt to new situations more efficiently.
Performance is also enhanced by exercising flexibility and problem solving to enable you to respond to new and challenging situations. Memory and attention is also included in performance.
The outcome of these exercises are:
  • Sharpened executive function, such as planning, problem solving and verbal reasoning
  • The ability to improvise
  • The ability to think abstractly
  • The ability to more effectively plan logistics
Conventional wisdom dictates that creativity is the fuel for invention, art, sense of humor, and many other abstract parts of life. However, it can be very difficult to say what creativity really is. Cognitive psychology has one perspective: creativity is the ability to solve problems that require flexible thinking. And to create something new, we must first be able to grasp a different perspective.
Ultimately, creativity comes from fluid intelligence, which is the ability to process abstract information. It is the ability to recognize hidden patterns in the world around us and to apply that information to new problems. To work our fluid intelligence, we must consider our working memory. Our working memory helps us to accept new concepts, and our fluid intelligence lets us apply these concepts to new situations. Working memory is basically the space in our brains where fluid intelligence operates. Fluid intelligence is said to decline as we age, so it is very important to exercise this area.

These concepts may seem a little abstract from our everyday lives, but reports over 14 million users, and has received rave reviews from all over North America. Consider that the previous cognitive operations are occurring in your brain right now, and what would your life be like if they operated a little more efficiently? If 14 million people find it works for them, perhaps it is a valid avenue to be explored for all of us.
Now that we understand what is happening in our brains, let’s take a look at some examples of how we can exercise these areas. 

Multimedia Software

One way of exercising our brains that may surprise you is multimedia software, or videogames. The use of these interactive technologies and games has actually been proven to be an effective way to deliver brain training programs. They include specific cognitive tasks in a way that are concentrated, repeatable, adaptive and highly targeted in a fast-paced method. It has been found that these methods can effectively improve fluid intelligence and performance.


Physical Exercise

The word exercise derives from a Latin root meaning "to maintain, to keep, to ward off." To exercise means to practice, put into action, train, perform, use, improve. Physical exercise has a protective effect on the brain and its mental processes, and may even help prevent Alzheimer's disease. Based on exercise and health data from nearly 5,000 men and women over 65 years of age, those who exercised were less likely to lose their mental abilities or develop dementia, including Alzheimer's. A study at Laval University suggests that the more a person exercises, the greater the protective benefits for the brain. This was observed even more so in women. It was also found that inactive individuals were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's, compared to those with a high level of activity.
All-in-all, there are so many simple ways to exercise your brain daily: switch hands when brushing your teeth, walk a different route to school, or eat supper in a different room. Who knew it was that easy to get smarter?

In conclusion, as we exercise our brains, we can improve many areas of our cognition: memory, performance, attention and focus. And as we improve our understanding of the brain we can learn to analyze our own communication methods, emotional and cultural biases, and understanding of other perspectives, allowing us to get to the point more directly. Overall, it is crucial to always be expanding your intellectual capacity and understanding. Through this process, we can gain a better practical awareness and knowledge of communication skills, and always challenge ourselves to be better in this area.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

It's Over!

So Gala 2011 is over. I think it was a great success. What a great experience to manage such an affair. This picture does not do the room justice.

- M

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Posting from school today - lots going on!!
So, my class has been split into groups and mine is organizing the Gala for the college. Every year Selkirk College puts on a Gala banquet event with a particular theme - this year is Destination Education. The Gala is this Saturday so we are in the final stretch of our planning. Today we are conducting training for table service for the event - should be interesting! Wish us luck.

- M

Selkirk College Gala 2010

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day One

So I'm starting this blog as a school project, but I hope to continue with it afterwards...
I don't have an ultimate goal for this blog - perhaps just to put my thoughts into the world and share the things I like.
Yes. Let's just go with that. Riveting, isn't it?

- M

About Me

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Originally from the Prairies, I now live in the mountains...

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