The peacemaker or mediator is often thought of as “neutral”, impartial or encouraging compromise.

Another model, based on the principles of Nonviolent Communication, is to be a vigorous advocate for a process and solutions that value everyone’s needs.

A guiding principle is that everyone gets to participate in decisions that affect them. This makes it far more likely that people will willingly abide by the decisions and, of course, that the decisions themselves satisfy the range of human needs involved.

This article describes some of the inner practices that help a peacemaker truly advocate for everyone’s needs. What is the inner work that helps a peacemaker truly value everyone’s needs?

All actions are attempts to meet needs

First, it is important to know that all actions, all words, no matter how challenging they are for us to hear or see, are attempts to meet basic human needs. Violent actions and words are tragic attempts to meet basic human needs- tragic because they cause harm to ourselves and others. We want to find solutions that meet people’s needs without these costs.

Instead of evaluating people’s words and actions as right/wrong or good/bad, we hear and see them as attempts to meet basic human needs. The more clearly we can help people identify the needs behind the actions, the more effective we are in nurturing solutions that will satisfy everyone’s needs. Here is a list to help identify the basic life-serving energies, called needs, that are behind every action.

For more, see: Needs Inventory

Developing Self Awareness

How do we stay in a frame of mind where we can see and connect with the needs, especially when we are hearing things that are disturbing for us to hear?

First, we can increase our awareness of how we feel in our body when we aren’t stressed or triggered. Take time to experience how it feels when you are present as a listener without any sense of inner pressure, when you embody the quality of listening without judging or evaluating. The more familiar you can become with this state, the more easily you will know how to return to it when needed. Perhaps right now, reading this, you are in a state of relaxed openness. Become friendly and acquainted with this way of being.

Second, take notice as soon as you are in a situation and you feel tight, closed, constricted. Explore and get to know this state of being. This is how you are likely to feel when you are serving as a peacemaker and you are triggered by one of the parties.

As soon as you notice this state, ask for a brief pause  (in your conversation or, if you are in a mediation, in the process). Learn to identify your bodily sensations when you are stressed or scared or agitated. Most people experience tightness in the jaw, neck or belly; or sweatiness, labored breathing etc. Become familiar with your body’s clues that you are agitated and not in the best place to listen with openness or respond to everyone’s needs.

Awareness of Feelings

Become familiar with the feelings and emotions  that are held in the bodily reactions. Anger, frustration, fear, hurt, agitation…these are all emotional feelings that are triggered when something happens that isn’t in alignment with what we value. Here is a list of feelings that can help us learn to identify what is going on in us.

For more, see: Feelings Inventory

When you realize you have strong emotions, just take it as information. You don’t want to reinforce or create the energy of judgment, blame or shame. You just want the information so you can do something to restore your openness and presence.

Take 100% Responsibility for your reaction

Another important principle is to understand that your feelings are not caused by what other people do or say- their actions may trigger our reactions, but we react in the way we do because either we 1. Create a meaning or view about what they have done, and we have strong feelings when we hold that view, or 2. Their action is so out of alignment with our values, with what is important to us, that we get triggered. In either case we are responsible for our reactions. (This isn’t a bad thing-in fact, it is empowering- it means we can have choice over our reactions!)

In a mediation, for example, this means that as soon as we become aware that we are not open to one side’s needs, we take responsibility. We ask ourselves, what meaning am I giving to what this person is saying or doing, a meaning that is causing me to lose trust or connection?

Self empathy

When we realize we are giving a meaning to something someone else is doing, and that the meaning we give is causing separation.  ( for example, thinking,” that person is a liar”, or, “that person needs my help more”), we want to back off of those judgments and evaluations by practicing what is called self empathy .  With self empathy, we look with curiosity and openness to our own feelings and needs that are so strong that we have lost our capacity to stay open to other people’s needs. For example, giving ourselves empathy, on the spot, to ourselves, we might say to ourselves,” I feel so stressed, so angry, so upset, because trust, or honesty, is so important to me. That is what I value.  I can really be with what I value, without blaming or judging the other person. “

If my feelings are too strong to work through this myself, I may call upon my co-mediator or an empathy buddy to help me connect with my feelings and needs, until I can return to a place of choosing how to be present in the room.

Nonviolent Communication Exercise

Part 1 Breaking down Judgments : Observations

  1. Write down a judgment you have of someone (e.g.: She is selfish, he is a racist, he doesn’t care about me).
  2. Write down one thing that person did that supports your judgment of them. (What did you observe them do or hear them say? Not what you tell yourself about their action.)
  3. How does it affect you and the way you feel when you go from step 1 to step 2? Do you find value in doing this?

Part 2 Making Use of the Judgment: Self Empathy

  1. How do you feel and what do you need when you are thinking this judgment about them? (What is so important to you, that you are thinking this way about another person?)
  2. Can you embrace your own need instead of judging them? What is challenging to do this ? Do you find value in doing this?

Part 3  Connecting: Empathy for the other person

  1. Do you feel curious to understand what was going on in the other person when they did that? What is challenging to do this? Do you find value in doing this?
  2. What do you guess the other person was feeling and needing when they did that? ? What is challenging to do this ? Do you find value in doing this?

9AdarLOGOfullThis post is part of the 9 Adar project, an initiative of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, part of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

Click for more 9 Adar posts about Constructive Conflict.

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