Graduate Fellow at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and a Graduate Student at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2004
Listen to Full Interview
- Humiliation and Conflict Dynamics
- Challenges in Clinical Studies on Humiliation
- Lessons Learned
- Inspiration from Nelson Mandela
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: Can you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: So I come to my research with a background in practice. I've been working for about the last eight years in the field of consulting and training in conflict management and negotiation. My practice informs the research I'm doing now, and ultimately I hope they'll inform each other, and that I will be able to do them both simultaneously at some point. But at this point, I see myself as having a background in practice and now digging deeper into the content of what I was training people in and teaching people, and working with people in organizational settings before. So some examples of what I was doing: I was directing a training practice in conflict management, working with people in all different sectors like the university sector, corporate, non-profit, governmental, and customizing programs to fit their needs. Helping people learn how to communicate more effectively with each other, and I was finding that I wanted to go deeper into the material I was teaching them and also to expand more into the international realm. I was working almost exclusively domestically and looking to expand into the international realm. I decided to move into the research side. Now I am doing research on a couple of different projects. One that we've been talking about is that I have interviewed a bunch of people who are outside the field of conflict management about their views. So both projects I am working on have to do with intractable conflict. One of them, very directly, has to do with bringing information from fields outside of the conflict field into the domain to help move us forward. I've collected a bunch of really interesting ideas from different kinds of people about how to do that. The other project that has been taking up a lot of my time these days is research on humiliation and conflict, which we were talking about the other night. I'm kind of squarely in the middle of the humiliation project. I am working with Peter Coleman to run a bunch of different studies; I ran Study One, which was a pilot study. There hasn't been much that's been done on humiliation in the conflict realm, and the research that has been done has been primarily qualitative. The idea here is to take some of the ideas that have been qualitatively looked at and try to see whether we can parse out some of the relationships that people, in particular that Evelyn Limner has identified, and see, "Can we look at this in a very specific way in an experimental kind of setting?"
Q: So tell me about humiliation. What does humiliation have to do with conflict?
A: Evelyn and others and I would say that humiliation is a central emotion that shows up in conflict situations and that can actually promote the ongoing nature of conflict situations. So in that sense, humiliation is very much tied up in the intractability of conflict, not just in conflict in general, but with making conflicts feel very intractable. So the research we're doing is looking at, "Why does that happen?" and "How does that happen?" Humiliation as an emotion, and the emotions literature -- while I'm still very new at looking at that literature -- humiliation hasn't been as well defined as other similar kinds of emotions, such as guilt, or shame or embarrassment. People have been looking at those emotions for a much longer period of time than people have been looking at and trying to define humiliation. So part of the issue of even trying to study humiliation is, "What's my definition of humiliation? How do I describe it? How do I operationalize it in the study? How do I measure it?" All of those things have been done in little bits and pieces here and there and part of the challenge is trying to collect different peoples' definitions of humiliation, create my own working definition of humiliation.
Q: Do you have your own working definition that you are willing to share?
A: There is work that George Bonano and some colleagues of his -- he's a professor at Teachers College at Columbia, not in the social psychology realm, I can't remember what department he is in -- but he and his colleagues have written a paper that has defined humiliation as "a mixture of anger and shame." So the anger gets pushed outwards and the shame gets pulled inwards. People feel ashamed, then feel angry, and act on that anger.
Q: An expression of humiliation as some sort of aggression, or is anger not equivalent to aggression?
A: Anger is the emotion that would lead people act aggressively under some circumstances, but not others. I guess people have different ways of dealing with their anger, which is one of the central points of the research that I'm doing. So that's one definition of humiliation -- that humiliation is this combination of the emotion of anger and the emotion of shame, and that some of it gets directed inwards and some of it gets directed in a more outward way. Another definition that has influenced the way I think about it is from Evelyn Limner, which is that humiliation is a putting-down or making someone "lower than." I realize even as I describe this, this raises the question of when you talk about humiliation, do you talk about the person who's the victim or subject of it, or are you talking from the perspective of the person who does it to another person? It probably makes sense to talk about it from the perspective of the person who is feeling the emotion. So the person who is feeling the emotion would be said to be made lower than someone else.
Q: Can you put the idea of humiliation as one of many elements that fuel intractable conflict into context for me with an illustration or example?
A: The example I often think about is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because it's close to my heart. It's just so rife with very sad examples of conflict. So examples of Palestinians needing to go through border checks, where you have Israeli guards trying to do their best, with good intentions, but often in the process of doing their jobs making people feel lower than, stripping people, not speaking their language but expecting them to understand what they're saying, those kinds of things.
Q: That would presumably have some percolating effect into the larger conflict from that individual experience of humiliation?
A: Right. So if someone experiences something they perceive to be humiliating, the question is, "How do they experience it? And what do they do with that experience? How do they remember it? How do they behave based on their experience of it?" So there might be some cultural mores or messages that get sent to large numbers of people about what you should do when a humiliating event occurs. It's my and Peter's hypothesis that some cultures send messages that say, "When you feel humiliated, you should really feel it and stew in it and let it stay with you, and let it linger, because it gets you something. It gets you the ability to be right and to feel like a victim, and therefore be justified in aggressing or lashing out at the person or group of people that have humiliated you." So there is this whole piece of it. We're asking the question, "If humiliation is such a horrible emotion in people.." and we're assuming that it is. No one, I don't think, likes to feel humiliated. It's not a pleasant experience to go through. If that is true, the question is, "Why does it stay with people? What does it get them?" So my hypothesis is that it gets them the ability to be a victim, which gets them other things like the ability to be justified in lashing out and being aggressive against other people, and that gets them a set of things as well.
Q: It almost sounds like an evolutionary or biological mechanism, to respond to certain situations. Putting it that way as, "What does it get me?" makes me think it's useful for something, and if it's useful for something, I must have developed it over the evolution of my species. That's a totally different understanding of humiliation as useful, rather than just something painful to go through. I imagine, then, that the implication of having a conflict in which humiliation is a big factor, means that reaching any sort of agreement based on any sort of rational, content-oriented facts or whatever, humiliation would make that pretty unlikely, right? You have to deal with a conflict that's rife with humiliation in a different way than with content- or substantive-oriented agreements. I know you're in the middle of the study and I'm sure there are theories about it. Is there anything that you've learned about that so far?
A: Yeah, we were just getting to talk about this the other night. First of all, there is often, if not always, a power dynamic going on when a humiliating event occurs. So, often the person who is being humiliated is made to feel lower than someone who already feels like they have power over them. In the case of the Palestinian who is going through a checkpoint who feels humiliated by needing to strip or other kinds of humiliating experiences, there is clearly a power dynamic going on there. There is a soldier and a civilian, and the soldier has a gun and the civilian doesn't, and the civilian is really at the whim of the soldier in this case. There are also cultural power dynamics, where an entire group of people is kind of being oppressed by another group of people in many ways. So, the power dynamics that are associated with humiliating experiences, they often go hand-in-hand with a power imbalance. So if you're at the negotiating table already, and there is a power imbalance and there is humiliation that is tied up in that power imbalance, sure, it would be much more difficult to have those parties come to an agreement than it would be had those humiliating experiences not occurred or if there weren't a power imbalance. I think, if we think about the span of conflict as being squarely in the conflict and having horrible events happen surrounding the conflict, then having the conflict become more ripe and move into a place where people can actually talk to each other and negotiate and try to come to understandings if not agreements, but at least understandings of each others' perspectives, the place that we're looking at, humiliation along that continuum is actually in the first part, surrounding the actual conflict experience, not such much at, "Okay, now you're at the table. What do you do looking back at the humiliation that brought you to this conflict in the first place?" In many ways that's a kind of hard thing to be doing within this field and "Getting to Yes," focusing on people sitting at the table, and they've gone through a conflict or they're in the midst of a conflict, but they can talk to each other. This research is focusing on way before that. "What gets people so caught up in this cycle of violence?"
Q: So, what do we need to know about humiliation that's helpful?
A: So, if humiliation is central to intractable conflict, then in order to know what to do about it, we first need to know what's going on with it. So, I feel like we're just at the very beginning of trying to understand, "What's the situation? What's the dynamic that's going on here?" I can go deeper into explaining the studies that we're working on and that might help explain how I'm thinking about it. So if we just try to say that humiliation is a bad thing and try to get rid of it and make it a non-issue, I don't think we could do that without first understanding, "How are the dynamics at play?" and "What's fueling it? How does it work? How does it get people stuck?" So the first question is, "How does it get people stuck? How does it work over time? How does it contribute to intractability of conflict?" Once we get a handle on that, and these are not necessarily linear steps where you first look at how it works and then look at how to prevent it, but in terms of research that takes a really long time. I think looking at the process of it and the cycle of it is a really good place to start. So first we look at, "How do people get caught up in it?" Then we might look at, "What are some ways to prevent it from happening?" Then, "How can you continue to live in a way that humiliation does not play a part and does not help these conflicts spiral out of control?"
Q: So to keep it from happening, you have two choices: one, prevent the humiliator from humiliating, somehow, or two, the other side of creating coping mechanisms for the humiliated, which would seem to be biased to parties. When you are figuring out the mechanisms behind humiliation, then what?
A: Well, can I speak to how it works first?
Q: Yes, I'm only saying that because I think its fascinating and I think it's interesting. My inclination is to always think about how to use this.
A: I would suggest that one way to figure out what to do about it, is by figuring out how it happens in the first place, so how does it work? So this is one theory on how it works, and the idea is that when someone comes face-to-face with a humiliating experience, someone cuts them off. Lets say that someone is speaking in a group of people and someone else cuts them off and says, "What do you have to contribute, anyway? Why don't you just be quiet and get the rest of us some coffee?" I see, just by your facial expression, that it hits a core for many people and it's not an international example, but it hits. In that case, there are different ways people could experience that. Some people might think, "Yes, I identify that as a humiliating experience and I'm going to move on with my life, and that one person said this one comment to me and that's okay." There might be other people who would say, "How dare that person do that," and stew about it and think about it, and it could be weeks and it's still on their mind, and they are thinking about all of the things in their head that they could have said or should have said or would have wanted to say. There might be other people who, in the moment, would yell and scream and fight back right away. There might be some other people who would make light of the situation, who would make a joke of the situation. So there are all these different ways that the person, in the moment, can experience the event and actually behave. So one question is, "What leads to those individual differences of behavior or experience?" Why do some people experience it as, "I'll just let it roll off my back," and other people rise up and get angry right away? The thinking is that some of it has to do with internal psychology or DNA, personality, psychological variables, and some of it has to do with broader sociological variables. As a social psychologist, I am always thinking about both. In this case, I'm more interested right now in the sociological variables and what are the cultural dynamics that we all live with and the societies that we live in, what are the messages that are sent to us about how we should experience our emotions? Someone who has influenced my thinking about this is someone named James Avril, he's a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts. He has written about emotional roles. He has basically said that there are a couple of different kinds of messages that we get sent about how we should experience certain emotions. People can feel privileged when they feel a certain emotion. For example, if you feel humiliated, your culture could lead you to feel privileged to aggress because you've been humiliated; you're a victim and now you're privileged to aggress against the person who humiliated you. You could be restricted from doing things as a result of emotions. An example would be grieving. If your husband just died and you are at a funeral and you are grieving, you are restricted from doing a bunch of different things. You're probably restricted from wearing colors other than black, you're restricted from laughing, you're restricted from going to work, you're restricted from dating other people for a year. There are all these social restrictions that are culturally based. In all cultures this would differ, but I am talking about American culture. So privilege and restriction are the two main ones that I think are relevant to the humiliation piece. There are all these different cultural messages that get sent about what you should do in certain situations. When people are humiliated, the more constructive kinds of messages are the ones that don't privilege people to aggress, but rather prohibit, or that privilege people to be constructive about it in some way. That's one piece of the story -- the social norms about, "What should I do when I feel humiliated?" A second piece of the story is, "What do I do when I feel humiliated?" That's linked up in the emotional role. "How do I feel it? How do I behave based on it?" Again we're suggesting that there are social norms that tell people how to behave in different circumstances. In the situation I described, where someone gets shot down in the middle of a meeting, as they are speaking, let's say in the context of a company like ??? On Wall Street, if that happened in the context of what I think of as a Wall Street example or scenario, you could imagine the person saying, "No, you shut up, sit down, go get me some coffee, get out of here. What are you saying?" There is this sense of macho-ness, of "anything goes," of people just telling each other what to do all the time and screaming and yelling is the norm. This is what I imagine about the Wall Street scenario. On the flip side, if you think about a different kind of situation, where you have a very collaborative organization, like the ones that I've tended to work for, consulting firms that help people communicate more effectively. If someone did that in a meeting or in that setting, the reaction might be very different. The likelihood is that the person who felt humiliated would not yell and lash back. They might deal with it constructively or they might just sit silently and wait until later and have an offline conversation with the person. There might be some ramifications for the person who did the humiliating act, within the broader community of the people there. Depending on the setting you're in and the social norms in that setting, people will experience the humiliation differently and act on it differently. But the interesting piece in this set of studies that we're doing has to do with how people remember the humiliating experience. We're not just looking at what happens when you feel humiliated in the moment, but one week later, one month later, how do you remember that experience? In that remembering, does your fire get fueled again and do you just feel like lashing out every time you remember the situation? Or does it dissipate over time? Does how you remember it and how you act on it later, does that differ based on the messages that you're sent from the society around you? The way that we are thinking about how humiliation works is that it's not only that the minute that you feel humiliated you lash out and that's the end of the story. It's actually that in societies or cultures when the message that's sent is, "When you feel humiliated, it is your duty or your privilege to stew with it and let it sink into you so that you can feel justified to lash out," if that's what's going on, we can see why that's such a problematic emotion and how it can be at the center of the cycles of destruction. It may not just be true for the emotion of humiliation, it may be true for many other kinds of emotions and other things involved in making conflicts intractable. If it's true that over time, people are stewing in these emotions, and every time they think about it or every time they go through that same checkpoint, even if that same soldier doesn't continue to humiliate them, just the sight of the checkpoint brings up these feelings of humiliation and those feelings fuel aggressive behavior, there is no end. That's how I'm thinking about how the dynamic works at this point. You can see it's just a kernel of a sense of what might be going on; it's just one piece of a much larger puzzle. I would never say that what I just described is the answer to why conflicts are intractable, I would never say that.
Q: Sure. I mean it seems like such a basic and obvious thing that I never talked about when I was getting my master's degree in conflict resolution. I like the idea of thinking of it as creating a cycle. Like I might not be humiliated now, but the sensation that I have. It sounds a little bit like "Chills and Trauma???" language by Vulcan, that says because I went through this experience, time collapses and I feel like I'm back there now, even if I'm not. Something tripped me off and I went back to that humiliation.
A: Right. The reason why we're looking at humiliation in this context of "How do I think about it now, when it happens? And how do I remember it?" is because there is something that I think is different about the emotion of humiliation that can stay with people over time, that sadness, happiness, or guilt -- or maybe guilt might work a little more like humiliation -- but there is something about humiliation that lets you stew in it and that the more you stew in it the worse it gets.
Q: It burns, right? It feels like you're burning. Tell me if you think it's interesting or worth talking about the actual clinical studies where you read stories. Are there insights we could talk about from there?
A: Yeah, I think so, partially because it's been such a horrendously hard experience. That might be because I'm just at the beginning of my career in running these studies. I think that's not the main reason it's been so hard, because I've been working with Peter and he's not at the beginning of his career doing this kind of stuff, so it's just been challenging because we are treading on new ground. There are probably lots of things that other people might be able to learn from the things that we've struggled with in trying to put together these kinds of studies. I don't know if it will be helpful, but we can see. One thing is that ideally, you would want to run studies where you could actually simulate a humiliating experience, because then you would see actually how people react, and it seems like it would be just an easier way to do it, but because of ethical issues involved in having people come into a lab and humiliating them, we haven't gone that route. That's not to say that I think it's impossible. You could do it in such a way that you do a toned-down version of it. I think that if people, we or others, continue to do this kind of research, it might make sense to think about, "How can you do it a way that's real in the moment?" We have had people read case studies like the one I described where some one gets cut off in a meeting and told to go get coffee, things like that. We've had to do a lot of experimenting with the actual scenarios that we've chosen because either they are so humiliating we don't want to use them for ethical reasons or they're not humiliating enough, or they are humiliating but there is a power differential between the person who humiliated and the person who got humiliated. If there is a power differential that's inherent in the story between the two people, then the likelihood ???. What we're trying to do is we're trying to have some variance around people's responses. We want some people to say that they would be aggressive and some people to say that they wouldn't. We want to see, what are the reasons why some people would aggress and some people say that they wouldn't aggress? If everyone says, "Nope, I wouldn't be aggressive in this case," that might be because we wrote this case so that the context of it means that no one would be aggressive in that case. You just need to be really careful about how you write the case so that it enables people to have a range of difference kinds of responses. Also, the kinds of questions that we ask -- we have people read the case, and then we have people answer a series of questions. It's because this research is so new on, "How do you measure humiliation? What are the different emotions that you should also be measuring when you measure humiliation?" We've been tweaking that and fine-tuning it, so we've been gearing up to run a second study, and have kind of figured out what some of the other emotions are like guilt and shame, sadness, and depression. Are there some people who get angry and lash out? Maybe there are other people who internalize their humiliation and get depressed and inflict themselves instead. I feel like each time we run another study, we'll be further along the path of figuring out how this is all really working and how do different people respond to it.
Q: It might be too early for this, but are their early lessons on humiliation? Lessons learned?
A: One lesson that I learned, methodologically, from running the first study is that we had tried to manipulate the social norms around the situations. We had one condition where we said, "You're in a company where basically you're privileged to lash out." We wanted people in that condition to say, "Yeah, I'd aggress, and the reason why is that the social norms of this company are setup so that that's okay." We had another condition where we thought the case was written in a way where it was clearly not okay to lash out, and we wanted those people to say that they would not aggress. What we found out is that the manipulations just didn't work. One reason why it could be is that we just wrote them in a weird way and they didn't really make sense to people, and I think that was pretty much part of what was going on. Another part is that people come with their own strong cultural and social understandings of what the norms around them tell them to do. Some interesting thoughts about what's responsible for the different ways that people respond are, there could be a gender thing going on where women have these certain expectations of what to do when you feel humiliated that might be less aggressive than men. If so, why? So I guess I don't have answers, but just more questions about how does this whole thing work. I actually find it fascinating to just think about what are the messages that people get sent about what to do when they feel humiliated, and how do those messages get sent?
Q: Two of the things that struck me when you were talking earlier, which I don't know if it comes from your work now or from the literature you read is that: One, humiliation is useful in some sense -- it has an effect that can be constructive or destructive, it has a function, a use, which means it doesn't makes sense to either try to ignore it or try to make it not happen, but try to understand it. And two, it has a sort of recurrent way of popping up. It's not just the humiliation that happens in the moment, but there could be some other sort or triggering mechanisms that could take you back to the point where you were humiliated at some point earlier.
A: Yes thank you for being so articulate. Yeah, those are our hypotheses, and now it's just a matter of testing them and seeing if our hypotheses are right. If they are, what does that mean for the world? So back to your initial question of "So what?" So you find that this is happening, who cares? So this is just one piece of the cycle of how people get into these destructive cycles of violence. What do you do with this information? And that is a really excellent question.
Q: You don't have to have an answer, or a definitive one. It's just something to throw out there.
A: Right, I feel like those are important questions and there's a conference that's coming up in two weeks on humiliation where it may be that we'll actually start to delve into those kinds of questions like, "What do you do in a situation where humiliation is a huge factor?" There are interesting stories about the way Nelson Mandela dealt with his humiliation as a prisoner. I think there is a lot to be said about personal fortitude and the ways we can help people not let it get to them in some way, and let it roll off their back more easily.
Q: Yeah, one of the questions I usually ask people is, "Can you tell me an inspirational story?" regarding whatever topics they're talking about, but as long as we're on the topic of constructive ways of dealing with humiliation, do you have some stories or anecdotes?
A: I would start with the Nelson Mandela case. And all these ideas have just been forming for me in my head, so I haven't been working on this for that long. I also don't know that much about Nelson Mandela; I'm only halfway through his autobiography. He was consistently humiliated by prison guards, who would treat their prisoners like cattle during Apartheid in South Africa. There is one story that he writes about where he basically ???. I can't remember what the reason was why he thought that if he didn't do what they told him to do, they wouldn't hurt him. I think that's kind of the crux of the story; he felt confident in not obeying their orders. I think they had been saying, "Hurry up," or "Move more quickly," and they used a word to say that that people in South Africa use for cattle. It's just a very derogatory, horrible, humiliating experience with this word that they used and the way that they were acting. He just didn't do what they said and continued to walk at the pace that he was walking. He was walking with a friend of his and had this fierce inner determination to overcome and not really listen to them - just know that they were there, but to keep doing his thing. Maybe it's because he just wasn't reacting to them at all, he wasn't doing anything differently than he was doing before they said the derogatory statement. So I think this is a small story of his that encapsulates his whole approach and just the way that he was being. It's not even so much that he did or didn't do something as much as the way that he was able to be himself in this humiliating situation.
Q: Almost refusing to be humiliated by the humiliating situation.
A: Right, exactly, which is completely different from people who experience a humiliating event and take it to the other extreme of taking it in and stewing on it and letting it gnaw at them and eat them away, and then acting aggressively based on it.
Q: Really internalizing the humiliation and then externalizing it later, likely destructively but possibly constructively I suppose.
A: Right, which would be the shame and the anger pieces.
Q: So any last thoughts on constructive engagements for humiliating situations? Have you gone that far in your studies, maybe not.
A: I think that's the thing. We're not there yet, unfortunately. I have to say, as a person who comes from a practice orientation, where I was basically going around trying to help people communicate more effectively and figure out how to deal with each other better and saying, "If you want to deal with conflict more effectively, this is what you should do." Coming from that perspective to then doing research on something that doesn't even have to do with people sitting at a table, but is having to actually look at how the cycle of violence works, is very frustrating for me. I think the reason why I've been able to do it is because the destructive dynamic, at a basic level, is just totally interesting to me. I'm very curious about it, and if you think about an academic career as a very long-term kind of thing and that research takes a very long time, and if I start here with this interesting, horrible dynamic that's at play and say, "One day in my research I'll move it along and find how do we overcome it." And that day may not be far way, and as I said, this conference is coming up and I imagine it will spark a lot of ideas about what do we do about humiliation. I think that because when you do research, you have to be so myopic about what you're looking at, you can kind of lose the rest of the big picture. Hopefully, I'll gain it back.
Q: Well this interview might not be very fair, then, since I was asking you about your research background. I didn't ask you any practice questions, which is what I usually ask. Do you want to go to that or do you want to leave that for another time?
A: I would be happy to talk about it, but I don't know what our timing looks like. It's up to you.
Q: It's really up to you, because I'm keeping you from the rest of the conference.
A: I would like to talk about it a little bit, because I feel like I'm at just the beginning of this stuff and there might be some things that I would like to add on things that I actually know a little bit more about. I was also not necessarily on the cutting edge of practice. I don't know if there are specific questions that you have.
Q: I generally ask about stories, moments of inspiration in your work, qualities that one should have that is doing this kind of work, favorite techniques, surprises that you came across and lessons learned. Any of those jump out at you?
A: The question about the qualities that a person needs to have in this field jumps out at me. That's a really great question to ask; I would be really curious to hear a lot of answers to that. I should probably go to the website and see what other people had to say. One quality that I think about in someone -- and I'm thinking about a good friend of mine, Erika Fox, who is a practitioner -- she is a lawyer by training, but I think a real world-class practitioner in getting people to have the tough conversations. I think about her as someone who really gets to the heart of the matter and really has this quality about her that leads people to want to open up in her presence. Is your next question, "What is that quality?"
Q: Yeah, where does it come from?
A: She's a person who is always engaged in what she is doing, and you sense the vibe, and she's always like "phew," right in there with you. And it's something that I think is just really unique and not a lot of other people have when they need it. There are drawbacks to that as well. When you're so in the moment with one person, you are kind of shutting out the rest of the world, and I think that can be the challenge of being a person who can really focus, but in the context of doing this kind of work, it feels like the ability to just really be with people with whatever they're dealing with in the moment is a really important thing to be able to do. Along with that, there's this intuitive, just kind of following your intuition on things, and the ability to not only listen to your intuition but also to act on it is really important to it, too. I think a lot of us have intuitive sense. Let's say we're mediating and you have a bunch of parties around a table. To use a more simple example of this kind of stuff, if you have an intuition that someone needs to say something that hasn't been said, or something simple like people need a break and kind of need to go and blow off some steam for a little while, it just seems very important to be able to feel and listen to the intuition and then act on it. I think that can be very difficult to do in the face of competing demands, and to kind of be in touch with what all the different people around the table need, what you, yourself as a mediator or facilitator, need. To be able to overcome all those different, distracting things and to really be in there with people is really important.
Q: I absolutely agree with you about the intuition thing and no matter how much training you can possibly get in this field or how much practice you have, ultimately it's, in the moment, somewhat improvisational. You really have to just feel it and go with it and release your mind. I agree with that. I'm curious about the "being with someone" -- is that in the case of meeting with several people? I can very much see it if I were to go and interview you as a party. I would talk to you, focus on you specifically. I'm curious if you friend does that, I'm sure she does that in individual meetings, but if you're referring to that in a plenary-type meeting, there is you, but then that other guy over there that hates you, sees me being right there for you. Is that what you mean, in a mixed meeting, or in an individual, private meeting?
A: That's a really great question. What I mean is it's not easy but certainly doable for someone, one-on-one to really pay attention to the person who is in front of them, but the much harder thing to do is to be able to be to intuit and feel out a whole group of different people. Let's say you have different individuals around the table or let's say you have groups of different kinds of people around the table. It's so much harder to be in there with all of those people, and with all of their different needs, and I think that's the thing that I'm talking about. It's not just the ability to connect one-on-one with someone who happens to have something in common with you or has said something that you really connect with, but be able to be intuitive and be in tune with people who are not saying things that make much sense to you as a neutral person or as a person involved in a negotiation. It may have something to do with a kind of basic sense of respect for what people have to say and a sense of curiosity. Kind of checking your own assumptions and judgments at the door.
Q: Not an easy thing to do. Well, thanks, Jennifer.