Passion for Conflict Resolution: A FDRIO Conversation with Maysa Maleki
Meysa Maleki is a FDRIO Member who practices as a family law lawyer and mediator at Maleki Barristers, in Toronto. Her strong interest in the complexities of interpersonal relationships and human dynamics led to a career of fighting for justice in the area of family law. But she discovered that litigation perpetuates the conflict and is not the right solution in every case. This led Meysa to pursue formal training in mediation, including Harvard Law School’s Negotiation and Leadership Program. Her first book, The Conflict Resolution Grail: Awareness, Compassion, and a Negotiator’s Toolbox, was released on June 23, 2020.
Why did you decide to write a book about conflict resolution?
We are in the business of negotiation, persuasion, and conflict resolution on a daily basis, whether with our children, friend, spouse, co-worker, boss, children’s school teacher, the store clerk or the berating stranger who subjects us to his wrath without the requisite authority to do so, for what he perceives to be our reckless driving. Conflict is everywhere.
After my training to become an accredited mediator, I became a more skillful and strategic conflict resolver in my profession as a lawyer and in my personal life as a mother, wife, friend, co-worker, employee, boss, and even in relation to strangers who try to violate our boundaries in various life situations on a daily basis. I became more self-aware of my conflict resolution “programs” and was able to make more informed and better choices.
I wrote this book for two reasons. First, to give everyone, not just professional conflict resolvers, conflict resolution tools. In fact, I could not understand why as children and even later as adults, we were not taught these valuable life skills.
Second, because I saw a gap in the literature. Western Conflict Resolution literature does not provide a solution to addressing what the Dalai Lama calls, “destructive” emotions in conflict situations. It does not address the role of “compassion” and “compassionate empathy” that eastern wisdom shows is critical for changing the dialogue in conflict situations. At the same time, when I studied eastern wisdom on conflict resolution, I saw a similar gap. Eastern wisdom does not provide tools to people to be better and more skillful problem solvers.
I wrote this book to help the everyday person as well as professional conflict resolvers approach conflict situations consciously and skillfully, drawing both from eastern wisdom and western conflict resolution theory.
Who would be the ideal audience for your toolbox?
Both professional conflict resolvers and the everyday person would benefit immensely from this book. However, I would really like parents to read it. Researchers tell us that children are the most susceptible to downloading “programs” including programs in relation to conflict resolution, because their brains display the lowest electrical activity. Their brain waves being delta and theta waves are the same brain waves that are displayed during focused meditation and prayer and their dominance has been linked to a state of “increased suggestibility.” Apart from the constant messaging in the media, in pitting “good” guys against “bad” guys and “us” versus “them,” we have watched our parents resolve conflict unskillfully and ineptly. If parents become more conscious and skillful conflict resolvers, they can raise the next generation of conscious and skillful conflict resolvers and do so from an early age. In the book I also talk about the role of our “whole” brain, including our right brain, in how we approach conflict situations. We have a real opportunity with our young people because researchers tell us the human brain develops until we are 25 years of age.
Are there some approaches that you would recommend to people in their everyday life to help them avoid conflict?
The point is not to avoid conflict. Avoidance can be a strategy in certain conflict situations, but it has to be a conscious strategy to serve your goal. For instance, identifying that you have an avoidant approach to conflict situations is half the battle. Once you know that about yourself, you can consciously choose to dial-up your assertion as the situation warrants to get your needs met. I talk about the interactions between different conflict resolution styles in the book.
The point is that rather than fear conflict situations, we need to approach them consciously and skillfully to thrive. The first step towards being skillful is to be aware. You need to pay attention and observe yourself in conflict situations and pay attention and observe your counterpart.
The triangle on the cover of my book represents the three dimensions of effective conflict resolution, with one dimension being the dimension of awareness. It is the prerequisite to everything else.
What role do you see mediators and arbitrators playing in resolving interpersonal conflict?
Mediators and arbitrators are part of the conflict dynamic, just as lawyers are. Mediators in particular, have an opportunity to use conflict as an agent of change. That is, to dispel destructive emotions and solve the problem. They bring the “awareness” to the conflict situation that people deeply engaged in the conflict dynamic may be lacking.
Arbitrators are also, of course, part of the conflict dynamic and its resolution but they play a very different role. They are part of the requisite consequence that is sometimes needed to bring a conflict to finality. While they are part of the system, just as judges, they make decisions when the parties have failed to effectively problem solve between themselves or with the assistance of their lawyers and/or a mediator.
As I say in the book, mediation is not for every case. Sometimes all it takes is one party to misbehave, in which case the arbitral authority is required to conclude the conflict.
Do you think the role of conflict resolution professionals will increase as the world changes due to the pandemic?
Undoubtedly. We are now seeing violent protests, civil unrest, polarized countries, and an uncertain financial future unfold before us. At the same time, we are being asked to face our repressed fear of our inevitable mortality right in the face. During these stressful times, as we are told to quarantine at home, we do so with our families while taking on the additional responsibility of homeschooling our children. As we have less “me” time and more “we” time in the midst of chaotic circumstances, conflict resolution skills become more useful than ever, as will the demand for professional conflict resolvers.