Friday, February 23, 2018

Tip of the Iceberg

From the Field is a recurring column written by current clinical students where they share their perspectives on their own experiences with clinical education.This post is from Lydia Cash, a current 2L at Columbia Law School. Lydia was a student in Columbia's Mediation Clinic last semester and is now in the Advanced Mediation Clinic. 


Conversation, and conflict for that matter, is like an onion. At first, conversation is seemingly whole as it stands, requiring no additional work to derive functional benefit. However, if equipped with the right tools, conversation unfolds into hundreds of layers waiting to be peeled. When peeled back, these layers of conversation reveal copious moving parts, each containing essential information about an individual’s positions, feelings, and interests. These hidden moving parts contain the gems of human emotion and psychological motivators that fit together into the puzzle of conversation and conflict. Mediation has taught me that when faced with conflict, one must learn to identify, process, and differentiate each level of conversation in order to piece together a broader understanding of personal stories. Through mediation and clinical education, I have slowly developed a toolset to analyze and clarify conflict in order to bring about unique resolutions. In daily life, I often feel like a kind of “speech scientist,” tuning into conversations and automatically separating words and sentences into the moving parts of positions, feelings, and interests that drive conflict. I am always fascinated that this simple exercise helps me decipher issues and emotions that are hidden just beneath the iceberg-level conversations people often restrict themselves to when interacting with colleagues. If only everyone could learn to dive below the iceberg-level surface of conversation to discover the hidden gems beneath. We would be much better off attempting to clarify conflict in this way, rather than avoiding conflict altogether and running away from human emotion.

            This tool of active listening is the greatest gift the Mediation Clinic gave me, and I was thrilled to present on this topic to the United Nations Youth Assembly last week. The room was filled with eager young professionals and students of a wide range of ages. They were brilliant, successful individuals from all over the world, from countries as far as Saudi Arabia, Malta, Ecuador, Ghana, and Norway. Walking into the presentation, I was admittedly terrified. How could I, a 2L from Columbia Law School, impart knowledge to these incredibly talented young professionals in a way that kept them engaged? I expected the audience to subside into boredom as the presentation elapsed, but to my surprise, the audience was eager, intrigued, participatory, and full of electric, contagious energy. I felt myself relax and laugh with the crowd as our presentation continued, and I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face as the crowd raised 20+ hands every time we elicited responses. It was phenomenal to teach these young individuals some of the key skills I had learned as a clinical student; it was even more poignant to witness their eagerness to engage with the material and ask questions about implementation in their own countries.

Even though some of the skills we taught seemed basic, such as active listening, reframing, and separating conversation into facts, interests, and feelings, many of the students approached me after the presentation concluded to thank me for this new knowledge and to ask me about my time in the Clinic. I was overjoyed when the students asked me how they could further their use of mediation skills after they returned home. This 1.5-hour presentation is one I will always remember, because through teaching basic mediation skills, we somehow inculcated and established a culture of open-minded willingness to express emotion and engage with others on a personal level. I was uplifted by these young professionals’ positive energy and eagerness to apply mediation skills in their own lives. As I left the U.N. that evening, I reflected on a life-changing consequence of presenting to the Youth Assembly – Simply imparting my own knowledge of mediation gave me more confidence in my public speaking abilities and in my ability to enact positive change in the lives of others.

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