How Far Can A Smile Go?

How far can a smile go?

I enjoy running. I enjoy mediating. I enjoy meditation.

I think my mediation practice benefits from the other two. Meditation helps me focus and running helps me stay focused while multi-tasking. I will run a certain distance, usually 1 hour, and while doing so it gives me time to be mindful of ‘just running’ while also discerning a variety of topics (the usual- will Tibet ever be free, why isn’t soccer as popular in the US, will there ever be a unified certification scheme for mediators, etc.).

While running today one of the things I recalled was how much I enjoy nodding, smiling, and waving to my fellow runners. I run from my apartment to a running path along the water (really a bay- Little Neck Bay for those interested in stalking me) and often I will do one of those nonverbal gestures to my fellow runners. More times than not, the other person will smile, nod or wave back.

This form of reciprocity literally makes me happy and gives me an extra step to my run and just makes me feel happy overall. Timeout for a second- if this is too ‘touchy feely’ for you please keep reading as 1) I really do attempt to make a point here and 2) it is connected to mediation and conflict resolution.

Admittedly sometimes the person does not smile, nod, or wave back and for a second or two I think to myself, “Maybe no one has ever done that to them so perhaps they will return it next time or even better- they will do it first… or they might not ever do it.”

At that point I am a good twenty feet past them anyway and I am thinking of something else. I do enjoy people smiling back but for those that don’t, it does not bring me down. Sometimes, I admit like today, people not only do not reciprocate the smile/nod/wave but they actually look at me with a snarl like I have two heads or a have booger on my face (really, I wiped my face thinking if that was the case today). Thankfully, my face was clear of blemishes and it actually made me smile as it brought me back to reflecting on my mediation practice.

Think about how you, as the mediator (ombudsman, or conflict coach), and how you greet your party(s) for the first time in person. What do you say? Now think about all the nonverbal cues- gestures, posture, and appearance- what message are you giving them? Are you creating an environment that is friendly? Do you even think about creating a friendly environment? Are you building trust and making them feel comfortable and at ease with the space you have provided?

Not everyone smiles and not everyone should smile given the current state of their teeth (joking!). Seriously though, not everyone smiles or makes jokes. I am not suggesting you do that but rather take a moment to reflect on what you do and do you think it is making the person feel comfortable? Often, when I am mediating in the courts with one pro se party (representing themselves/without an attorney), I try to make sure they feel comfortable.

Think about it- there are 3 people in the room. Me, the mediator who has mediated hundreds of cases, the attorney who probably has two dozen cases scheduled that day alone, and the other person who has never been to court before, has never been to mediation either and probably does not really know what it is (or isn’t).

What do I do?

I do smile.

I use open handed gestures.

I lean towards them when speaking to them.

During the ‘introduction to mediation’ statement I ask them a few times if they have questions. Does it make a difference? I think so. Often, like smiling to my fellow runners, I believe it creates a friendly environment and makes things easier. Other times I get that look like there is a booger on my face and I carry on anyways.


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