I was halfway through Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, by Ori and Rom Brafman (New York: Broadway Books, 2010) when I headed off to do some volunteer mediation in the local small claims court.  My partner and I caught a case, and we were off.  The details of the case are not important for my purposes here.  Instead, I want to describe how I tested out the assertions of the brothers Brafman authors in their very engaging book.

The authors suggest that what they call “quick-set intimacy” is accelerated by five factors:

  • Vulnerability
  • Proximity
  • Resonance
  • Similarity, and
  • A Safe Place.

I had those factors in the back of my mind as we entered the mediation.  Our clients were highly verbal, moderately rude, and had some previous history of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and mistrust.  So they were the typical small claims crowd.  In spite of some relatively high conflict at times, an agreement was crafted and signed.

Afterwards I wondered to myself, “What in the world happened?”  Not only did we seem to connect to each of the participants, in addition it seemed that the participants made connections through us.  I think this is what it really feels like to inhabit the “third side” in mediation.  It was exhilarating for me.

So, what did happen?  I think we engaged our clients through the five factors of quick-set intimacy.

  • Vulnerability: in our mediation space, the courtroom furniture is not all in the best repair.  I made a weak joke about the furniture and acknowledged some vulnerability.
  • Proximity: we greeted each of the participants with a handshake and a smile.  We engaged them with calm eye contact and appropriate smiles throughout the conversation.
  • Resonance: we allowed them to vent their frustrations without demeaning or disciplining either or both of them. We acknowledged their ongoing anger and encouraged them to return to the present problem. That approach elicited thanks rather than resistance.  In addition, we reminded the participants that a judgment is not money.  We communicated that we understood the real concerns under the emotional fireworks.
  • Similarity: we placed ourselves across from them at the table and I noticed that we even imitated some of their body postures and facial responses.
  • Safe place: When the verbal jousting got too heavy and circled around several times, we called a brief half to the conversation and interrupted the momentum.  This way the participants knew we would not let it get too far.

It was only thirty minutes, but we forged authentic connections and an agreement that has an excellent chance of execution.  Somehow, we “clicked.”

by Lowell Hennigs

Lowell Hennigs is a volunteer and contract mediate with the Concord Mediation Center in Omaha, Nebraska. He is also an executive coach and interim pastor.