As a veteran Group Facilitator and Mediator, I often deal with people who are very angry and intemperate with the words they direct toward other parties to the discussion who they perceive to be on the other side of the issue in dispute (or even consider those other people to be the entire cause of the problem). The use of toxic language results in two things that are antithetical to the conflict resolution process. First, it shuts of dialogue between or among the parties. Those on the receiving end of the aggression typically react in kind, and true dialogue is lost. Second, the discussion then becomes focused on the angry discourse between the parties, and issues are not revealed, recorded and discussed. In this situation, the job of the mediator is at least twofold: detoxify the language and, in the process, clarify the real issue(s) for the parties. I have engaged in this activity so much during my career, that I have developed a segment about it that I use whenever I do conflict resolution training.

I will illustrate my methodology by using my favorite example from community mediation. Two neighbors, both men, were in conflict about the perception that one of them (and allegedly others in the neighborhood) were driving too fast (and therefore, unsafely) on residential streets. At the beginning of the mediation session, the man who had the concern turned to the other party and said: “You speed through the neighborhood like a crazy man and don’t care how many kids you kill!” As might be expected, the recipient of this invective recoiled and was about to launch a verbal counterstrike. I held up my hand toward the alleged crazed speeder to […]