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Podcast Episode 024: Listen like a mediator – Ebohr Figueroa examines the positive power of conflict

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Ebohr Figueroa is the principal consultant for Converge International. In this episode, Ebohr and I take a magical tour through modern corporate Australia. He is a world-class moderator who opens a window into modern corporations. He looks at conflict and totally deconstructs it. We learn what is disempowering about conflict avoidance. We also learn what is productive when conflict is managed well.

How many conflicts are you a part of right now? What role do you play in trying to avoid these conflicts? Ebohr provides fantastic tips on how to make progress through conflict. The goal is to do this in a way that supported, productive, and impactful. We really deep dive into conflict resolution in the corporate workplace, and Ebohr offers amazing insights.

Tune in to Learn

  • Constructing a vessel where we feel safe includes having core values like being kind, being courteous, being honest, being thoughtful of others, having a sense of humor, and recognizing that we are all human and can be misunderstood when we get stressed.
  • We need to have the courage to check in with colleagues if we say something that is inappropriate.
  • Managers need to be able to call behavior problems when they observe it.
  • We also need to be compassionate and understanding.
  • We may see a colleague with bad behavior and not understand that they may be struggling with personal issues.
  • There is an appropriate way to do that without having it turn into gossip.
  • We should also be careful that we aren’t fanning the flames of conflict.
  • Recognizing power dynamics and practicing feedback.
  • Role modeling and still being human when wearing your manager’s hat.
  • Find a mentor to practice conflict resolution. Be aware of factors that create a positive work culture such as making people feel valued and recognize. Also be mindful of social values and understand that people will place value on different things.
  • Creating a safe environment and creating context.
  • Managers should also practice coaching their team members.
  • How people can sometimes feel trivialized to not heard when their mediations are swept under the carpet.
  • Ebohr asks many questions until he finds the person who can give detailed context, so he can understand what is actually going on.
  • He meets with people individually, but they sometime have a support member with them.
  • To prepare Ebohr clears his mind and sets an intention to listen and understand.
  • Mediations where some people don’t speak English well. Some are aware or self-conscious of their accents.
  • There are nuances to language that can be lost.
  • Finding what is important to a person and what makes them feel validated. A misunderstanding is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Listening deliberately for what is unsaid and listening beyond the obvious.
  • You often get the most crucial piece of information towards the end of the conversation.
  • Listening with vulnerability and creating barriers. Ebohr shares a trip that he went on with his dad.

Transcript

Episode 24: Deep Listening with Ebohr Figueroa

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Look, one of the things for me, was we’ve had a focus on my professional role. I think, it’s about distinguishing one’s own professional role from just being themselves. My family know that I’m a mediator and sometimes they remind me of that, when I don’t want to be reminded. But, what I can definitely say is recognising, without going into a lot of detail, that we’ve all got our own patent of relating. And, particularly to particular family members.

My father, who has now passed away, I can recognise, and it’s sad that it’s after he’s passed away, that I’m more mindful of the way in which I contributed to misunderstands with my father. And, to be honest, a way in which I didn’t listen to him in crucial times. Or, I listened to him from behind a bunker of my own creation. So that when my father was really being quite open, I had so many defences around myself, that I didn’t really share myself, and I didn’t really listen to my dad. I was essentially mindreading him. And, rather than actually being truly present in a way that I can professionally.

Oscar Trimboli:

In this episode of Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words, we take a magical tour through modern corporate Australia with Ebohr, a world-class mediator. He opens a window into modern corporations, and looks at conflict and totally deconstructs it.

He shows us what’s disempowering about conflict avoidance. He shows us what’s productive when conflict is managed well, through a powerful and safe vessel.

How many conflicts are you part of right now, and what role are you playing to avoid them? Listen carefully as Ebohr provides some fantastic tips on how to make progress through conflict in a way that’s supportive, productive, and impactful.

Oscar Trimboli:

One of the things I will explore, though, is attention I dance with. Attention is that conflict is often avoided. I’m curious with your perspective on what’s productive in conflict, because things of great power, like gold, are always conceived in conflict.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

In order for gold to emerge from that process, it also needs to be in a vessel. That vessel needs to be in a space where we feel safe. The friction and the tension, or the honesty, that comes out of me telling me how it is, how I’ve been hurt, or how I’m angry, in order for that to be received well, an environment needs to be created where it’s actually safe for me to say that. And, it’s even safe for the other person to hear that.

One of the challenges that I see as a mediator, is creating an environment where it’s actually okay to be disappointed, frustrated, let down, and to communicate that. And, to communicate it as a human being who’s having a human experience, and who’s not there to punish, or hurt, another person. That is easier said than done.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

I’d like you to explore a little more with this analogy with conflict and gold. But, more importantly, the vessel. For those of us who are in the workplace and see conflict, how do you construct a vessel so it is safe? What are the elements and characteristics of the vessel that creates the safety to do that?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Okay. I think there are a number of ingredients. Part of it is having a baseline, actually, core values around the way we treat one another. Being kind, being courteous, having a sense of humour, being thoughtful of others, being honest, and recognising that we’re also human, and we weren’t always deliberate.

We get stressed, there can be misunderstandings, we can vent, we might speak to others about that rather than in the person. There’s a sense of acceptance that we’re human, we’re fallible. Yet, there’s also a baseline that we need to commit to, personally, and start with that. There needs to be a courage to check in with colleagues, if we see something that we believe is inappropriate. There needs to be a confidence and skill of managers to call behaviours when it’s being brought to their attention, or where they observe it. There needs to be an ability to develop compassion and understanding for one another.

We are working with colleagues who potentially are struggling with personal issues, but we don’t even know that. What we see is their behaviour, grumpy, irritable, cold, or aggressive, or whatever it is. So, having an understanding, but still coming back to that baseline.

I think there also needs to be an awareness of the social environment, and that people do speak to each other, and there is a way in which it’s appropriate to vent, without it turning into gossip. When you’re listening to somebody, rather than fanning the flames, and thinking in a conflict mindset. Thinking about how can I help this person move on from this situation, learn their lesson, and actually get out of this difficulty.

Practising giving feedback, practising talking through, recognising power dynamics. I left a job early in my career. One of the reasons was that the most senior person had a very bad temper, and once threw a file across the room when I was sitting about a metre away from him. Just in an absolute temper tantrum. I didn’t feel skilled enough to do anything about it other than leave the organisation.

So, there needs to be a maturity, and that sort of thinking on a broader level to say, “Look, you need just go and talk to them and tell them how it is.” Well, if this person’s thirty years older than me, set up the and owns organisation, and I’m just some young guy who just goes and does all of the crappy jobs, what’s the likelihood that I’ll actually have that conversation? Extremely low, extremely low. That needs to be understood, as well. So, that broader context.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

A number of managers are listeners in the audience. I’d love to know Ebohr’s 3 tips of creating the safety vessel. What would you suggest 3 things managers can either do or role model themselves?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Role modelling is the first part. When I’m wearing my role … I’ll say, I’m wearing the hat as a manager. I’m still a human, but I happen to have this hat on. I’ll say this in a serious, but also joking way. I’m sure, in my job description, to the extent that I’ve ever read it, it says something about resolving conflict between staff.

Now, if I was to scale myself from 1 to 10 on my comfort or willingness to be able to address issues when I see them, and I can honestly say that I’m below a 5. Then just say, “Okay. That’s something that I’m going to put on my list, and I’m going to work on.” And, actually take the opportunity to find a mentor, to find another colleague appear inside, or outside of work to practise that. To actually bring actual scenarios, and work through it. That’s the first thing that I would encourage.

The second one is to be aware of the factors that contribute to a positive work culture. Those things are around making people feel valued, recognised for the work that they do. Being aware of the social dynamics, and that people have egos, as well. And, that we need to be mindful that people will place value on different things. The reason I’m talking about the positive aspect, is that what creates a vessel of security? I don’t know. Your listeners won’t know that you introduced yourself to me prior to today, to make me basically feel more comfortable.

So, there’s things that I can do to create a safe environment, or there’s things that I can do to create an unsafe environment. So, if I surprise people, and there’s no context to the reason why we’re having a conversation, then it becomes unsafe and it’s difficult. I need to be mindful of creating that environment where people can be honest and where they can be human, but also take some responsibility for their behaviour.

The third things is that I would encourage managers to also practise coaching their team members when team members come to them with an issue. One of the things that managers often tell me is that they feel caught, because they don’t know what to do with the information. So, the person’s saying, “Well, this is going on. So and so is really annoying me, but I don’t want to do anything about it”, or, “I never want to work with them again”, or, “You go and tell them to stop doing that thing.” And, the manager needs to be able to recognise that in the heat of the moment, that’s how people feel. Then, through a process of discussion, whether it’s in that moment or shortly afterwards, you look at what is going to be done by the manager, and also that individual. It’s not just taking the responsibility, though it’s almost like people want to just pass the problem over.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

I’m curious about the role of listening when you’re mediating in situations. Can you bring our listeners into a place and a space, what’s a typical day look like for you in preparing for something like that? What happens during that? And, what happens after that?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

It’s quite fascinating, because I have a number of windows into a situation. The first window is that I walk into an organisation where a manager, or someone from HR, has got a complex and messy problem on their table. That’s my window into an organisation. Rather than seeing their glossy fliers and their fascinating website, I hear about people who are disgruntled, dismayed, and absolutely at their wits end about whatever is going on.

I speak to managers who feel frustrated with the participants, or the people who are involved. I also find it very interesting, the diversity of the managers in terms of the level of interest and involvement that they have. And, the level of interest that they take in their role in managing it.

Another famous area of outsourcing is, let’s just call in the mediator and they’ll sort this issue out, if it’s actually just people who can’t get along. Ignoring the fact that they work in a team, in an organisation, that happens to have some management structure, and various values, and work processes, and so on. I find it very rewarding and positive, when I hear organisations … When I ask them questions about, for example, “What is being done about this?” And, they’re able to explain various steps that have been done. Sometimes I ask, “Well, what’s been done about this?” And, they pretty much don’t really have an answer, other than, “Someone lodged a complaint”, and, “What was done about that.” Well, “We’re going through the grievance process.”

It’s almost like they’re detached from their situation. Those ones, surprise, surprise, are the ones where … What I find in conflict situations, it’s very common for people to be aggrieved, not only with their work colleague. But, at least 1 level of management in the process. Or, with the HR professionals. Having said that, that’s not always fair. But, their experience is that they’ve not been heard. That they have had their issues either, sort of, trivialised. That they’ve been made to be part of the problem. That mediation is sweeping things under the carpet.

Part of my job is, I ask probably about, fifteen, twenty questions of the referrer. I sometimes I even need to make sure that I can even get to someone who can give me an appropriately detailed context. Sometimes, the briefing is delegated to someone who doesn’t even know what’s going on. I don’t accept that, because that’s actually a recipe for disaster, and walking into an absolute minefield. That’s the first part.

I also make contact with people. I speak to them on the phone, or communicate via email. To kick things off, I always need to ask to be introduced, because people don’t roll out the red carpet for the mediator. At least one person is not going to be very happy that I’m around. Without even having met me, I have to be prepared that people won’t be too cheerful when they meet me.

I meet with people individually. That could be in our office, or I might go to their office. Then, sometimes might have a support person, union, or a family member, but most of the time they actually attend on their own. That meeting is really about, 1, explaining what it is that I do.

Oscar Trimboli:

I’m curious how you prepare yourself. Because, you’ve got to step into a place where you suspend all judgement, despite whatever briefing you’ve had. I’m picturing you coming into this room, all the excess furniture is removed, there’s no window, it’s in a private area, and you have parties, or their support people with them. How do you step into that space? What do you do to prepare so that you’re ready to listen completely, and without judgement?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

I take a moment. It depends on where I am, and what I’m doing. Essentially, wherever it is that I do this, I clear my mind and I set an intention. An intention is for myself, which is to be present, and to listen, and to seek first, to understand. That’s the key things that I tell myself. Then, I picture the individuals as humans, from a more spiritual perspective. I see them beyond just them as people and just their jobs. I see their spirit, I visualise light, and I visualise that light shining very brightly. I focus that coming into the room, and being able to serve them. I just basically say, “May the highest good be present here today.” Something along those lines.

I’ll say it to myself. I really focus on just clearing my mind. I’ve learned time and time again, the more I think and plan, the more I’ll be undone in either a positive or negative way. So, there’s no point.

Oscar Trimboli:

When you’re listening to the dialogue that emerges in front of you in that room, how conscious are you of noticing the breathing patterns of the counter parties in the dialogue, as opposed to the words coming out of their mouth?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Okay. It is something that I notice. This is an exceptional example, but it certainly did happen a lot in family mediation work that I did. There would be people that would have anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, and their breathing would be very, very rapid. I had to basically take a break.

They would literally be like that.

That happened more individually when they were talking about what was going on. I’ve also noticed, and it’s particularly men, and I’ve got very vivid physical memories of this. One I could see it, but I could also feel that they were holding their breath. And, they were not just holding their breath, they were holding everything together. I’ve seen some very big blokes, guys, absolutely explode in tears, talking about their marriage breakup, and not having seen their children. They’ve just been literally holding their breath, and they sit in their chairs. I can notice, as I give my little intro, that they’re barely even breathing. And, the first word that they say is just to try to block any tears coming up. Within a very short period of time, all the tears, and emotion, and sobbing happens.

I noticed that really holding up here.

Other things that I noticed, and I guess I can even be aware, that when people start speaking very fast, as opposed to when someone is pausing, relaxing, thinking things through, I can definitely notice their breathing. Noticing when people have maybe a more high-pitched voice. I can pick that up, and I’m really wanting to make the person feel more relaxed, slow things down.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

Do you notice a pattern of difference between how a woman might listen, compared to how a man might listen?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

I’ll say something that’s quite fascinating. In my workplace mediations, where there’s a mediation involving 2 women, and a mediation involving 2 men. I’ll start at the macro level.

A preliminary meeting could go for an hour to an hour and a half. With a man, it could be over in half an hour. With a female participant, it could easily be for an hour and a half. Where there’s 2 men in a joint mediation, it could comfortably be over in an hour and a half, to less than that. Where there are 2 women in the mediation, it could take well over 3 hours.

It’s actually interesting. You’ve talked about listening. There’s definitely more of a need to discuss feelings, and the social context, and the importance that everybody wants to be heard. I think, on the flip side, is that if you then speak more about the social context, and feelings, mediation takes longer.

Also, it’s important, I noticed, more so for women than for men, is the need to have their feelings validated in an explicit, spoken matter, summarised and recapped. Whereas for men, there’s less of an interest in that. It’s more around, “Okay, we right now? You’ve said what needed to. I’ve heard you. Can we move on now?” There’s more of that slightly more pragmatic focus. I’m generalising, but-

Oscar Trimboli:

What would be an example of the other one that you mentioned earlier, about explicit and validated. How would that happen?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Okay. Explicit and validated is I can hear … Somebody may say, “I felt uncomfortable working with you in the meeting, where you spoke over the top of me. I felt humiliated. You should have noticed that I was upset. You didn’t come back and check with me. I feel so hurt and betrayed.” The validation would be expecting or hoping that the other person would say something like, “I didn’t realise you were so upset in that meeting. I didn’t mean to talk over the top of you. I noticed something about you. I thought you wanted to be alone. I really wished that I had reached out and checked in with you. I’m sorry that I didn’t. I can see how that would have made a difference.”

But, when there are men and women present, the way that emotion is processed is quite interesting. I’ve learnt this by women telling me directly. I can think of examples where women, as they tell me, have teared up. And, don’t want to do that in front of the other person. It feels very embarrassing, or confronting. They’d tell me, “If I look like I might cry, I want a break.” I’ve actually learned to ask people, “Because I can’t read your mind, how will I know when is a good time to take a break?” That’s an example.

Whereas for men, it’s not always obvious what is going on for them. I’ve also learnt, that because a guy looks cool and calm, doesn’t mean that he isn’t panicking underneath. So, I’ll take a break anyway. That’s what I’ve learnt particularly with men, because they tell me things like they haven’t been sleeping, or they’ve got an eczema. And, they’ll show me even their eczema under their shirt.

Men and women can process their emotions quite differently. I need to slow things down. I need to pause, and allow, more so for men, sometimes I might just repeat what the female participant has said. And, I’ll check that the male participant has heard that. I’ll just pause, “I’ve heard them say this. Did you hear that?” Or, “What’s your response to that? What did you notice that she said that she said she’s really intimidated by you? I’m not agreeing that’s the way it is, but I’ve just heard her say that.” Then, just pausing. That’s another thing that I might do.

Oscar Trimboli:

What’s your technique of pause? What are seeking to achieve there?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

With pausing, I think it’s about giving the respect and the space to what has been said. We can jump over several topics, verbally and non-verbally, in a very short space of time. There can be a need to just address each one, and give it its space. It’s basically allowing each area to be addressed.

Oscar Trimboli:

We live in a country of many nationalities and cultures. I’m intrigued to explore the difference between people with English as a first language in a mediation, and those where it’s not.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Okay. I have had mediations where people apologise to me for not speaking English well, or to a level that they would like to. Or, they apologise for their accent.

The first thing that I would say is that there are people who are aware, and self-conscious, of their accent, or their level of English. They tell me so, and even apologise for that. I always reassure them, and I just say, “Look, each of my parents weren’t born in Australia. I’ve also got a step-father from another country.” I said, “So many different accents around.” I said that, “I’ve grown up in the Sutherland Shire with a super Ozzie accent, and what-not.” So, just speak comfortably and don’t worry. It’s all fine.” Just try to reassure people.

It is quite interesting, because there are nuances to language that are lost. What I’ll say is that I’ll meet with people individually. I wish so many times that the other person could be a fly on the wall and hear some, but not all, of what’s being said. They don’t want to hear some of the things that they say. But, some of the things, where they can actually see that this is a fallible person who is struggling with something. Part of that can also include their embarrassment around language. You can actually get that the person is trying to say something, and they’re struggling with getting a message across. When there’s someone else present, I’m guessing, that the person would just shut down. They might not say it.

Because they don’t know me, and we’re having a one-on-one catch up, they can sort of fumble around a little bit, until they get that, what they really want to say. It’s not so easy to do that when there’s someone else you’ve got a disagreement with.

I once had a mediation, which was very interesting, where there was a male. Actually, he was a Korean background, and Australian Anglo-Saxon background. The male told me, that culturally, he could not disagree with his manager. And, he had never shared that with his manager, so he wouldn’t tell his manager what he disagreed with. He told me it would be the utmost disrespect to do that. It’s quite interesting. I talked to him about what the practical effects that would be. We just sort of explored that. That was a very practical example of a … That wasn’t just language, but that was a cultural assumption around what was appropriate, or not, to say to your manager. Very hierarchical.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

When you notice managers who are leading systemically, how do they listen differently to others?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

They listen to what’s important. There is what the person is saying. So, I won’t always tell you what is important. I want you to guess at what I’m telling you is important. An example of something that people have told me they find something very hurtful, is when their manager takes credit for their work, publicly, in front of others.

Now, whether that’s true or not, we don’t know. But, that’s their perception, “My manager has taken the credit”, or “Someone else has taken the credit for my work.” Now, what we need to think about is, rather than focusing on, Did I, or did I not, take the credit for this person’s work, and just think, systemically, “What do I know? People want to feel valued, and that their contribution makes a difference to the workplace, and that they have a passion for what they do.

When someone has a passion for what they do, and they want recognition, then if they feel that has been taken away from them, that’s going to be important. To think systemically, I need to go beyond did I or did I not, take credit. And think, “What is this person passionate about? How do they seek what’s important to them? What makes them feel validated? What makes them feel connected? What makes them want to come in on a Monday, and really enjoy having finished a really good week?”

If I think about that on a broader level, then it’s possible for me to then have a deeper understanding of why something like that … I always see that when it’s a misunderstanding, it’s often just the tip of the iceberg. So, I’m telling you about something, because it just came up, and that’s … But, it’s probably a series of things that had happened, where this person has felt side-lined, marginalised, overlooked, they didn’t get the training that they applied for, they didn’t appreciate how a particular project was given to another person, or whatever the case may be. And then, it’s now safe, because I can prove to you that in that email. And, you copied everyone in, and you said that you claimed it, so I can show you. But in fact, on a broader level about my place in the team. Anyway, that’s a long answer.

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah. What you highlight there is great systemic listeners listening deliberately for what’s unsaid. They’re listening beyond the obvious. A terrific example.

I’m far from a great listener. Every day is another day where I’m challenging myself to get better. You need to listen over focused periods of time. Have you ever noticed yourself drifting out of the conversation, and not completely there with the intention you set up? How do you get yourself back into the dialogue? Can you think of some examples of that happening?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

One of the examples, and it is tricky, and it’s to do with time. I’m not the first person to say this. When I’ve spoken to Councillors, or other mediators, it’s not unusual that somebody tells you the most crucial piece of information, with just a few minutes to go. But, you’ve been talking about a lot of things. It’s sort of been quite sort of, let’s just say, routine or bland. Then, all of a sudden they tell you this big clanger, “I’m not planning to stay in this job. I’m actively seeking other work.” We’re actually meeting the following day. We’re talking the tangible project issues, and working things out, and planning, and how to make this team affective. And, this person has already checked out. They’ve got very limited investment, and that’s quite crucial.

Or, somebody tells me about an incident, and this happened recently, where they’ve talked about a lot of things about the discomfort with their work relationship. And, in the last few minutes, they tell me about a situation where they allege that their manager said to them something along the lines of, “Yes, I’m a bully. And, I don’t really care. Just get used to it. Just do your job.” Then they’ve told me, “I haven’t told anybody, because this mediation has already started. I didn’t want to make things worst. But, I’m really am not comfortable with what they said to me.” And, I’ve got to think about … Well, I haven’t actually met the other person yet. I’ve got to talk to them about the significance of the event, how comfortable they will be. Do they wish to raise it in the meeting? That they’ve mentioned a lot of things already to me, but this really sounds quite serious. So, they’re telling me something that’s been quite impactful.

And, another person whose told me, and disclosed to me, that they have been the victim of domestic violence for many years. That their confrontation with their colleague made them have flashbacks about being chased down a corridor at home by their ex-partner. When their colleague chased them down the corridor to sort out an issue, and they went into a panic. So, they told me this right at the very end and start crying.

These are things that happen right at the end, when we’re finishing. I’ve sometimes got an appointment shortly afterwards. It’s quite challenging, because I’ve got a sort of a mental clock happening. I’m thinking, “Okay. Wow, I’d better stay focused on what’s happening here. We’re going to run a bit late. I need to think about how to appropriately … ” That’s the tricky one where I’m thinking about appropriately, and respectfully, closing off a discussion.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

Ironically, we’re drawing to the end of our time. What is it that you think we haven’t discussed that’s important to understand about listening deeply, in times where there is conflict.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

One of the things for me, was we’ve had a focus on my professional role.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ebohr Figueroa:

I think, it’s about distinguishing one’s own professional role from just being themselves. My family know that I’m a mediator and sometimes they remind me of that, but I don’t want to be reminded. But, what I can definitely say is recognising, without going into a lot of detail, that we’ve all got our own patent of relating. And, particularly to particular family members.

My father, who has now passed away, I can recognise, and it’s sad that it’s after he’s passed away, that I’m more mindful of the way in which I contributed to misunderstands with my father. And, to be honest, a way in which I didn’t listen to him in crucial times. Or, I listened to him from behind a bunker of my own creation. So that when my father actually was really being quite open, I had so many defences around myself, that I didn’t really share myself, and I didn’t really listen to my dad. I was essentially mindreading him. And, rather than actually being truly present in a way that I can professionally.

That’s my biggest lesson, is to apply the things that I can do professionally, within my own close relationships. That’s definitely very different. It’s a lot easier to be a mediator than one might imagine. Although, there are certain skills and things that you do definitely learn. But, that’s something, for sure, that I think is crucial.

The other part is also the willingness to put oneself … Let me just say that again. The willingness to be vulnerable as a listener. I have worked with other mediators, in family mediation, where I’ve seen them have tears in their eyes when very emotional things are being discussed. And, I’ve questioned myself, I’ve thought, “Gee, is that appropriate? Mediators, are they allowed to cry, or show emotion?” I’ve learnt that it’s actually okay, at the right time.

I’ve noticed my own voice break with emotion in particular situations. And, it’s because there’s been such a level of sadness and distress being expressed, that I’ve allowed myself to … So, to truly listen, I need to take the risk to go into that space in an appropriate way, myself. There’s a whole lot of literature around how you need to do that, and the risks associated with it. But, one of the things is to, at least, to put your toes in that emotional water. And, the risk is, that I will also feel pain and sadness, and that it will be evident through my body language, through my voice, and that will be visible to other people. They will notice that the other person has been touched by what they’ve said.

That’s a very power lesson that I’ve learnt from my mentor mediators. It’s actually totally fine to do that. It’s actually really respectful of the other person. It’s a tricky one in a work context, but it can be done.

Oscar Trimboli:

I’d like to explore the vulnerability, real time. I’d like you to share, if you’re comfortable, with the audience where that place and space was with your dad that you didn’t listen, and you created barriers. I think it’s a wonderful learning opportunity for them.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Well look, my dad was Peruvian. My first trip to Peru was with my father about twelve years ago. We went to Machu Picchu, and we did the shorter walks. So, we did an overnight walk to Machu Picchu. If anyone has seen the iconic pictures of Machu Picchu, it can’t be taken from Machu Picchu, because you’re standing on it. You’ve got to be on the neighbouring mountain, which is called Huayna Picchu. So, my dad and I climbed Huayna Picchu, and it was closed on that day. It was very foggy, and it was rainy. It was very dangerous.

Anyway, we got to this spot where to take the iconic photo. My dad was an absolute enthusiast of photo taking, which is a bit laborious for people who don’t like taking too many photos. Anyway, so my dad actually took this photo of me with Machu Picchu in the background. We took the photos of one another. Unfortunately, very sadly, very shortly after just taking the photo, he actually fell down these very steep steps. And, he could have held onto a chain that was on the cliff face. But, he protected his camera, instead. Anyway, he fell.

We found out after that he cracked a few ribs, and strained ligaments in his knees, and he was winded very badly. And, my dad … Well, I jumped down, I was very distressed, I sort of ripped his shirt off, and I’d thought he’d cracked … Well, I thought he’d punctured a lung, actually. I didn’t know what was … I was panicking. Anyway, after several minutes, he was able to stabilise. And, we very, very, very slowly got back down. And, my dad gradually got his energy back.

On the train, going back to Cuzco, my dad said to me, he said, “You’ve always been so good to me. Thank you so much. You really saved me there.” And, he started crying, and he put his head on my shoulder and fell asleep. I had a wet shoulder, and then my dad is there, and it was very … It was so unexpected, because I’ve never seen my dad like that. Then, he was sleeping. So, it was like the moment just was there, and then it went away.

One of my uncles is a doctor, and we went to hospital. Took my dad to a hospital where he got X-rays, and whatnot. And, my dad was sitting in the hospital bed after he’d had his examination. He sat up and he looked at me, and he said, “So Ebor, tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s going on for you?” It was such a lovely question. This was coming after my dad having said earlier in the day, having cried, and having fallen asleep on my shoulder.

I sat there, we were alone in the hospital. And, I sat there and I, part of me wanted to speak to my dad, and the other part wasn’t ready. I just gave him quite … I didn’t even know what I said, but it wasn’t … It was quite a sort of a robotic, every day sort of response. I didn’t, I wasn’t able to connect to that sensitive part, or that softer part of myself to connect with that softer part with my dad. And, I realised that afterwards that I was so accustomed … I mean, we’re speaking in Spanish, as well, so there’s a slightly different dynamic there. But, for my dad who was extremely verbose, all his siblings will say this, that’s not just my opinion. But, him just to ask me an open question, and then be silent, was so unexpected, that I couldn’t, sadly, share myself in that space. I just didn’t really say much.

I really regret that. I really wish I could go back to that, and just say to my dad, “I was so, so worried about you today. So glad you’re alive. So, so happy. Couldn’t believe it. I literally felt that your life was in my hands.” I didn’t say that, “I’m so glad you’re alive. You cried today. I’ve never seen you cry before. I’ve always seen you being so serious and strong, and you just cried. And, you slept on my shoulder all the way back on the 4-hour train ride. I can still feel your tears on my shoulder.” I never said that to my dad, but I wish I did. I regret that.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

Well you have, and he’s heard you. Well done. You’ve shown great vulnerability in sharing that story, and I really appreciate it. So, the irony is not lost that the most powerful story comes out at the end.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Yes.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

How comfortable would you be in saying in Spanish the words your father said to you?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Okay. Let me just.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

Take your time.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Mi papa me dijo algo como, cuenta me. Alcote tu vida, que yo escuchar un poco de ti.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

It’s something slightly different in Spanish. There’s a much greater intimacy in what you said the second time. There’s a bigger connection, and a great example of the power of language. What was unexpected for you today?

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

The question about vulnerability. I mean, I think that was a good one to pick up on. That’s absolutely appropriate, to at least allow the space for that. Given that I touched on it, then you also put your toe in the water. Then, I could put another foot in the water as well, if I wanted to.

Oscar Trimboli:                      

Ebor, thank you very much.

Ebohr Figueroa:                     

Thank you. Pleasure.

Oscar Trimboli:

Could you picture yourself in some of those meetings, with some of those people who were angry, who were frustrated, who were holding back? And equally, could you put yourself in those meetings, where you were honest, and vulnerable enough to say you didn’t know the answer?

When Ebohr told that story about his father, and the impact that him not listening to his dad when he asked, probably, one of the most questions of his lifetime. What was going through your mind? I think Ebor role models spectacularly well what it takes to be a world class listener. He’s someone who listens with his eyes, as well as his ears. He’s conscious of the language that everybody uses. But, most importantly, he looks to see the light inside everybody, to create a positive and powerful outcome.

I love the way he prepares for every meeting with an intention. I love how focused he is on listening to himself, before he gets into the conflict situation. The way he talked about breathing, the way he talked about creating the right intention for a meeting, are powerful lessons for all of us. But, especially for me. What I took away from his conversation today was, listening requires some level of sharing, some level of vulnerability, to allow the other person to know that you’re sharing a connection in that moment, when you’re listening deeply.

Deep Listening. Impact Beyond Words.

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