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What Does Neutrality Mean?

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What Does Neutrality Mean?

Neutrality.  How does this word enter your conversations? Or does it?  Perhaps it feels too political for every day conversation, maybe its better suited for judges or chemists.  In fact, taking a neutral stance shows up more often as indifference, such as not caring where to go for dinner or where to fuel the car. 

So let’s talk…I’ll start.  I’ve decided there is no such thing as neutrality. Try as I may, to be the impartial mom about who gets the last cookie or the computer time first, I still have an agenda.  I may not care about the outcome, but I do care about quieting the noisy argument that’s going on.  And there are limits to the disputes resolved by using “Rock, Paper, Scissors”.

Human nature is hallmarked by preference, and it is within the expression of that preference we recognize the position of others.  Neutrality then, isn’t necessarily being void of bias, but rather the lack of demonstrating that bias.  It is the capacity that allows differences to be dynamically present in the same space.  Perhaps it could be defined as a pure form of observation. 

In a mediation setting, neutrality is a genuine way to give control to the ones who are working to resolve conflict.  They are in charge of the process, and the outcome.  The mediator is there to support and guide the conversation so it can move forward in addressing future behaviors, actions, quantifiable items or situations.  Sounds simple, right? 

Taking a position of neutrality can be challenging.  Try it.  Choose to be completely neutral in the next dispute you’re invited to help solve.  I suggest trying this the first few times as a third party participant.  (In other words, be the neutral one who is mediating a dispute between two adamant cookie lovers who are arguing over the last double-decadent-chocolate-chip cookie on the plate.)

Here are some quick tips to keep your bias in check: 

  1. Do not determine if something is true or false.
  2. Do not determine fault or innocence.
  3. Do not determine punishment.   
  4. Do not give advice or your opinion.
  5. Do not determine the history of the event (“what happened”).
  6. Do not insert ideas of what is moral, ethical, right or wrong.
  7. Do not insert values or personal beliefs: religious, political or otherwise. 

As I’ve been studying myself in relation to mediating, it has become evident how difficult this can be. I applaud the craftsmanship of a true neutral position.  To be detached from the outcome, and allow others the freedom to decide the resolution of their conflict or even how they arrive at it, is an art. 

The key word here is detachment.  As Merriam-Webster defines it: “freedom from bias or prejudice”.   To hold such a position takes conscious practice.  And after some honest self-evaluation, it’s painfully clear there are times I push against being detached.  The good thing is, I am aware of it.   

As humans, we are positional.  We choose our camp and actively recruit others to join us.  When conflict arises, I sense an internal call to ‘rally the troops’ to defensively launch judgments at the opposition.  The fact is I have a few camps, and there are some well-established ones that would be hard for me to pull away from long enough to hold a genuinely neutral space.  I admit I’m jaded.  Personal opinion colors my view.  I like cookies, especially double-decadent-chocolate-chip cookies, and there are times I feel justified in my moral right to have the last one. 

black and white cookies

Image: black and white cookies, cc2

The ironic sweetness of ‘the rub’ actually lies in the contrast between neutrality and partiality.  Because of my experiences, I have opinions.  Because of my opinions I have beliefs through which I demonstrate the dynamics of my humanness.  Inherent in those dynamics, I have a very real sense of compassion for those in similar situations.  And then, I am asked to respectfully practice that compassion by being detached, and allow others the freedom to express their problem solving skills while remaining neutral.

I have an honest desire to hold space for others as they resolve their own conflicts.  I choose to allow for discussion and choice making. I am eager for the process to be organic.  I am conscious about listening and not leading. 

It takes time and effort, especially when those I’m helping are “difficult” or when I’m invested in a particular solution.  To be honest, there are times I just eat the cookie to diffuse the argument.  The fact that my action results in an entirely new conflict is another issue all together.

I realize how badly neutrality is needed in society.  Rarely is detachment encouraged or practiced. We own things.  We identify with what we own.  We thrive on comparisons.  To be neutral is to almost be an anomaly. 

So what can we do? 

  1. Determine restitution.
  2. Determine future behaviors or actions – something that can be observed by another person who has no stake in the outcome of the conflict.
  3. Determine what can be quantified; such as time, money, schedules, value of objects, and go forward from there. 

Granted, it may not be easy to watch how the cookie lovers choose to resolve their issue, but as you strive to practice neutrality, it’s important to allow the process to be their process.  Being detached from the outcome and its development is powerful evidence of neutrality, and is an impeccable way to encourage personal empowerment.

  We at Connect52 would love to hear from you.  Share your experiences of practicing neutrality with us…the good, the bad and the silly.  It’s all a journey, and it’s worth it.  As we develop communication and listening skills, it changes our outlook and our world.  And who knows, maybe there are more cookie options out there. 

Brooklyn's Specialty

Image: Brooklyn’s Specialty, cc2

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