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Odetaan Maamawi … Reaching Together

June 21st, 2020

An open letter to Canada – as a response to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action. [Written June 2019]

I am a mediator. As such, I have learned that the top needs of any human are to be heard and understood. So I listen a lot, assisting a process that gives voice to people in conflict and people in pain, and that fosters increased understanding between them.

I am also a member of the ADR Institute of Ontario (ADRIO) a self-governing body for mediators and arbitrators, and Odetaan Maamawi, a working group and our professional community’s response to the Call to Action of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee. We work to listen… to learn, to understand, to better acknowledge our Indigenous family for both their inherent beauty and value, and their contributions to life in Canada. One such contribution in our field of dispute resolution is a talking circle model from age-old Indigenous restorative justice practice which is used in both victim-offender and community work. And our professional community strives to acknowledge the pain of our Indigenous family, arising from such travesties as a history of residential schools, cultural disenfranchisement, environmental illness, and the heartbreak of many missing and murdered Aboriginal women and their families.

Our group is not another committee. It is intended to be a heartbeat, a shift in consciousness and character of our organization, of values that need to be recognized and honoured, and of needs reflected in the TRC’s Call to Action that we as listeners and peacemakers are uniquely equipped to respond to.

The group’s name “Odetaan Maamawi”, given to us in an Anishnawbe ceremony, means in essence, “reaching together”. I would like today, in this month dedicated to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, to invite all of Canada to join in the spirit of odetaan maamawi. To listen, to learn, to understand … to reach out and respond, each in your own way in a new journey with Indigenous communities and individuals. Visit a local Friendship Centre … go to a Pow Wow… talk with an Indigenous Elder or mother or youth and ask them what they want you to understand about them… volunteer for an organization… read a Indigenous-authored book or biography with your child or grandchild… educate yourself on the land treaty where you live… read the report & recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee. Be a part of the awakening of Canada to its history and resulting responsibility to the people whose land we live upon and benefit from. Above all … we urge you to listen.

About 25 years ago, I went weekly to the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto and one day asked Ojibwe Elder Joseph Sylvester “how do I learn to dance around the Drum?” His answer, given with a smile … “one step at a time”.

The TRC asks each one of us to respond to one thing we can do. We don’t have to do it well, or publicly. There is no test at the end. We just need… really need to do something … one step at a time.

Mardi Edelstein, BA, Q.Med, AccFM
Seneca given name Awënyawenzoh
Principal, Spectra Mediation, Toronto

TRC Calls to Action can be found here:

Giving Voice …

June 21st, 2020

On this National Indigenous People’s Day, sharing my land acknowledgement to remind mediators of the skills we have and the responsibility to use them in service to our First Nations family… and all our relations.

Giving thanks…

January 2nd, 2015

There is much spoken of today about the power of gratitude to transform our lives.

Roses+StonesIt is difficult, in times of conflict, grief or loneliness to remember things for which we are thankful, or to appreciate that one good thing in the bad.  Sometimes, in the words of American philosopher Eric Hoffer “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings”.

“Simple Abundance” author Sarah Ban Breathnach suggests writing a “gratitude journal” each day, to get into the habit of appreciation rather than complaint, of fullness rather than lack … to adopt what is now coined as the “attitude of gratitude”.  It’s not only a reflection on the past… it can actually re-shape your future, as you journey in the direction of your thoughts.

Here are some quotes to inspire you to count your many blessings in this, the season of reflection and new beginnings.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
– Melody Beattie

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
– Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.
– Johannes Eckhart  (1260-1328)

I am thankful for the opportunity to do good work which can de-stress, enrich and transform the lives of good people who have found themselves in bad situations… and the for stellar community of peers with whom I work.

A happy & fulfilling 2015 to you all.


Playing the Board… The Mediator as “Multi-Partial”

October 29th, 2014

I love to play Scrabble® and if I play with someone new to the game or very young or elderly, or just feel like being creative, I often play open-handed.  What I love to do, rather than play against an opponent, is to “play the board” … to get everything out of the board that we can and reach maximum points, celebrating the great words that we come up with.  Win-win and … win.

Scrabble2 rszWe both feel good about what we accomplished and even the board usually looks better than if we had competed against each other.

In the same way, as a Mediator I am neutral and not aligned with any one party, but rather than call myself “impartial”, which sounds rather inert and unengaged, I describe myself as “multi-partial“.   I want everyone to win,  to come away whole and to celebrate that they created value together and benefited from that value, that they added to each others’ lives, rather than took away… whether materially, emotionally, mentally, socially, professionally or morally.

Multi-partiality is an active and passionate open hand, creating high-value, meaningful words, connections and understanding that underscore the road to resolving conflict.  Giving respect to all parties, listening intently, connecting with both parties and celebrating great solutions … each bit of progress and agreement along the way – celebrating shared success.  The goal… a unique solution of their shared problem.  The mediator raises questions and helps probe for options… the solutions are in the clients’ hands, encouraged to be open as well for maximum power and potential.  The mediator models what may be new communication tools and learning attitudes for clients – a new way to “scrabble” toward solutions – through a love of problem-solving and an opportunity to discover something new … ultimately to create something new together.

And always as a Mediator I play with an open hand and show my tiles.  I show my humanityI sometimes show my own struggle with conflict and with detaching from my own perceptions, and discuss the very human pains of change and challenge.  And, I am transparent with the mediation process, explaining what we are going to do next and why, sharing the listening and reflecting skills that I use and inviting them to make good use of them.

Because I am equally respectful and curious with both parties, because I assert constantly that this is a shared problem, they see that I am not biased.  Coming from a world of positioning and aligning, participants in Mediation may find themselves in unknown territory when they suddenly can’t be right by making someone else wrong, and they know the Mediator can’t be co-opted to a side.  This key component of the Mediation process is itself a key shift in dynamic for parties, from convincing the Mediator to convincing each other … and that playing an open hand lends more power to create more value for everyone involved.

Because the Mediator mutualizes the problem and has parties focus on that, rather than each other, they experience not only a lack of bias, but a lack of its need … which at first seems like staring at a blank tile, and then, as it is often with a new experience or concept, they grapple with what that means and where to go next.  And like blank Scrabble tiles, which can stand for anything… they start seeing a wider spectrum of possibility as together they un-scramble the jumble of letters and information, and explore possible options and problem-solve … together.

And when we all do that well, we hit that triple word score – that win-win-winWins for each party – and the third thing that they created – the surprising and surpassing agreements that can arise when together we ‘play the board’ with a multi-partial, open hand.
SCRABBLE® is a registered trademark owned in the U.S.A and Canada by Hasbro Inc.

Mediation Best Practices … not Ground Rules

September 8th, 2014

In a mediator’s opening statement to clients, often the subject of “ground rules” comes up – parameters for behavior befitting a participant to mediation.   And often it takes the form of negative instruction – “we will refrain from name-calling or blaming” … “please don’t interrupt, you will get your turn to speak”.  I never took to the concept very well, of instructing adults on what not to do.  Some mediators ask their clients if they have any ground rules of their own, a good thing, if it weren’t for those 2 words.

Escher Transformation off the page
I do not lay ‘ground rules’. 
First, I prefer to speak to the highest parts of ourselves.  And, as I am of the philosophy that as we engage in mediation, we are promoting, sharing and hopefully modeling resourceful behaviour, I prefer to respectfully share best practices rather than ground rules … practices that bring out the best in us as speakers, listeners and problem-solvers.   Clients get these in advance, and we review them when we first meet, in case they need clarification.

So here are Spectra’s 10 Best Practices for Participants in a Mediation:

1         This is a learning conversation.  And a working conversation.  Please come to the table with open ears and a good dose of curiosity and resolve to solve problems together.  Listen as if you are hearing something for the first time and learning something new, even if you think you’ve heard it before.

2         Practice deep listening.  Concentrate on what’s being said, and not what you are itching to say.  If you wish to insert a thought, signal.  If there is no opening given by the speaker right then, jot down keywords on paper and direct your thoughts fully back to them.

3         Reflect back for understanding.  Each person has come here to be heard and understood.  Reflecting back what someone has said for clarity and understanding ensures that this happens. Sometimes the Mediator will do this.  Sometimes you will be asked to.  The ability to do this depends on #2, deep listening.

4         Be resourceful and creative.  We are here to solve shared problems.  Brainstorm fearlessly.   Commitment to solutions comes later.

5         Suspend judgment.  In order to feel free to be resourceful and creative, we leave judgment to a later stage.  Nothing’s final till it’s final, so think in or out of the box while you can.

6         Silence is OK – when speaking or listening.  Not all gaps have to be filled.  It’s sometimes in the spaces that key discoveries are made.  Respect them, and use them liberally.

7         Emotions are OK, so long as you own them.  Express your disappointment, hopes, even anger… in a way that will be heard.  We’ll discover what it all means together.

8         Speak with passion and purpose, but know that your statements are not truth – they are your truth, and that will be respected.  Make observations.  Say how something made you feel or how it appeared to you.

9         Ask great questions.  They’re even better than statements.  We’ll discover some together.

10     Say one good thing about the other party at some time in the mediation.  Express appreciation for good listening, honesty, effort, understanding, courage, or something they have done well.  It will open doors like nothing else.

With best practices, I believe we are teaching resourceful behavior and not cementing or censuring bad.  We are evolving communication and moving ourselves forward.  We are future-focused and not dwelling on habit or blame.  With best practices, we are setting a new bar and building a new toolkit of skills and awareness.

Through best practices – we get to best solutions.

*Illustration:  MC Escher

Transformation-Efficiency-Settlement … YES, you can get all 3!

July 14th, 2014

I’m a shameless idealist.  And I put it into practice, yielding some pretty satisfying results.  Thus, I remain shamelessly idealistic.  I am also greedy, taking from the many styles and tool kits that accomplished mediators and other professionals have discovered, uncovered and invented… as long as they work and are respectful.  If it serves the client, I will remain shamelessly greedy.

I venture to say that in a world where it may be difficult to get “good, fast and cheap”, it is in my experience completely possible – and preferable for short and long-term success –  to achieve transformation, efficiency AND settlement for mediation clients… whether in family, workplace, condo or civil disputes.  A client shouldn’t have to ‘settle’ for either a tidy settlement or expressing emotions or improving a relationship, or think that a transformational approach means a prolonged or expensive prospect.
transformation flower rsz
First, I believe that empowerment & transformation are often natural products of a thoughtfully executed Interest-based mediation, the classic model of our profession. It shines at wisely and efficiently getting to settlement by getting behind the positions that people take in litigation, or in life, and discovering the true interests of parties in dispute… the very human needs, wants, fears and concerns, and, I add, aspirations that drive us as humans, but that we rarely give voice to, for many reasons.

In infusing a transformational approach, I make the distinction here between adopting a model outright, and adopting the philosophy and tools of that model.  I use the tools that work for the job at hand, within the classic Interest-based Mediation model.  A comfort with transformational tools mean dealing with emotions and relationship issues as they come up, realizing that, as stated up front in the seminal negotiation reader “Getting to Yes” (Fisher,Ury,Patton p29-31), unless and until you explicitly work through any emotional barriers, settlement may just not be possible.

Emotional impasse can be the most fatal to a negotiation, and therein lies the skill of the transformative-leaning mediator.  Emotions and chronic relationship issues are not a problem to be avoided or suppressed in a negotiation, but often the very key to understanding, empathy, more meaningful conversation, and eventual settlement. For instance, anger is a position … behind which are unfulfilled needs and fears to be explored. If we ignore such emotion, we run the risk of dealing with incomplete information and insight. So rather than wait until impasse to pull out transformational tools, I explore emotions and relationship issues up front. This is not pie-in-the-sky idealism. It is pragmatism… my third sin.  I am extremely pragmatic.  Transformational work for me, is not only preferable, it’s often pivotal to engaging in a successful mediation.

But now … efficient?

In my experience, using transformative techniques off the top cuts more directly to the level of interests and can quickly and respectfully break through barriers.  The results may surprise even the Mediator, and, it actually saves time.

Here is an example in a Court-based family mediation which the referring Judge deemed as “unsettleable”…   We were there to establish a parenting plan where there had been none for over a year. During the father’s private intake, he called the mother a bad parent, and went on to sit in  mediation with his side to her and his back to the mediators. Seeing his unwillingness to engage, I could have deemed him as ‘a problem’, and/or turned the mediation into a shuttle.  Instead, I said to both parents off the top: “We’ve come here to talk about what’s best for your children, and I would love to know who they are so I can help you do this, so please paint me a picture of them … their passions and aspirations, characteristics and challenges, and what YOU each love to do with them…”  And I didn’t ask either of them to go first. I posed the question, smiled and then purposely looked down and organized my paper, so they couldn’t get affixed on me.

A moment of awkwardness. Navigating this flow of information was their first ‘negotiation’. They hesitated, they spoke, sometimes they interrupted, they listened and they deferred … and then … magic happened. They started recognizing things the other said as true … they started being surprised at what the other knew or did with the children that they did or didn’t share … they nodded and smiled, affirmed each other and learned from each other, and they got nicely confused, suddenly unsure of what they thought they knew about the other.  Throughout the exercise I nodded and raised my head and smiled, but mostly I left it to their higher, parenting selves, united around what we all know are the most important in their lives…their children. By the time the picture was painted, the father’s chair was facing the table and the mother.  Their purpose was now clear. They went on to negotiate with each other, and not me… what we all hope for as mediators. And we went on to craft the first stage of a parenting plan that reflected the best parts of all four people involved, in under 2 hours. Settlement achieved – efficiently – and with significant transformation in the parties’ perceptions and ability to work together.

A transformational outlook – including client empowerment and recognition of each other – can indeed be highly efficient and economical. By instantly building new skill and creating more effective parties, by increasing empathy and understanding and closing the gap between disputing parties, we are investing up front for a quick return.  More skilled clients + reduced distance between them = a more efficient process AND increased likelihood of settlement.

Transformation-Efficiency-Settlement.  “Yes, yes and yes… you can get all three”, I say, selfishly, greedily and very, very pragmatically.


Please add your perspectives below to this and future conversations on the nature of communication and relationship, mediation and problem-solving, values, perspectives and issues of concern to families, family businesses, communities, businesses, profit and non, and the workplace.

Next Blog Post:  Best Practices…not Groundrules

Spectra Mediation… what’s in a name?

March 2nd, 2014

Spectra (n) a show of the diversity of component elements in a wave, like colours or perspectives;  a broad range of related values, qualities, ideas and solutions.

“We know what the stars are made of, know of their structures and their lives, only because we are able to observe and analyze their spectra.  Unbroken starlight allows us to admire a star’s external characteristics; its spectrum allows us to look into its very soul.”
~J.B. Kaler  Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, U of Illinois


When I was in grade school, we had a weighty, large-faceted glass candy dish on the coffee table and each day I would come home after school, sit myself down in front of it and wait for the afternoon sun to enter the living room.  When it struck the star-like dish it sent a spectrum of colour around the walls – my own private light show and my eventual analogy for the nature of truth…and perspective.

We know that when pure colourless light hits the atmosphere, a raindrop, dust particle or any filter, it is refracted into its component parts or colours.  Similarly, reality is broken up and seen, remembered and interpreted through the filter of the mind’s eye, our experiences, histories, beliefs and interests, to reveal our own unique spectrum of ‘truths’ or perspectives.

As individuals we are getting better at realizing that we only hold a part of the spectrum of reality… in our own colours or filters.  And as we grow, we get that by travelling around the prism, by listening, empathy, perspective-taking, or by experiencing other cultures or environments – we can get a glimpse into another’s hue of reality.

For those of us who specialize in communication and conflict resolution, the astronomical definition above – at once scientific and soulful – is also key … that each component and discovered part of a person’s spectrum of thought returns information to us about their deeper values and interests – their needs, wants, fears, concerns and aspirations – which reveal the true soul and essence of what is driving that person in that conflict.

This deeper level of information in turn reveals a more elegant and resourceful world of connection, complement and commonality or mutuality, which then allows us to more meaningfully gather the components together toward solutions that satisfy the true and essential needs of all concerned.

Room light may have revealed the outline and shape of my candy dish. But the searching afternoon light revealed its true and vital components and essence…a full spectrum of colour and hue.

SPECTRA IconIn our work at Spectra Mediation, we are dedicated to using the best objective light – asking the most illuminating questions, using the best and most human & respectful approaches to effectively and joyfully get to the core and essence of each conflict, to power meaningful conversations and reach resourceful, informed and lasting agreements.

Every colour reveals a quality or value which informs us about the essence of a star. And every interest, aspiration and belief discovered in mediation reveals a key leading back to a true and meaningful solution.

The science and art of mediation, and its particular kind of searching light can yield meaningful and creative parenting plans, empowering and joyous workplace solutions and resourceful commercial agreements…  as personal, unique and elegant as those patterns on the wall.

Welcome to Spectra Mediation.  We’re glad you’re here!


Please add your perspectives below to this, and future conversations on the nature of communication and relationship, mediation and problem-solving, values, perspectives and issues of concern to families, family businesses, communities, businesses – profit and non, and the workplace.

Next Blog Post:  Transformation-Efficiency-Settlement … yes you can get all 3!