How to keep today’s tension from stealing our souls

Dispute Resolution Professor Angela Mitakidis offers conflict resolution tips to help ease tensions in our daily lives. 

Dallas Morning News by Leslie Barker

Originally Posted: February 2, 2017

Nearing the end of a recent morning run — one in which, weary of hearing news on the radio, I had pulled out my earbuds miles earlier — I saw my across-the-street neighbor Rick gazing intently upward.

With my ears now open to sound, I knew right away what he was doing: Seeking the source of the sonorous song filling the sweet, soft, morning air.

I had barely a tenth of a mile left to go, but instead of finishing, I stopped. How could I not? Rick turned his eyes toward me long enough to say hello, then, a few seconds later, got that  “Aha!” look on his face.

 “There it is!” he proclaimed, pointing to the upper branches of his all-but-bare tree. “Would you listen to that robin?!”

I squinted, but couldn’t see it. Truth to tell, I didn’t need to. That exchange, barely a minute long, reminded me of this:

Life is found in moments, especially in those that unite us. Not in snark, not in sniping, not in the uncertainty and fear and vitriol that taints our Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, but in those times we find a way to stop the torrents surrounding us.

Continue reading How to keep today’s tension from stealing our souls

SMU Dispute Resolution Students and Faculty Ask, “What Are You Bringing to the Thanksgiving Table?”

You have selected your dishes and decorated your home, but have you prepared yourself for the conflicts that come with large family gatherings. 

SMU Dispute Resolution graduate students, led by Prof. Angela Mitakidis, share their tips for keeping family conflicts to a minimum at the Thanksgiving table and throughout the holiday season.

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Take off Your Coat at the Door: Look past how your guests may present themselves – some may be wearing a “coat” of financial stress, work issues, relationship problems and so forth. Relieve them of their coat of burdens right up front by greeting them with an attitude of gratitude for their presence in your home, joy in your eyes to see them and a lift in your voice as you welcome them in. No one can resist a warm welcome and it will set the tone for the spirit of Thanksgiving right at the door.

Decorate Your Home with a Grateful Heart: A grateful spirit must start with you. You cannot control the behavior of others, nor can you compel another person to feel or demonstrate gratitude. You can only control your own behavior. So make a choice before your guests arrive to focus only on what you are grateful for and watch it spread throughout your home.

A Table Runner of Peace: As guests begin to sense the attitude of gratitude in your home, it will become a theme that will run through your conversations, jokes, comments and behaviors . If conflict arises, you will already have set the “table runner of peace” and that will give you the courage to verbalize a gentle request for a focus on all that we are grateful for.

Continue reading SMU Dispute Resolution Students and Faculty Ask, “What Are You Bringing to the Thanksgiving Table?”

Election 2016: What does your child think?

Original Blog Post by SMU DRCM Prof. Angela Mitakidis

In the current election climate filled with presidential debates, related talk shows and political commentaries flooding our TV screens, what are our children picking up from our reactions, our language, our expressions?

angela-mitakidiswebAt the age of 4, my daughter was role playing on my cellphone, pretending to call her best friend. She proceeded to tell her: “I’m so sorry, Demi, but I’m going to have to cancel our coffee date for tomorrow… I have to take the kids to the doctor… I’ll call you to arrange another time. Ok, great, thanks for understanding. Chat soon, bye”. It was like I was hearing myself speak! (My son did the same with both me and my husband).  As cute as that was, it also served to confirm the abundance of research showing that children observe parents from a very young age to the extent that they can mimic their language and behaviors with astounding precision.

In an article published in Parents Magazine[1], it is suggested that children imitate parents from as young as toddler age as a bonding mechanism, because children draw their parents’ attention and praise when they mimic them. In order to draw more attention and praise, children will continue to imitate. Furthermore, imitation is also regarded as a “stepping-stone to independence”. As children learn to imitate, they become empowered with the discovery of newfound abilities – to mimic what they see, and garner a response. Eventually, over time and with repetition, imitations become self- motivated role modeling behaviors.

Dr. Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist, says that our experiences during infancy influence how the brain develops, how we learn to calm our emotions, and how we relate to others. He explains that the relationships we have with our caregivers at a young age directly shape who we become.”[2]

My children are now 16 and 19, and they still watch my husband and I closely. In the current election climate filled with presidential debates, related talk shows and political commentaries flooding our TV screens, what are our children picking up from our reactions, our language, our expressions? We notice that our children regularly glance at us, gauging our reactions. Research shows that role modeling continues well into adolescence, and even though teens are becoming more independent, they still require and seek out their parents, more so for role modeling and mentoring. How are we doing as mentors?

I had the privilege of working in Singapore with Dr. John Ng (author, mediator, leadership consultant)[3] and am reminded of his work on this subject. He says children do what they see, not what we say – raising great children starts with an understanding of ourselves first. He emphasizes the importance of examining our own values and managing our own ‘hot buttons’ first.[4]

Some of the values we hold dear, and wish to effectively impart to our children could be, for example, our moral compass, our sense of patriotism, equality, faith, the importance of human dignity, mutual respect, tolerance in diversity, charity and the list goes on. Are the values we are telling our children to follow congruent with the values we are displaying for them? If we are saying one thing and displaying another, are we confusing our children? A good question for a parent to ask is “how is my behavior right now reinforcing the values I’m teaching my children to imitate?”.

Continue reading Election 2016: What does your child think?

Seven ways to defuse family conflicts – Holiday advice from a professional mediator

SMU News

Originally Posted: December 8, 2015

angela-mitakidiswebAs a lawyer, mediator, SMU faculty member and manager of SMU-in-Plano’s Conflict Resolution Center, Angela Mitakidis has helped people resolve conflicts all over the world. She finds the techniques she uses to resolve disputes in international court referred cases are just as effective around the holiday dining table.

Here are her tips for resolving family conflicts:

Extend grace Remember the holidays are not happy for everyone. For some they are a reminder of loss or sadness. Give the benefit of the doubt and extend grace and mercy, despite an unpleasant comment or negativity.

Respond, don’t react Reacting is the knee-jerk defense to an attack. Instead, respond with a kind act like, “May I get you a refill?” The best way to disarm a caustic attack is with a kind gesture.

Focus on the good things Diverting the focus from an unpleasant discussion to the common joy, fun and gratitude that comes with the holidays can help to de-escalate heightened emotions in conflict.

Validate Validate a person’s emotions. For example, “It sounds like that situation hurt you a lot.” Whether an emotion is justified or not, that person is experiencing that emotion at that moment. By making them feel heard and not judged, the person relaxes and the escalation of conflict is curtailed.

Common Need Everyone shares the common need to feel loved, cared for, valued and wanted, even the person who seems set on upsetting everyone. Instead of alienating that person, include him or her in a lighthearted holiday activity, like handing out gifts. Make them feel included and they’ll soon forget their complaints.

Laugh It’s hard to stay angry around lighthearted people. Plan fun things in advance, like watching a funny video or playing a game that gets everyone giggling. Humor is good for the soul.

Forgive When all is said and done, and a relative still manages to inflict that verbal jab, forgive and let it go. Forgiveness has many benefits, including a sense of release, relief and freedom for the forgiver.

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