Untame Your Voice


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The Art of Being Nobody, By Lee Glickstein

Posted by Nathalie Brewer on January 4, 2012 at 5:55 AM

At a Leadership Presence Training, Elizabeth Bader, Bay Area mediator, author, and mediation trainer, shared with us her radical approach to training professional mediators.

Early in her practice Elizabeth mediated a high-stakes, high-conflict dispute involving many people and many millions of dollars. The case had national, and even international ramifications. At one point her client turned on her when an offer was made that he took to be insulting. He became furious with her, the other side and the entire proceeding. It turned out later that he was actually okay with the offer itself, but that he had been triggered by what he perceived to be a slight to the "somebody" he took himself to be.

As she held the space in those turbulent minutes with everything at stake, Elizabeth found she was allowing herself to become "nobody," even dropping her identity as "mediator." Had she tried at that point to mediate "by the book," all could easily have been lost. But by her simply hanging out in the state of not knowing at the meeting, while also responding calmly to the client's concerns, the client was able to move toward calm, toward his own "nobody-ness."

"This realization opened me up to a whole new way of seeing mediation, an approach to helping people resolve conflict that I had not heard of, a whole vista to explore," says Elizabeth, who now teaches mediators that they are capable of being in nobody: "They [the clients] will feel a lot more comfortable being there with you. Being nobody means giving up their agenda, releasing self-identification with the conflict, and discovering what can actually work. If you can hang out in nobody with them, that's when the conflict can resolve.

"There's a continuum between being nobody and being someboy, and the price people pay for being somebody is generally a lot of conflict with everyone else. Being nobody is not a popular thing, but it's actually one of the most fulfilling places you can ever experience. That's where peace is, when you land in nobody and you're just doing what needs to be done."

The practice of accessing the luxury of being nobody in front of a group, allows you to start there and immediately drop back into that state when called for. This is the grounded place from where you can trust yourself to respond clearly and powerfully in whatever professional role the situation calls for. Performance anxiety and self-consciousness is only about taking yourself to be somebody or other with whom it is not useful to identify.

This idea is akin to the Buddhist notion of "emptying oneself," but I like the language of "going to nobody" because that place is instantly available without having to jettison anything. And as Elizabeth reminds me, "There are many levels of nobody within yourself to get familiar with, and my favorite place is hanging out with others in nobody."

As you expand your capacity to be in nobody around others, they feel safer to relax into theirs. And that's the place where the best business is done, and great pleasure is had.


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