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Opening our hearts

An article I recently read affirmed we have to “open our hearts to the fear and suffering – our own and that of others” if we are going to shift the rising rates of conflict – both online and in the workplace.

New approaches need to be adopted to spark different conversations and create better work environments, otherwise people’s health will suffer.

There are sobering statistics that show how cyberbullying puts both victim and bully at increased risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, and problematic behaviours directed outward (cheating, stealing, arson, etc). There is similar research suggesting work conflict enters a vicious cycle with depression, somatic complaints, emotional exhaustion and absenteeism.

I recently mediated a workplace conflict situation where two people were embroiled in a stalemate for over four months where neither was engaging in eye contact or speaking to each other. Sadly the seething antagonism had also caught the entire team up in a vortex of stress and tension and for some the situation was becoming hopeless.

As an art psychotherapist, I relished the idea of being able to employ some mindful art therapy techniques to shift the conversations from he said she said to a more genuine and heart felt dialogue.

When the discussions started one person recounted how “she was unable to open her heart to the other person because she could no longer trust her”. The other party was struggling with mental health issues that were impacting on their life and causing problematic behaviors, but they were reluctant to divulge this for fear of any repercussions later on.

The facilitated discussions using art enabled the two to engage in more authentic dialogue and constructively resolve their issues. A key factor was the art's ability to surface their underlying thoughts and needs that were at the core of the issues.

Towards the end of the mediation process, one of the parties reflected on the progress that had been made in the relationship, stating it “had begun in a black mess, but we have moved to a peaceful, calm place and I’m hopeful of the future ”.

At the end of the mediation process, each party were asked to create a positivity marker for the experience. After drawing a garden scene one related how “out of the blackness a resplendent garden had blossomed”. The other remarked that she was now able to “open her heart” to the other person and move on.

Katherine Winlaw is an internationally registered art psychotherapist who works with individuals and teams to promote personal and professional wellbeing and create workplaces where everyone thrives. The mindful art techniques she uses are available to anyone, and do not require artistic skill. Her most popular programs are for boosting staff wellbeing, improving communication and conflict resolution as well as life and career transitions.


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