This is Pippin. Until a few weeks ago Pippin was living rough. Now, because I am allegedly the local cat-whisperer, Pippin lives with us. And our 4 other cats. We have taken care of her basic needs, she is fed, she is warm, she has been treated for preventable diseases. She watched the Beast from the East from behind double glazing. We have ticked off the bottom levels of her personal Maslow’s hierarchy. Well done us eh?
Now we are beginning to introduce her to the resident felines of the household. This is far harder. There is hissing, there is spitting - on both sides. There is running and hiding under the bed – resident felines only. There is growling, glaring and occasional aggressive paw waving – on both sides. And sometimes Pippin charges at one of the other cats screaming. Though she is small, yet she is fierce.
I guess its pretty stressful for all the cats. It is certainly stressful for me. I just want them all to cuddle up together and be friends. Ha!
If I took this attitude into my work as a mediator I would be saying “Why don’t you both just be nice to each other? Shake hands now. Make friends, make friends, never ever break friends!” And, of course, I would be a useless mediator.
What my hissy, spitty cats are doing is expressing their needs and worries. Just like human beings do in a conflict situation. Its just that, again like humans, it can be hard for others to read and understand what the needs actually are because the communication is unclear or noisy or challenging or plain scary.
The cats’ needs and concerns include:
“I am afraid that there won’t be enough food/space/ affection/opportunity for me now you are here, I need reassurance that there is enough”
“I no longer understand my role and place in this group now you are here, I need to see what my role will be.”
“I have been ‘top-cat’ for ten years and fear losing my position to you, I need to feel that you respect me.”
“I have had to fight for everything these last few months and I will continue to fight now I am here with you! I will need to feel very secure and able to trust you before I stop fighting.”
“You frightened me yesterday and I haven’t forgotten, and I will not trust you easily again. I need to be sure it won’t happen again”
“You hurt me yesterday and I haven’t forgotten, and I will not trust you easily again. I need to be sure it won’t happen again.”
“I feel trapped between the sofa and the wall and will hurt you to get out if I have to, I need not to feel trapped.”
“This is a strange place with smells I don’t know, and I will be wary until I have sussed it all out.”
“I am angry with you but don’t want to risk a fight. I will hide under the bed until you have gone.”
We don’t have to change too many words here to translate these statements into the concerns and needs that underpin many human conflicts and which, as a mediator it is my role to support people to express more clearly.
I aim to do this by creating a safe space for each party, by establishing a rapport with each of them, by listening deeply to ensure I understand their needs and concerns, by supporting them to express their needs to the other parties and by providing reassurance and encouragement. The parties themselves choose how fully they wish to engage in the process.
And that’s pretty much what I will continue trying to do for the cats except, of course, I don’t speak the language.
Just a thought though! With the cats I have found that small pieces of poached chicken are pretty helpful at relieving tension. Should I introduce these to the mediation room do you think?