Sasha Laghonh Of Sasha Talks On How To Create A Successful Career In Conflict Resolution And Mediation

An Interview With Eric Pines

Eric L. Pines
Authority Magazine
Published in
15 min readMay 14

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Learn to listen. Everyone is too busy thinking about what they’ll say next that they overlook what is being said to them. Actively listen while not projecting judgment on what is being shared with you. Learn to become present in the moment. Listening better can offset a handful of communication challenges that are born from the lack of patience and presence of the listener.

What does it take to create a highly successful career in conflict resolution and mediation? As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sasha Laghonh.

Sasha is the Founder of Sasha Talks, an educational and entertainment platform that integrates self & professional development into nurturing sustainable outcomes. As a speaker and author, she partners alongside global clients to capitalize upon their talent in commercial spaces. She has also authored books focusing on business, self-development and education. Visit sashatalks.com to learn more.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

I grew up in a nurturing environment surrounded with people representing different lifestyle interests. I recall my parents’ home always being inundated with books and newspapers in their makeshift library. Watching my parents engage in their respective hobbies encouraged me to pursue my interests. This allowed me to start competing in art and literary competitions from a young age. Such interests eventually transitioned to business competitions which formally introduced me to the realm of entrepreneurship. These diverse experiences encouraged innovation and taking healthy risks. It has brought me this far in life to now create opportunities to serve others in their developmental journey.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Communication skills — I believe in order to engage the world there are many communication channels through which people interact with one another in life. It’s not a business skill. It’s a life skill that can help people develop themselves better. Every person processes and interprets information differently so making an effort to connect in different forms helps one become a better speaker, writer and communicator when serving people. In the process it challenges us to develop our personality when interacting with people from different walks of life representing different perspectives. Acquiring such skills through practice can provide opportunities to enhance the quality of relationships and the development of ideas by expanding the reach to audiences that welcome the right ‘messenger’ to speak to their needs.

2. Paying attention to life — As humans there are many details of life that pass through our scanner. We need to learn how to pick our battles. Apply your senses to absorb information around you without passing immediate judgment. It’s easier said than done. Not everything that captures our attention deserves a reaction or a response. Some life matters will resolve themselves without our input. There’s no need to feed our egos to feel needed at all times. Leaders need to remember whom they serve while having a situational awareness of their day to day operations. Permit people to make their own mistakes and learn their lessons. Exercising any dictatorial approach will eventually lead to more problems and losses.

People often corner themselves in sticky situations (and avoidable conflicts) by running their mouth when it should be kept shut, or keeping their mouth shut when it should be used for a purpose. Paying attention to our environment also teaches us how to become better listeners. The lack of listening also contributes to communication challenges which can unfold into leadership challenges because various personalities believe they know everything therefore there’s less of a need to listen to others. Attention to details doesn’t mean you’ll master life, it simply provides an opportunity to error less to save time and emotions for more important matters.

I say “when people pay, they pay attention”. Pay now or pay later. Nothing in life comes for free. There is always a price to pay in life. What is the price you’re paying and what for?

3. Exceptions to the rule versus becoming exceptional. People need to stop acting like an exception to the rules of life because society has conditioned them to believe they’re great for solely existing. We can earn our merit by enjoying the privileges that come with it, yet treating everything and everyone as an exception actually defrauds people into believing they’re contribution is enough when in fact they should continue refining their life and business performance.

From observation, those who perceive themselves to be exceptions to the rule, often are in need of character development and common sense skills. Their own hubris creates blind spots into thinking they’re invincible in all the wrong ways. If everything in life is an exception then it defeats the point of having a standard. Focus on becoming exceptional at what you do, then you won’t care whether you’re the exception to the rule or not.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m waiting for the green light to announce the upcoming projects. Meanwhile I’m preoccupied with an engagement which focuses on writing in partnership with an ivy league institution. I‘m one of the writing experts and authors called upon to kick off the endeavor. It’s exciting to share my writing experiences with audiences which include students and seasoned published writers.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about Conflict Resolution And Mediation. Let’s start with basic definitions so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly is Conflict Resolution?

I view conflict resolution as discovering a viable solution to address the specific needs of at least two parties. A resolution can serve as a situational outcome or a long term solution. It depends on the context of the conflict in the first place. The meeting of minds is dictated by the needs of these respective parties. Such resolution may have nothing to do with right or wrong, it may merely demand an outcome which the engaged parties can co-exist with for a duration of time.

What is Mediation?

It’s the process of intervention by overseeing parties representing interests that aren’t aligned to reach a viable solution. This provides a means for respective parties to discuss their needs and justifications for such needs while exploring optimal outcomes which can take place. Mediation works among parties when they want to resolve differences outside of formal court proceedings, or when privacy trumps public options for bringing a resolution to a stagnant dilemma requiring attention. Mediation doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a resolution will be achieved but it is a more welcoming approach to address damage control for cases that can easily escalate to aggressive derivatives of an existing problem.

How are the fields of Conflict Resolution and Mediation different? How are they similar?

From observation and professional experience overseeing both circumstances, conflict resolution and mediation both involve respective parties to address their objectives by being heard by one another. The setup can vary if all parties agree to present themselves at the same time and place. Sooner or later they do need to face one another. Conflict resolution can take longer if there are no set deadlines for a resolution to surface with free form discussions taking place.

Mediation is a more time and cost effective measure with a structured approach to guiding involved parties towards an outcome. A third party will likely oversee the mediation therefore there’s less bias with more objectivity present to facilitate the conversations to move forward rather than freeze progress. When a tab is picked up by a select party to oversee these mediations, most participants will remain mindful of their objective and time invested to reach a conclusion.

Can you share a few examples of cases or disputes that would be brought before a professional in conflict resolution or mediation?

The genres of cases and disputes that I’ve worked on entail legal, employee personnel, compliance, financial and licensing issues among a longer list. Some parties in these cases had no choice but to address their differences in court due to the nature of negligence and timelines that require action. People can seek resolutions if they are serious about an outcome. Otherwise it’s best that higher authorities oversee matters when the parties involved choose to not rationalize nor exercise cooperation.

The nature of cases can vary from negligence to concealed fraud which requires time to reveal itself because when such disputes land on our plates, it’s a matter of “when” and not a matter of “if” any of these behaviors in question took place. The lack of cooperation in such cases doesn’t make the problem go away, it only defers the outcome. Conflict resolution and mediation provides all parties the option to rip the bandaid off now or later but the bandaid is coming off!

What are some common misconceptions about conflict resolution and mediation that you’ve encountered, and how do you address them?

There are people that view conflict resolution to be a waste of time. It comes down to how strongly one takes a stand on their matter that is in need of attention. Such activity can pay off if people are mindful of their objective. If the parties lack time management and effective communication skills, it can yield a low ROI for exercising this option. Some people like to talk but fail to listen therefore a breakthrough may not present itself in an organic fashion.

When it comes to mediation, some people view it to be intrusive due to the presence of a third party. They fail to recognize that passing on mediation will only escalate their case to a greater platform which demands more transparency thus bringing uninvited attention. Mediation can be a waste of resources if the participants are lacking the right mindset and desire to achieve a solution.

Unfortunately not everyone who invites conflict and/or serves as the source of conflict is interested in solutions. It’s the latter mindset that has landed them in such circumstances in the first place. I focus my attention on those who recognize they need help on such matters.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers why the skills and tools of Conflict Resolution and Mediation are so important?

Life is filled with many people who present different personalities and thoughts. It’s inevitable to share airspace with any other human being without finding oneself in a difference of opinions. When such differences take place in a personal, social or business setting, the evolution of such thoughts can yield decisions and actions that are challenging to accept.

When the differences translate to challenges that snowball into problems, there’s a need to oversee these circumstances that can become a liability over time. This is where effective communication and listening skills can provide an avenue for exploring solutions to address these gaps in understanding and cooperation. Cooperation doesn’t mean to acquiesce to other perspectives, it simply asks to consider alternative viewpoints for why the other party interprets their reality contrary to one’s view.

Optimally it is encouraged that all involved parties address the conflict resolution among themselves prior to seeking outside counsel and intervention because it’s best, under ideal conditions, the headcount of those involved remains small unless there are additional contributors needed to yield a result.

Looking back, what are some things that you wish you knew when you first started in this field?

I was initially taken aback by the type of personalities who allow their ego to block their clarity in thinking when proceeding with their cases. Some people want to be right at all costs even when they don’t make sense. Then there are those dense personalities who refuse to cooperate because their opinions are meant to be perceived as facts. They’re so dense that I doubt even a lightning bolt can humanize their ability to listen and empathize with an alternative view point.

Among other colorful personalities, there are the manipulative personas who exercise their passive aggressive behaviors to yield outcomes that turn out to be long term disasters. Majority of what I’ve discovered has to do with the human mind and behaviors. People can also surprise you for the better by crafting solutions that can serve as inspiration when working on future cases.

How has your personal background influenced your approach to conflict resolution and mediation?

Based on life and professional experiences, I can say that one approach and solution doesn’t fit all. Life is full of twists and turns. Once you think you have mastered a certain aspect of this craft, there will always be new complex challenges to learn from because people rationalize their decisions in a multitude of ways whether the side effects are positive or negative.

Thus the behaviors that lead to conflict resolution and mediation can feed a permutation with no end in sight. It means we need to address a new case as it’s the first time we’re looking at it rather than assuming all conflicts end the same way.

Remember, a benefit of a doubt needs to be present to address the best outcome, or else those overseeing these cases will embrace a myopic approach to judging cases. This will cheat all parties of a fair and sustainable outcome.

What role does empathy play in the process of conflict resolution and mediation? Can you share an example from your experience?

Since peoples’ life experiences don’t unfold in a simple linear fashion, it’s wise to maintain sensibility when listening and learning about the circumstances relating to the case. Given the context of the conflict, it’s important to remember that not all facts and details will be available when topically assessing the case. People are entitled to their rights of privacy when it comes to different aspects of business, life and the law.

If it’s an employee mediation case, chances are only select parties are privy to the alleged facts. Also a closer deep dive is needed to learn what are these facts, who are the people defining them to be facts and why such facts play a role in a mediation case. The information is only as reliable as the source. I’ve seen entities make up lies to avoid high profile lawsuits and penalties until respective federal and state authorities step into the picture. Conflict resolution and mediation can serve as a blessing or a curse contingent upon who is hosting these measures.

Making assumptions can easily land employers in court because they failed to conduct due diligence. If they pass their assumptions by presenting them as facts, it will yield a happy ending for the wronged party. Such realities force third parties to heed more caution with the battles they pick because they won’t win all of them, especially if the cases are based on false premises.

Viewing life in black and white with no gray spaces will invite more challenges because a professional working in this field can leverage their life experiences rather than adhering to a textbook interpretation of cases (context matters). A rigid personality with already preconceived notions will either deliver premature decisions on these cases; as well will get easily frustrated if they lack patience when working with people.

It can be a rewarding space to serve people. It isn’t an ideal profession for someone who lacks interest in developing their interest in people and life skills.

For someone looking to enter these fields what kind of education and certifications would they need?

I couldn’t help but chuckle the first time I learned that institutions were offering such credentials for conflict management. Life is filled with conflict whether we go seeking it or not. Not all conflict is bad because it challenges us to become better as a society through how we think and perform.

I would recommend focusing on becoming a subject matter expert by pursuing the niche areas where you want to contribute in life and business. Reading books doesn’t count as action. Acquiring certifications will not guarantee you any success if the candidate lacks critical thinking and life skills that require development over time, not in a short lived class session. It comes down to “why” — Why do you want to pursue such education and credentials? What will you do with them? Why?

Seek out the right sources to learn from then apply that knowledge through action and paid opportunities. A person can volunteer for roles but paid opportunities actually hold people accountable for their performance. Most organizations do not pay people for lingering around and not performing. There is a transaction in place that holds each party accountable. It will challenge the participant to learn and grow in the process while upholding their obligations to the third parties.

Observing, listening and reading will not be enough to become an effective contributor in any aspect of life. One needs to apply themselves through additional avenues that forces them to immerse themselves into their craft. My guidance is topical because this is a reality of life regardless of what field one pursues. Whatever you do, refrain from doing it solely for the money because most people check out once they realize the work is demanding yet their heart’s desire is focused elsewhere.

This is our signature question that we ask in many of our interviews. What are your “5 things you need to know to create a successful career in conflict resolution and mediation”?

1 . Continue Learning. Become a student of life because knowledge comes packaged in many different forms. The more you allow yourself to learn from people and life, it will help expand your mental and emotional ability to view life circumstances beyond the three dimensional form. Remain mindful of the knowledge you acquire ensuring there is an objective.

2 . Communication. Learn how to become a better communicator in your life. There’s a difference between the thoughts that reside in our mind versus when we’re engaging with the outside world. We can only become better through practicing.

3 . Learn to listen. Everyone is too busy thinking about what they’ll say next that they overlook what is being said to them. Actively listen while not projecting judgment on what is being shared with you. Learn to become present in the moment. Listening better can offset a handful of communication challenges that are born from the lack of patience and presence of the listener.

4 . Mind your bandwidth. Pay attention to how you fill up your time, space and mind. Maintaining clarity is important to perform well at your job. It is important to maintain sensibility and neutrality when working to serve people that can benefit from your professional skills. Lack of organization in one’s life will bleed into how they subconsciously project their unease onto others. Make sure you are the part of the solution. Do not become part of the problem unless you want to find yourself as the subject of mediation.

5 . Know yourself. Learning to focus starts by developing a better relationship with ourselves. Pay attention to how you thrive in your life performance because those variables can be applied in your career path. Pay attention to life itself — everyone hosts a unique perception. Those experiences can provide insights when helping people with their evolving needs and challenges. You’re not expected to know all the answers but you’re expected to make an effort to explore solutions that can make another party’s life more manageable.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

In the spirit of Spring, I encourage people to organize their lives, even personal spaces, literally from the inside out. Small changes can start from reconsidering habits that welcome contentment. These shifts only require a commitment of time and consistency in one’s path.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers are welcome to visit Sashatalks.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you team for welcoming my insights!

About the Interviewer: Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative. A formal federal employee himself, Mr. Pines began his federal employment law career as in-house counsel for AFGE Local 1923 which is in Social Security Administration’s headquarters and is the largest federal union local in the world. He presently serves as AFGE 1923’s Chief Counsel as well as in-house counsel for all FEMA bargaining unit employees and numerous Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs unions.

While he and his firm specialize in representing federal employees from all federal agencies and in reference to virtually all federal employee matters, his firm has placed special attention on representing Veteran Affairs doctors and nurses hired under the authority of Title. He and his firm have a particular passion in representing disabled federal employees with their requests for medical and religious reasonable accommodations when those accommodations are warranted under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ADA). He also represents them with their requests for Federal Employee Disability Retirement (OPM) when an accommodation would not be possible.

Mr. Pines has also served as a mediator for numerous federal agencies including serving a year as the Library of Congress’ in-house EEO Mediator. He has also served as an expert witness in federal court for federal employee matters. He has also worked as an EEO technical writer drafting hundreds of Final Agency Decisions for the federal sector.

Mr. Pines’ firm is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia. His first passion is his wife and five children. He plays classical and rock guitar and enjoys playing ice hockey, running, and biking. Please visit his websites at www.pinesfederal.com and www.toughinjurylawyers.com. He can also be reached at eric@pinesfederal.com.

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Eric L. Pines
Authority Magazine

Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach