Mediators Facilitate Groups in Conflict
Community mediators are some of our most unsung heroes. These volunteers work day in and day out with people in a range of intractable conflicts – from partners approaching divorce proceedings to landlord and tenant disputes to business deals gone sour. Mediators step in and help the parties find alternatives for moving forward. At the Community Dispute Settlement Center, the oldest community mediation center in Massachusetts, the mediators dedicate their time, energy, and gifts to facilitate challenging conversations among fellow community members. CDSC started to notice an uptick in the number of group (or multi-party) conflicts seeking help. These group facilitations presented unique challenges, and CDSC Executive Director Gail Packer decided her mediators needed training specifically to navigate these challenges.
Public Conversations Project worked with CDSC leadership to design a customized training that would prepare mediators to facilitate multi-party conflicts with greater confidence. “We sent out an email about the training, and we booked two workshops right away,” said Gail. The training focused on intensive preparation, understanding the difference between facilitation and mediation, and confidently navigating in the midst of heated emotions and many voices. The first training was such a success that Public Conversations and CDSC partnered for a follow up workshop the next month. “All the sparks and light-bulbs!” said one participant, adding that the new skills shifted her approach: “I think I will use it to try to take a step back during facilitations and set up an environment where people can solve their own problems.”
“What happened…was magic,” said a workshop participant. One mediation team applied the skills they had gained right away, facilitating a conversation with a group that had been in deep conflict for a number of years. One participant called the mediator, expressing her anxiety about even showing up. With the group facilitation skills she had learned with Public Conversations, the mediator reported that the participants left the room hugging. CDSC continues to do its important work with a new skill-set for greater impact, and Public Conversations has developed the training for community mediators into a program that will spread across the state.
Mediators already have substantial skills and tools that easily translate to facilitating groups in conflict. We really enjoyed working with the energy and expertise of the mediators from CDSC and adding our emphasis on preparing the parties and the context for fresh conversations, while creatively brainstorming the best ways to transfer these emphases to the mediation practice.
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It's put a light over my head to think...anything is possible