Ground Rules

Rinaldo Rivera


First thing is we've got to get ground rules straight. And the ground rules will be around who will do the talking, who will be their representatives that will be speaking, will those people be present for all the sessions, and then what some of the kinds of the concerns that they have are that they would like to address in some kind of prioritized order. While it doesn't move to single text, you're trying to negotiate and trying to get them as close to single text beforehand. Which means that at least each set of parties in the conflict will have it's set of concerns. Surprisingly enough a lot of them wind up overlapping much of the time. Surprisingly enough to the parties in the conflict anyway. So, then you need to introduce the ways in which the mediation sessions will take place and the fact when CRS does formal mediation, it's our process. It's not somebody else's process. The extent that you want CRS to participate means that it will be CRS's process and not anyone else's. If they aren't comfortable with that then we are happy to identify someone else, but when we move to formal mediation it's done in a very standard and particular way by CRS. The other one is that there will be no media contacts during the mediation, and it's agreed, except with us, at CRS. Now that doesn't always happen that way, but that's what we insist upon if there is going to be media contact that it's going to be with us so that we can talk about where things are at without putting things that are in the mediation process out in the public. Those are the basics, the ground rules; who the representatives are, consistency over time, identifying the substantive issues, what the CRS and mediator's role is going to be, and then how does that rule interact with the media. That all goes into the preparatory sessions. The other part that goes into meeting with the aggrieved parties and community groups tends to be while you're listening to these long meetings and their concerns about others, whether or not if you say it that way is that the most effective way to bring your point out.



Nancy Ferrell


I was the facilitator. They each had an opportunity to express their opinions about what we needed to be dealing with, as far as bringing the issues out to the table, and then validating that with everybody, because we couldn't deal with everything. Prioritizing those issues and building a consensus around the table about what issues we were going to deal with, so from the very beginning I was teaching them what I do. The next time an issue came up, they had been through the process and I had basically facilitated, but coached and modeled that behavior as we went along. The main thing is keeping the environment safe for everybody, so that nobody was diminished and that was always one of my ground rules. They were obviously able to create other ground rules that they felt like were important once we validated the issues and began hammering out responses to it.

In the context of the discussions, we need to keep people safe. If one or the other starts taking somebody on, then you stop that. You say, "remember we're talking about how you feel." If you let one of them diminish or take the other one on, then the environment is not safe anymore. Once the group realizes that you are going to manage that, then they feel safe and they respond to it. That's power. If you let one party overpower the others, you can't have mediation. That technique was part of it. It was again a delicate balance because you as the mediator can't put anybody down either. And that's where the ground rules come in. I establish ground rules, like we diminish no one, everyone's opinion is respected, no name calling, no use of profanity. Then whatever those ground rules are, when someone violates that and starts cussing at Joe, I can say, "Susie, remember you agreed that you wouldn't use profanity, you agreed that you wouldn't call names, and I'm going to have to ask you to honor that." I'm not the bad person, or the parent. I'm the one that reminds them of what they've agreed to and it feels a whole lot different then if I'm going around and pointing fingers. If that doesn't work, then I caucus with them. If a caucus doesn't work, I ask the other party if they want to continue but I won't allow it to get out of hand. I think I've violated the confidence that people had that I was going to keep it safe. Police chiefs seem to be especially concerned about it. They don't want to come to some meeting and let people chew them up and my assurance to them is I'm not going to let that happen. People may vent their feelings or their frustrations and they need to do that, but it won't be personal. But if I violated that then I violated my trust. Those were the kinds of steps that I used to honor that. The most important thing is that they buy into some behavioral ground rules that I can call them back to.

Question:
Do you suggest these ground rules before you start or do you develop them with the parties?

Answer:
I develop them with the parties. "Diminish no one," was always one that I used for myself and for them. Generally they would come up with something similar, but if they didn't I would add that. I let them develop the ground rules. I would ask, "What's it going to take to make this successful?" Then I list what they have come up with. Every meeting, I bring them back and put them up in some fashion.

Question:
Do you ask those questions in group session or do you ask before the group session when you're meeting individually?

Answer:
Individually, because that's part of the setting and setting the mode. I would talk about expectations and ground rules, and it helps them understand that I really do have a plan. That's part of the confidence. They would've been thinking of it ahead of time, and in the group they're prepared for that. But everybody buys into it at one time. We'd go back to the issues, we'd develop the issues again, and all of us validate and affirm these are the ones that we're going to deal with first, and there may be some that are inappropriate. They're great issues but they're not appropriate for this context. And they need to be referred to somebody else. That happens individually, but then it happens again when the group's together. We start working on ways of responding to those things.



Will Reed


Question:
Do you set any ground rules for what can or cannot be said?

Answer:
Well you try to keep that to a minimum. When you start talking about ground rules, you're sitting there like you're the master. So you set a few ground rules, but you want to be careful. I was always skeptical with the term "ground rules" simply because I didn't want to be placed in the situation where I'm coming across as some kind of master. Militant groups, poor people, a lot of times, they're used to that. People coming down on them about, "Well, I'm in charge." They hear that so much that it's incredible. So when you're going to set ground rules, they have a tendency to not to want to cooperate. These folks sitting over there, they're used to all that bureaucratic baloney about this and that, so I try to give the folks a break. Let them say what the heck they've got to say, in the way they've got to say it. You're going to get more cooperation the next day than you can shake a stick at. Because they're going to see you as a person and as a human being. Once they see you as a human being, you'll be surprised. They'll tell you more stuff than you can imagine. But if you're thinking that you're some kind of structure expert, you won't get anywhere.

Question:
However, if you don't direct the conversation at all, are you going to get there? What do you do if people start screaming at each other?

Answer:
What happens is, you can become the enforcer. There are times when you do have to ask people in a nice way, "Look, can we get past this?" Or words to that effect. And they'll cooperate with you, if you have allowed them to be themselves at one occasion or another. That's called respect. And once you've got that, you can say anything. You really can. You can say almost anything to the people at the table to the point where they will calm down. Where they will see that they're making some progress. But if this group over here is expecting you to be their enforcer, you can forget it. That's the way I see it, at least. You're not going to get anything done. Because they're going to see over here, "Hey. Just what we thought. He's the establishment," or what have you. And then they're going to shut down. Haven't you ever seen that before? They shut right down. So the thing to do is to try to maintain at least some degree of equilibrium, because they're going to test you. They are going to test you, number one, by being loud and aggressive and uncontrollable a little bit, okay? And the establishment isn't going to want to put up with it. Really, it becomes a hassle just getting everybody to the table. Getting these people here, the cops or whomever, you've got at the table. The community group expects to get dumped on and the establishment thinks that this is a bunch of BS because you're meeting with a bunch of savages down here. And when it's over with, that's what they go in and say. And so how do you get some sincerity going on? You want to flush out all of that. In other words, as a mediator, as far as I'm concerned, I'm flushing all of that BS out. I'm going to make sure if I can, that I do not come across as someone who is anxious to set the ground rules. And what I say about the ground rules is going to be something that's going to be not typical, so that the minority people won't think "Here we go again." And the establishment won't sit there and think "You tell him, boy." I despise that. So I'm not going to fall into it. And I never did.



Silke Hansen


So I lay the groundwork for there being some anger. I hate to call it "venting," because to me "venting" sounds too patronizing. I don't want to be allowed an opportunity to vent; I want to be allowed an opportunity to be heard. So, even though the term "venting" might apply, I avoid that word because it does sound patronizing to me. It has undercurrents of, "They're just spouting off, and they really have nothing to say." In most cases they have a lot to say, but they've never been allowed to say it and be heard before. Once both parties understand this process and it's really part of the ground rules or at least the "ground expectations" that's going to make the process much more effective. If I explain this to the institution, they'll understand that. .... In terms of a community, they require a lot more ground rules, a lot more preparation, in terms of how they're going to operate at the table. ....

Question:
Do you set the ground rules before you get to the table, or is that something that you do once you get to the table?

Answer:
I do a little bit of both. Some I will set rules beforehand, but then I will ask at the table if they have any more that they'd like to add. But the parties are relying on me to control the process. They really want that. Usually, these groups have encountered each other before and gotten absolutely nowhere, and both think it's because the other side was out of control. So an important piece of what I'm providing here, aside from any mediation skills, and my help identifying interests and the kind of things that you and I might talk about, is that I make sure that the process is not going to get out of control. "Trust me. They're not going to be able to roll you over. I'm in control." And I try to demonstrate that from very early on. That's probably just my style. I know there are other mediators who are much more easy-going, kind of laissez-fare from the beginning. I start fairly controlling; I hold the reins fairly tightly. As I see that progress is being made, I loosen up. It can get to the point where they almost don't need me anymore, and that's fine. It's almost like being a classroom teacher which I've never been, by the way but if you don't take control at the beginning, then it's going to be very difficult to get it later. So I start off controlling.

Question:
How do you do that?

Answer:
Oh, just things like not letting somebody interrupt, making sure that if one side has spent some time speaking, then the other side has a chance to respond to that, designating where people are going to sit, and then enforcing the ground rules.

Question:
And what are the basic ground rules?

Answer:
The most important ones are: confidentiality, not interrupting, focusing on the issues, no name-calling, that kind of thing. Also, if somebody says something that is either very esoteric, or something where I am really not sure that the other side knows what was just being said, I'll play the dummy. I'll ask questions, so everyone understands what is going on. To some extent you can see that you need to do that by watching body language. You can tell when people are confused or angry. Also, if the community starts making accusations that "so-and-so is racist," rather than just leaving it at that, I'll ask, "Well, can you explain what kinds of things they do that you see as racist?" So, we immediately get beyond the labeling to the problem-solving. Or, if the institution starts talking about their budget restrictions or throwing around the alphabet soup and so-on, if I even slightly believe that they're blowing smoke, I'll make them define it or explain it. "What does that have to do with the discipline policy? Why is there a connection there? What would you then need to be able to deal with that?" So they don't just throw out a lot of regulations and guidelines and procedures without explaining why that's important. I do this so we keep getting back to the problem we're trying to solve, and get away from who's right and who's wrong.


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