Was timing of the discussions critical? Did you ever need to wait or hurry up in order to get people to come together?


Bob Hughes


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Scholars sometimes use the term "ripeness." Have you heard that term, where we talk about the situation being ripe for mediation, the parties are ready to come to the table? Or not being ripe? Did you ever try to make an assessment of what contributes to ripeness and lack of ripeness?

Answer:
Well, in particular, I don't know about trying to make any purposeful assessment. The timing in coming to the table is a factor in every mediation. Unfortunately, because of the pressure of cases and the geography, I was working all the way from Barrel, Alaska, to Poketo, Idaho, in the same period. And with the geography involved, and the travel involved, and the lack of money to travel, there was always modified ripeness. If I can't be there, it doesn't matter if it's ripe or not, I can't be there. And I try to get the parties to hold off if they are ready. On the other hand, I'm not sure what else I can say about ripeness. But, I think ripeness is a very valid concept. What we should never do is rush mediation, when the parties simply aren't ready, even though we have time available and we are in the area. Because it's not ripe, we shouldn't do it. There's another area that you haven't touched on, that is, to me very important, and that is the idea of peaceful resolution of an issue versus pacification. Some mediators will be willing to pacify a situation, develop a superficial mediation agreement which really doesn't deal with the main issues -- but has the effect of diverting attention, or diluting attention and commitment -- and it's unfair, usually to the community group. I think you'd be more likely to dilute and divert community organizations rather then governmental institutions, or larger majority institutions.




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
You have referred a couple of times now to "the dance”. You've had a really nice description of mediation as a dance that you're now referring to but haven't put on tape. Do you remember how you put it before, can you tell us again?

Answer:
I came up with the imagery in the middle of a mediation one time, sitting around a table. Because of the dynamics of what was going on, I realized that I was kind of having to move back and forth with the parties with where they were with their anger and frustration, with the establishment's sense of indignation, and trying to move with them and keep them moving toward the goal that I had. That goal was for them to begin to talk to each other. I realized that when mediation and conflict resolution is really working well, the mediator can go in with the skills he or she has, but listen to the parties and move with them on their level of info, frustration, indignation, whatever that is, empathizing with and understanding them, whatever their mood or tune, or dance is at that time. If you're not willing to dance with them, they're not going to trust you. They'll play my tune later if I've danced with them. But if I haven't been willing to dance with them they're not willing to play my tune, they're not going to go with me, when I want to take them somewhere. I think that kind of movement is what captures me when I'm thinking about mediation. It's exciting. You go in, and some people are just doing the tango and you've gotta go with that. You're trying to get them to some harmony, maybe a waltz. I don't know music that well, which is kind of interesting that I use that imagery, but it just fits so well for me. When I teach mediation, I use that imagery with new students, you have to be willing to understand where the parties are. Think about it in terms of being willing to dance with them. You may not enjoy the rumba, but if that's where they are, you're going to have to start there and then move with them and get them to where they trust you enough to take the rhythm that you've got going for the mediation.






Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

The police chief was the mainstay in that involvement and it was a very, very slow process. From the time that the riots occurred to the time that we got together with the community folk, up to the time that the community folks said, "Let's eat," up to the time that the community said, "Let's do something with Compton," it took months. As a matter of fact, it took maybe a year and a half.

Question:
How did you work through those slow times?

Answer:
Contacts. Contacting them. Also, going in there for other reasons. There were other reasons. Like visiting old friends. For example, one of the co-chairpersons taught at a community college. I would visit with her at the school, go to lunch with her. I'd meet with the chief. Do the same thing -- go to lunch, drink coffee, meet with one of the insurance brokers who was part of that discussion group. You've just got to keep contact. Otherwise, it just isn't going to happen. They've got to see your face around. That's the key thing to a lot of involvements. If I see a strange face, as a community person, you're going to need a longer time to begin to deal with me than the person who's always around, who I know who he is and what he's doing or what he's done. So you just go there and it begins.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I remember scheduling a mediation for the opening day of duck hunting season. Only a fool plans any business in rural Minnesota on that day. But nobody alerted me.



Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
In either of those cases, the case where the community needs more power, or the authority group doesn't want to come to the table, who makes that decision, them or you?

Answer:
Them. I never make that decision. If we see something is a problem, we won't propose a certain action. If you know there's a municipal election coming up in a month, and this is a critical election issue, you would not likely suggest that people come to a mediation table where there will be visibility in the community at that point. You might do something else and then after the election take a fresh look at it.

Question:
If you felt like coming to the table would undermine valuable protest activity, but the group who was protesting seemed okay with it, would you go ahead?

Answer:
Oh sure. You work with the group. I mean, you do a reality check like you do in any mediation. Typically though, community groups have smarts and they have good counsel. You can always help them with that too, by putting them in touch with people who can give them guidance. People sometimes say that mediation stifles the protest activity. In my experience I've found that to be theoretical and not real. You're usually dealing with pretty astute people who have been fighting in a battle for survival and now want to take the next step. They will ask, and they are prepared to make their own decisions. Now, sometimes they may not see the advantage of coming to the table, because they get locked in on a given issue on which they feel they can't prevail. "We can never do anything with that mayor, that chief, with that superintendent."




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

That was part of the dance, or knowing where the parties were, and were they ready to move on to the next step? Were they ready to sit down at the table and begin to negotiate, or did they still need to vent more? Did they still need to say that the administration was useless, or that the students just wanted their way, or were they prepared now to sit down and talk?






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