Were you able to increase trust levels between parties? How did you do this?


Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

How did you help one party understand or accept the other party?

Answer:
That's a very detailed process. You can't do it collectively, in a group, you've got to do it a person at a time or two people at a time. You try to get them to realize that their common objective is greater than their little personal differences. That they can do more together than they can using all their energy, time, and talents opposing one another. You try to get to the point where everybody in a community says, "Let's start trying to find a way that we can cooperatively address the problem." Just start with a few and then invite another person. Some people say, "No, as long as so-and-so is involved with them I won't come. You don't know that SOB, and you don't know what they've done to me, and done to my father. They've never been any good." I'll meet with them and say, "You know, never's a long time but can you imagine what's going to happen if you refuse to meet and what could result if you do meet? How much is doing nothing going to benefit those little boys and girls out here in the street today?" He said, "You know, you don't plant a tree today to enjoy the shade. You plant a tree where someone else will enjoy the shade. You are going to have to understand that. I said, "Can you really afford to be that selfish or that concerned about something that you didn't have any control over?" I said, "I'm not defending that person, you may be absolutely right. But I'm going to be here with you as long as that person is going to do what we all agreed to do. I'm not going to leave you."




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

In the situations that you're describing now, in the minority groups and the mainstream groups, were you ever able to increase the trust levels between the two? You describe a situation where the establishment believes that all members of this minority community are dumb. Were you ever able to reverse that?

Answer:
I'm so glad you asked me that question. Because if you do a little research even today, 1999, you'll find that as a result of the mediation programs, my mediation in a lot of cities around the region, activities are going on that are demonstrating that thing right now. Let me give you an example. The Blue Sky Interaction Agency, Indian Action Council. Guess who the chairman was for years? The police chief. And it was the police chief simply because of the fact that he began to fall right into things and the trust level was developed to the degree that they elected him the first president of the group. Now this group was a result of a mediation. There was a mediation between city officials, community activists, and community leaders. After the mediation, they agreed they needed some way to keep channels of communication open. Before then, the city of Big Sky had never had a mechanism by which the channels of communication would remain open between the Indians and the city administration. So what do you do? They decided that they needed some kind of organization that will address these issues and keep communication open by meeting periodically with city officials and community leaders. This was a proposal. Somebody said, "Well then. What do you call this group?" "Well, we don't know what we'll call it, but it's a good idea that we come together monthly and sit down and discuss these issues that will keep us from becoming hostile toward one another. We'll call it the Blue Sky Indian Action Council." Guess how long that's been in existence? Twenty five years. And it keeps the door and channels of communication open. That was a result of the mediation session.




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What about building trust between the parties, how do you go about doing that?

Answer:
I think a number of different ways. If I can actually get them to the mediation table and get them to where they are actually listening to each other, then it is actually embarrassing how easy it is to reach an agreement among the parties. That's because in most cases, they have never really done that before. They have talked at each other and yelled at each other, and they've said things about each other to the media and so on, but they have never really listened and responded and then listened again. So once they actually hear what some of the needs and what some of the obstacles are that each of them faces, and once they talk to real individuals and not "those people" or "those administrators," it just comes to a whole different level. There are certainly cases where the two parties never get to a point where they trust each other; there are also cases where the parties agree to trust each other only because I'm there. Even in those cases, though, they each agree to do something and that is a step in the right direction. So, you know, I am not going to pretend that the parties suddenly become "good buddies" and live happily ever after just because Silke Hansen was in town. But at least they have grappled with one particular aspect of their conflict, and in that regard they have a better relationship than they had before. That's a step in the right direction.

Question:
Would you say that having trust between you and the parties is more important than having the parties trust each other?

Answer:
Ultimately, my objective is to have them trust each other, but I think it is difficult to accomplish that if they don't trust me first. I am the one who is trying to arrange the situation in such a way that they can trust each other, so I mean if I had to choose between the parties trusting me and the parties trusting each other, I would choose the latter, because that is, after all, what we are working toward. And although my ego likes being massaged as much as anybody's, I like thinking that people trust me. That doesn't do me any good, though, unless they ultimately end up trusting each other. But I think one grows out of the other.

Question:
Can you be an effective mediator if the parties don't trust you?

Answer:
I guess it depends. My immediate response would be no, but I guess it would really depend on why they didn't trust me. If there is just some hesitation at first about whether or not they can trust me, that's one thing. If they don't trust me for a particular reason, that's different. I think that if they have a particular reason that they might not trust me beyond, "Can you trust any white women?" it might be difficult. But if it's just, "We're not sure, but what the heck -- we will give it a chance," well, that situation has possibilities. I can think of one mediation in particular: The case was in court when I was contacted. The judge called me and asked and of course it was the one day I came to work in jeans if I could go to court that afternoon. I said, "Sure, no problem," and then I had to decide whether to go shopping over lunch or go home and change. I decided that shopping would be much more fun; plus, I was closer to the store than I was to home. So I went shopping so that I would look semi-respectable going into court. Anyway, I was ultimately asked if I would be willing to mediate this particular case. I had some familiarity with both parties I had, in fact, mediated a case in that community seven years earlier, involving some of the same people. I found out later that some of the institution representatives had felt a little bit as if they were forced into that first agreement, so there wasn't a lot of trust at that point on the part of the institution. They expected that I would bully them into an agreement; on the other hand, their only other choice at the time was court. The community wasn't very optimistic, either -- they didn't believe that mediation would be very useful with that particular institution, because the institution was too hard-nosed, racist and inflexible, so they had very low expectations. Nevertheless, when the judge asked the parties if they'd be willing to mediate, neither party wanted to appear to be the unreasonable one. So they both said, "Sure." That ended up being a fairly long mediation, but they did reach agreement. The attorneys then prepared the settlement agreement and so on, which was an outgrowth of the mediation agreement. The institution representative came up to me -- this was either near the end of the mediation or right afterward -- and said, "Silke, when we started I didn't have any confidence in you at all, because I had heard such-and-such. This really worked well, though, and thank you for helping us on this." That person seemed very positive and appreciative of what I had done during that particular mediation process, so it was interesting.




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Let's talk a little bit more about the issue of power disparity between the parties, and CRS's role as a neutral. Even though you say you are a neutral, you also, in a sense, try to empower the low-power group, do you not? How do you balance that?

Answer:
If you mean how do I justify that, let's start with that piece first. Very easily, because I don't think I can do an effective job of mediating between two parties if there isn't some balance there. So unless I help bring about that balance, mediation won't work. Of course, you can't necessarily assume that because one side is a minority community that it's the powerless community. That's another issue. But let's assume that, in fact, there is a power imbalance. Unless I can help balance that, and empower each party to effectively participate at the mediation table, we're not going to have an effective, successful mediation. So I explain that to the institution and I offer pre- mediation training to both sides. I also use that as a way to help each of the parties identify what their interests and concerns are, and what they hope to get out of this process. Sometimes, that's particularly important for the institution, because they often start out from the perspective of, "Okay, how much do they want, and how much of that are we going to give them?" They rarely think in terms of, "What do we want, and how much of that are we going to get?" The reality is that they usually do want something from the community, so this helps them become aware of that. This is another trust-building mechanism as well because I'm acknowledging that, "You need things too! What is it that you want? What is it that you're looking for?" I want to make sure that both sides are heard and that we can talk about how each side's needs can be met. I also let the institution know that it's in their best interests to have a well-trained, capable party on the other side because it will be easier to deal with and negotiate with them if they are capable. Part of what the institution is afraid of is that they will have a group of ranting, raving maniacs on the other side that they can't communicate with. So part of what I'm providing is some security, some format which is reasonable from their perspective. I may say to the institution, "Now, you understand that party A is angry and they're going to need to express that. But trust me, we're going to get beyond that, and get to problem- solving." 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.




Martin Walsh


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

The most important one, I thought, was the monthly reports by the chancellor in the campus newspaper to detail what was taking place.

Question:
Whose idea was that?

Answer:
I think in our preliminary discussions there was always a question of good faith.

Question:
Preliminary between the parties, or meeting alone with the parties?

Answer:
Meeting alone because the concern was this whole lack of confidence. They continued to say, "We don't trust you, you've promised these things in the past." We talked with them about it and the students met separately because I think it would have inhibited any good faith negotiations and discussions. I don't know who put it on the table, but it became the way of satisfying everyone that there would be progress reports. We didn't want to build ourselves into something that we would have problems complying with.




Martin Walsh


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Will you comment on building trust between the parties?

Answer:
I think that's one of the critical things that the mediator has to do and I think getting the parties to be willing to sit down is the first step. Once you get people to sit down, with the proper facilitation people get to realize that the others are not that bad. Even in some of the worst situations of chiefs of police and community distrust, where some very negative things were said about the chiefs, once they start meeting with the people, hearing their complaints, hearing their stories and hearing them out, they change and progress can be made.

Question:
Do you have an example?

Answer:
The one in Chelsea. The chief had all kinds of problems. At first he didn't want to go into this process. But the type of relationship that he built with the community group was very positive, with the Hispanic leadership and some of their allies. It was a major change of his perspective. Also in the example that I gave at UMass in Amherst. An excellent relationship developed there. The chancellor and the students ended up talking to one another and phoning one another.






Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

This is one of my favorite examples of how the whole relationship between parties changes over the course of the mediation process, so that mediated agreement isjust a small part of the change. I think that one of the most important outcomes of a successful mediation isn't so much the agreement, but the changed relationship which makes that agreement possible. These negotiations took close to a year, and the closer we got toward the actual agreement, the more the minority community was willing to accept terms like "the company will attempt to," as opposed to "the company promises that." The company had been able to persuade them that they were serious in terms of keeping their promises. The community group got to the point where the company could say, "Look, we're going to make every effort and here is the effort that we will make," and the community organization or minority coalition accepted that because they had reached a trust level at that point that certainly had not been there at the beginning.



Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

You talked about how you build trust with the parties. How about building trust between the parties?

Answer:
Well, I think agreement is that process.






Leo Cardenas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What about getting trust not just between you and the parties, but between the parties themselves? Like between the minority groups and the majority groups. Presumably at the beginning of these conflicts there's a high level of distrust. What did you do?

Answer:
The biggest obstacle for us is gaining the trust of the minority group, because there's distrust among themselves, first of all. Despite the fact they have years of history, they don't come together that often. So what we find is that they don't really know each other as well as they think they do. And as I mentioned before, their share of time to give to the dispute or to give to the community, is very small. So we work a lot within the group itself so that it can coalesce and it can focus on the issues.




Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

What about trust between the parties?

Answer:
I guess it's pretty much the same. They test each other out. If they establish a working relationship based on whatever they're going to do together, then the process itself begins creating this trust among them. You can't just say, "Hey trust me." They never have total trust, especially if there's been a history of mistrust, but a lot of times that mistrust is based on misunderstanding, or lack of understanding. So through a process it creates an opportunity for trust.




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

To answer your question about the proof that that trust level had been developed was that in some cases, the minority community, and in this case, the Indian community, elected someone they supported to be president of that organization. He served for about five or six years. Then somebody else served. But the idea was that this was ongoing. Here's a communication mechanism that remained open all of these years and it couldn't help but to serve to diffuse tensions as they existed throughout the country.



Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

The greatest leadership qualities came out in some of these cellblocks. Young men encouraging their fellow inmates to participate, "This is your chance to have a word, a say on how this place in run, they implored. We found that the prison residents wanted more then anything else, to get out of the box, and this election would give them the chance to get out of their cells. Also, they want to confront "the man." They were going to sit across the table. They were going to elect their representatives, they were going to caucus, set up agendas. They all finally came together when we had everything set. They had the elections, paper ballots, the whole bit. It worked. The place was just running like a top at this point. There was a high level of anticipation and then the group started working on their agendas.

Question:
All the groups together?

Answer:
No, they insisted on doing it separately. There was no trust between them. You maybe could bring the Indians and the Hispanics together, but every group insisted on working on their own.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
What did you do to diminish tensions between the parties?

Answer:
When we entered, tensions were exceedingly high. I could observe no level of trust whatsoever. The game for inmates was to taunt the corrections officers, who didn't want to be there in the first place, but had to be there because that was their job. Many of the inmates didn't resent every counselor, but they wanted to make life for most of them as unhappy as they could, and they were masters in brinkmanship. There was no trust at those levels, and between inmates there was no trust between groups. During the course of mediation, when people were talking and began listening, tensions were eased. Within the reformatory, the parties at the table had to learn to know each other a little better. There was some transformation as they listened and there was credibility to what was being said. Everybody has certain basic needs including being acknowledged and understood. Those instances that I cited, with the salsa and the hairnet, guards and administrators came to see that the inmates were bright, at times eloquent. The inmates got a sense and understanding of why the place was run the way it was. Some of it was unforgivably sloppy and poor. But there were reasons why there had to be twice as many guards on a given hour, during the head count, and there were reasons why there wasn't more visiting space. So they were able to understand each other's problems and that eased tensions.






Julian Klugman


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Answer:
We're talking about problem solving, we're talking about solving the problems they've agreed on. I mean you're a facilitator, that's where you're encouraging the Asian kids to talk. If you've got a kid who talks too much, you hold it down. I'm bringing a lot of skills, small group skills into that situation. I don't talk a lot when I'm facilitating. I'm hearing, I'm focusing, they talk a lot.







Copyright © 2000-2007
by Conflict Management Initiatives and the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado