Were there techniques you used to help you maintain your impartiality?


Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Anything more you can tell us about maintaining objectivity and impartiality?

Answer:
Well, what I want to emphasize is the extraordinary difficulty for mediators who have any sense of justice to come into a community conflict where racial, or civil rights issues are involved and remain objective when they see clear violations of peopleís rights. Weíve already said there is no need to be neutral, but yet you want to be seen as objective and impartial by the parties, certainly by the establishment party who is accused of perpetrating this violation of rights. This is very hard, especially for younger, newer mediators. But with the passage of time and by being Mediation in our behaviors, we tend to assume less, listen more carefully and empathetically, get a better understanding of where parties are. It becomes easier and more natural to be able to understand where a police chief, a mayor, or a school superintendent is coming from. Thereís not always malice as you sometimes tend to feel coming into a situation, where there has been abuse of a youth in a school or by police. By understanding the broader dimension of what that the police officer is facing, what that police chief or school superintendent is facing, without excusing the behavior, but understanding it better and their dilemma, wishing it hadnít happened. That makes it a bit easier to be objective and at least project yourself with greater objectivity.






Leo Cardenas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

did you ever have a problem with maintaining your own objectivity, impartiality? I'm thinking in terms of if you were ever involved in cases with hate groups, KKK, something like that? Were there times when it was difficult for you to be involved?

Answer:
Yeah, the very nature of who we are, a majority of our staff are minorities and we hire them for that and we all come with a baggage. Baggage because we held offices with certain organizations, or we've been ministers in some cases, and teachers.

Question:
I'm sure there were cases where you weren't able to pull in other people to assist you all the time. So what types of things did you do? What techniques did you use to maintain your impartiality when you weren't able to just bring someone in and have them take over?

Answer:
I think the general route that we would take is that we would begin to withdraw as quickly and honorably as we could. There comes a time when a light goes up and it says I can no longer be of service, and we will begin to identify other people that can serve that dispute.




Bob Hughes


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

In this particular case did you ever have a problem maintaining your objectivity or impartiality?

Answer:
I'm sure I did.

Question:
Do you remember specifically on what issues?

Answer:
Not offhand, I just sit there and bite my tongue. As I point out to them, in the role of the mediator, I may have some feelings, I may have some strong feelings about the right and wrong of what one side is doing. If I state what that is and act in such a way in chairing these sessions, if I seem to be favoring one side or the other, then the other side has one more person on their side and there's no mediator. Therefore, regardless of my feelings, I am of use only if I try to be as objective as possible, and my personal feelings don't have anything to do with it.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Did you ever have a problem retaining your objectivity when you were involved in a conflict?

Answer:
I probably did, but I do not remember it happening. If it happened it was not often. Maybe if my skin was a different color, or my experience was a little different Iíd have more difficulty maintaining my objectivity, but I canít remember a case where I lost my objectivity.

Question:
What about the Nazis?

Answer:
No, that was not a problem. I never took them that seriously as a threat to anything. I tried to be empathic. I had no sympathy for them or what they were doing, but it never prevented me, I think, from doing my work objectively. That doesnít mean I didnít try to advocate a just resolution by helping to empower a racial minority group by, for example, helping it to prepare for a negotiation when they wanted that kind of counsel and if I thought it appropriate.

Question:
Would you work this hard to help the Nazis?

Answer:
I doubt it. That was an exceptional case. I think you obviously lean and bend with who you are, and people in CRS are compassionate and have a high sense of justice and an outrage at injustice, so thatís going to effect your behavior. And yet you have to find that middle ground, if thatís what it is where you can work. If you canít work in the middle, you have to do other kinds of work to fill your needs.

Question:
Aside from Skokie was your impartially ever challenged?

Answer:
Oh Iím sure. I donít remember.

Question:
To your face? Were you accused?

Answer:
Not in a formal mediation, but I canít imagine that over the years and all the things I interacted with that someone wouldnít say, You arenít fair, youíre not impartial.Ē But that happened often. It may well have happened more with my staff, but we fought those things out internally. Thatís natural, I think. Everybody had a high sense of justice and we were all torn by the need to bring about justice and to have the group get what it could, maximize its gains.




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Did you do anything else to deal with power disparities between groups?

Answer:
This was something that I used to talk about with all the parties. The CRS mediator became the fulcrum on this power beam, and I may need to move toward one group or another to keep the balance. We used pre-mediation for coaching and guiding, so as to make it productive when we did get together. This way, we had some substance there and not just emotions. I don't ever want people to think I'm diminishing their emotions. Those are a significant part of it and they need to be shared. But, if you're going to create systemic change, you have to go beyond that. You need to determine where those emotions are coming from and what systems can be managed or changed in order to create positive emotions. I may need to move closer to one group or the other, but that's why I'm doing it. The only danger is if you don't let everybody know that you're doing it, then one group hears about it, and thinks that you're advocating or becoming aligned with that group. You have to be real careful that the group doesn't perceive you as an advocate, but that they know you're coaching and helping for the purpose of everybody. You're offering that same level of service wherever it's needed.






Leo Cardenas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

How did you retain your impartiality while helping to level the playing field, or prepare the parties for negotiation?

Answer:
We identified neutrality (impartiality) as part of the process and a part of the services that we provide. We began using the word impartiality, if my memory again serves me, at about the late 1980's when we began to focus more on table negotiations and looking more at written negotiations. Up until that time, we were doing shuttle diplomacy. We've always felt very comfortable about what we were doing and we had that innate ability to maintain neutrality with both parties. It is only when we looked at it more deeply and we were looking at table negotiations we decided that it's really not true that we're neutral. You're neutral for the process, but you bring certain skills and talents and in certain cases, even your race, and that cannot be neutral. What we say in our training is that if you put a vehicle in neutral, it doesn't go anyplace. It's only when you put it in reverse or put it up on drive that it goes. So, we have a history on this issue. In table negotiations, we explain to the parties that if at any one time they feel that we have crossed the line of impartiality in any way whatsoever, then they need to point that out to us. Once we do that, it doesn't come into the picture that often, or if it comes into the picture, it is on a one-on-one basis. Because they happen to have a different agenda. And so, we're able to quickly learn that it was not our impartiality that was an issue. It was something else that was an issue.




Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

And just like you were saying, "I'm Hispanic, right," so the other side would think I'm biased toward Hispanics. But it was a way of asking the question that does not convey a bias. It's a neutral question and it comes back with what information you need. Instead of saying, "Oh that's a beautiful sky, the sky is blue and it's got some white." Well that's my opinion, I would say, "What do you think about the sky?" Or, "A lot of people think the sky is blue." So it's not me anymore, it's a lot of people, it's somebody else. Then I'm still clean as to my position. It encourages that person to give you their perception without my influencing what he/she is going to tell me. And even just the other day I was dealing with some Native Americans in Houston, talking to one of the tribal leaders. I thought I was being cautious, but then my friend, who is Native American and who I've been working with, was with me and he told me later I should ask the question and then wait for the answer. Don't interrupt. Because those elders are on a different time frame so they're thinking about the response they're going to give you. If you get too anxious for them to talk or if you feel like you're wasting their time, then it takes them off what they were going to say. So you can never get really what they're going to tell you or the answers to whatever you're asking them. More than anything when you deal with different cultures, you have to understand how they absorb information, what is the pace that they work in. So he told me I should wait for the answer, and I should not look at them so much, because they're not going to look back at me. And just let them answer, don't interrupt them. I remember meeting with the Vietnamese back in the fishing days, but much later, a new guy had taken over leadership of the fishermen. But they were having problems with the FCC. The Vietnamese were communicating in the emergency channels and playing music and talking in Vietnamese. The problem is that some of the channels are tied into repeaters, which can broadcast all over the gulf or into the Indian Ocean through repeaters and relay's. So the Vietnamese were jumping into those and they were talking locally. But they're being heard in Russia and India, and jamming the emergency channels. The FCC complained so we talked to the Vietnamese about that and we came up with a training program. I met with the Vietnamese fishing leader. Had a dinner with him and a friend, who had helped me with interpreting and translations for many years, and I told this fishing leader that we were going to have a seminar and we needed to invite the previous Vietnamese leader, who I worked with a lot. The next day my friend calls and says that the new leader doesn't want to invite that old leader. I said, "Well, I already called him and left a message for him that we're going to have this workshop and that he should be there." He says, "No, he doesn't want him there." I said, "Why didn't he tell me? We were there having dinner talking about it." He says, "He considers you too much of a friend to upset you and contradict whatever you're saying. Because it's discourteous to disagree with your friend." In our culture, friends say anything they like. You can tell him/her whatever. There you respect your friendship, and I said, "Now I'm in hot water, I've got to disengage myself from already inviting the other guy. If he had told me then I would not have even started the invitation. What should I have done?" He said, "You should've explained the problem the way you saw the problem and asked, would a workshop be okay? Who should be invited?" In other words he would come up with who should come. But in that culture, the friendship got in the way, and it should be the opposite. So we learned.



Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Do you portray yourself as neutral when you talk to the groups?

Answer:
No one expects you to portray yourself as neutral if you come into a situation where everybody knows there are inequities. Itís not necessary if you can project yourself as objective, understanding, and empathic. We were called upon to help communities resolve problems, and empowering is part of that. You could do that legitimately and appropriately without violating your objectivity or impartiality. You bend and you lean, but I think everybody understands that.







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