What role does listening play in your work?


Bob Ensley


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I try to bring little groups together and let them talk, and I listen. I mean you don't just sit there, you gotta listen to what people are saying. Then sometimes it's important to realize what's not being said. You just go on from that point. Once you get them together, that jump-starts the process. They'll suggest to you what steps you need to take. And then, we all start moving as one in that direction. Not the Justice Department, not Bob Ensley, but all of us. And we begin to pick up people along the way, you know, who are supportive. But keeping in mind that you only go as far as a community's going to permit you to go.



Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So what I did the first time I went there, I went to the dock I just sat there for two hours, to try to understand what makes a person be here, when they could be doing some other job. I just asked them why. I showed an interest in their situation, in their lives. It's just human interaction. We're all human beings, so they see my humanity and I see their humanity. Now we can work. I can't just go up and say, "Hey, I'm from the government and I'm here to help you," you know that old line. When you walk into a sheriff's office let's say, you walk differently. Wear my other boots, the ones that make a sound, they're more like semi cowboy boots, wear my suit, pinstripe probably, blue tie, walk in there like you belong. Take a different position, ask some tough questions, but in a very friendly manner, and at some point they'll know you're not there to investigate them. You're not there to prosecute them, you're not there to do them harm so that they have to watch out and look out and be careful what they tell you. The more comfortable they feel with you, the more they'll tell you. That's the only way to help them because you have to understand their reality. Their reality from their point of view. That's the only way you can understand them, to try to help them resolve their own problems.



Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

M1030>

Question:
Do you teach people how to listen?

Answer:
Well you model behavior. I have counseled people to "try to listen and let them know you care,Ē but I donít lecture them. I think if people arenít listening, they pay the price and they learn that way.

Question:
So when one side says, "No I wonít sit down with them, they wonít listen,Ē you donít go to the other side and say, you need to listen?

Answer:
No, no, thatís not my role. Iím not saying I wouldnít do that, but I didnít experience that.

Question:
If one side said that they wouldnít meet with the other side, did you let it lie?

Answer:
No, I would respect their decision, but I certainly would explore further. I might ask why, and I might not get an answer. It might be rational or might not be. There are times when you shouldnít sit down with another party, and I respect that. Either party may not be able to do it for political reasons, or to strengthen their position, they may need time, they may have an internal problem within their constituency. I may not be able to be seen by the public meeting with this group. My contract may be up next week. Sometimes I will counsel people to wait until doing things, to consider that, but no, I would not push them. I would explore with them why and let it rest with them. I also know the dynamics of a conflict changes and people change their minds.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Do you want to talk any more about empathy? I know that it is a topic that has concerned you considerably in the past.

Answer:
Well, it hasnít concerned me, but itís been paramount because my view is what we wrote in our textbook, what we found, what we learned, what we know is how you listen and the ability to listen is extremely important. That means listening, not only to obtain information, but with empathy. To reflect back to the other party is critical. Itís critical in dealing with any emotional situation and virtually every civil rights conflict we entered a strong emotional component: anger, rage, disappointment, hurt, fear. To be able to listen with empathy, reflecting back to the party that you understand what they are saying and how they feel about it, not being critical, suspending judgment, not interrupting and those types of behaviors, all learnable skills, are absolutely critical to be consistently effective in this work. I remember John Chase telling me, when he was the regional director in Philadelphia, of a public housing case where the tenants were protesting over the construction of a highway through their neighborhood. The community got very little satisfaction in this case, but later one of the community leaders came up to John and thanked him, saying, "Since this problem began, you were the only one who listened to what we had to say.Ē I sort of caught that when John told me that story. So I started collecting stories like this. I have some other instances where mediators have gotten feedback from parties who really didnít get a whole lot out of the mediation, or did, coming back and saying "At least you listened.Ē Typically, a mediator in a standard conflict is the only one who is going to sit and listen to the whole story. This obviously builds trust, which is critical, and the most important component for the mediator. It opens up a party to talk more, so you get the information that you need because information is what you need in any negotiation. Empathic listening is the most important skill a mediator brings to this work.




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I went into a small community in Texas and I can't even remember what the triggering incident was, probably police use of force, I'd have to look back. When I got there we were in a community center and there were about fifty people there. I said, "Just talk to me. What are your concerns?Ē Within about an hour, I realized there were people there who were concerned about the school district, the police department, there were four different interest groups, and I just divided them up in the room. Everyone that's most interested concerns in the school district, go in that corner. Everyone that's more interested in police here, city government here, contracting here. And just divided them up and it turned out to be a five-prong community conflict resolution kind of thing. So we were dealing with just about every major system in that city. But I didn't know that when I got there.



Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

In terms of mediation, you would need an absolute commitment to the belief that people really can be empowered to solve their own problems. My best skill is to facilitate that. Being a good listener is important. You don't know the tune if you don't listen. If you don't listen to them, both emotionally and verbally, then you don't know what dance to start with. If you can't empathize with people, with integrity, I don't think you can be a good mediator. Again, it doesn't mean that I agree with what your saying, but with genuineness, I can say that I understand. That's where the trust comes from, when people can hear me and trust that I really do understand. That in itself diffuses the potential for violence more than anything. Just the fact that they've been heard and understood. By anybody.

Question:
Even by somebody who can't do something?

Answer:
Yeah. It's an incredible gift to people to be able to truly understand what they're feeling. "I understand what you're saying. I understand you're hurt. I understand where you're coming from." How can they trust me to communicate in parties if they can't see in me some empathy for their position.




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So I have found that just spending time listening and understanding what some of their problems are goes a long way towards developing some credibility with the institutional representative. Eventually, they begin to think, "You know, maybe this woman really can help me." So then they are willing to give it that chance. I am thinking of one case that involved a small, rural community. I spent a long time there talking with and mostly listening to the sheriff. I think that he was really surprised that a government official wasn't there to clobber him. He was really surprised that I understood him. I said, "You know, one of the things that I have learned in this work is that law enforcement personnel in some of these small rural communities face challenges that New York and Los Angeles and Denver never even think about. It's hard doing law enforcement here." He was astounded that I understood that. "Hey, here is somebody who understands what I'm up against!" One of their biggest frustrations is that they are not New York or Denver or Los Angeles, so what works in the big cities might not work for them, but most people don't understand that. I don't need to agree with him or what he is doing, but if I just have a sympathetic ear and recognize that I need to understand his perspective as well as the minority community's perspective then that's a big step in the right direction. The importance of really listening is sometimes underrated. Maybe I mentioned this before, but in one really major conflict I was involved in, I really wasn't sure how much of a difference I had made in the overall scheme of things. But one of the things I was told near the end of that case was, " Silke, you at least listened." Generally, people don't do that. I have heard that many times since. Even in cases where there really wasn't a whole lot I could do and it was hard to say where mediation might be useful, if a community actually felt listened-to and not just ignored, swept aside or totally disregarded, that has made a huge difference! That is part of what I try to get across to each of the parties. If, in fact, it might go toward mediation or some similar method of resolving some of those local tensions, I ask both sides to just listen to what the other is saying. "I am not asking you to agree, or cave in, but just hear what they are saying and what their concerns are. You might even have some solution for them that they didn't even think of. But first, just listen." It's amazing how important that is to people in conflict. Part of what intensifies the conflict and violence potential in many cases is that people think that they are not being heard. The reason they are shouting is because they think if they shout, someone will finally hear them. Of course, it doesn't work that way. But I think part of the reason for the volume is that they haven't felt listened-to, so they think, "Maybe if I get louder, they will actually hear me."



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.






Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Listening skills are fundamental, sensitivity to diversity is critical, and just having a good understanding of the basic premises of the civil rights movement and what it may have meant to disenfranchised people. If you don't have a sense of empathy, I don't think you can really work and get accepted. I think that might be a critical part of the trust. They want to know that you really and sincerely understand those movements, what they meant, and where they're coming from in some way. And trust of course. If you can't build trust you can't go anywhere in mediation.

Question:
How about in your case? What do you think you bring to it?

Answer:
Me personally? I guess I value my ability to listen and my sincerity. I used to be a teacher and I've have often said and what I hear all the time is, "They don't care." You don't even have to do a good job; you just have to be sincere and trying to do the best you can. If you bring that and they feel and see that they'll go with you. I think I bring that sincerity. I pride myself on being a good listener.






Leo Cardenas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

We get there, and we're introduced and we give our spiel and then they get up and start telling us of all the ills of that community for the last ten to twenty years. Then we'll say, "Well, could we ask the leaders to assign someone to work with us tomorrow?" One person will meet with us and we have fulfilled their goal which was for someone in authority to listen to their complaints because no one has done it before. We happen to be from the US Department of Justice. We happen to have someone who knows how to listen, and that's it. We'll come back later and ask the city, "Well, whatever happened to that case? There were forty people there and you had a list of fifteen items. I can't get a hold of anybody, nobody will answer my calls." We have fulfilled our mission and we have provided a service to that community. That's all that's going to happen. They'll never admit to it, but that's all they wanted, someone to listen to them.



Manuel Salinas


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Answer:
You have to learn how to get along with the people. You can't sit down with them, and immediately expect them to talk to you like you're one of them. You're trying to lead them in a direction, but you can only push so hard. So what you do is just listen mostly. You listen and you converse, and if need be, you go to the lounge and have a beer afterwards with one of the leaders.




Nancy Ferrell


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I started doing the interview and asking questions about what their issues were. What occurred to cause them to take these extreme measures? What was it going to take to resolve the situation? I'm taking notes, I'm getting everything down. They're telling me, "We should've talked to you a week ago. This wouldn't have happened. We're so glad you're here." Retrospectively, I realized that every now and then one of the two people would leave. But somebody else would come in. So I would start a whole new discussion with them. What do you think is causing this? What got us to this point? How do we now move ahead without the violence?" I was taking lots of notes because they would leave and somebody else would come in. This happened for probably an hour, back and forth. Within two hours, I'm still interviewing people as they jockey in and out of the room. They're just so pleased I'm there and they think it's going to make all of the difference in the world. "We're just so glad you could come." So all of a sudden, after a couple of hours, I realized nobody had come back. One person had left, I'm talking to one, and then this person leaves. I sat there for about five minutes and nobody came back.





Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I was an advisor, a guy they would bounce ideas off of. I was also the guy that they would chastise sometimes for not being assertive enough -- sitting back, listening to the sheriff make his total case, and sometimes making some comments that they didn't agree with. I would choose not to say, "Hey. Wait a minute. What you just said..." and that kind of stuff. So I would get chastised for that. Not in an angry way, they were just reminding me that they saw that I hadn't done that and they wanted to know why.



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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