How did you provide a "safe space" for discussions?
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Did you do anything else to deal with power disparities between groups?
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.
In the mediation, it's the matter of using titles, agreeing that we won't
use titles, or if we do, then everyone is addressed with a Mr. or Ms. We're not using Dr. and
Chief. We don't say Chief Williams and then Joe. We're going to use Mr. Williams and Mr.
Smith. That nuance says to Joe that the mediator is honoring him and around this table we're all
Mr. or Ms. Either that, or we all use first names, which is the preference. There's some dance
with that. If there's somebody that's a revered community person, we just couldn't call them
anything but reverend or brother, so then you honor that and you don't violate the honor of the
group. But at least there's some acknowledgment that we're on the same playing field.
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
Do you suggest these ground rules before you start or do you develop them with the parties?
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.
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How much do you read when you're trying to delve into this with these groups? Do
you let them explore on their own, or do you ask them leading questions? How directive are
I'm really not directive in the content. I'm directive in how they interact, as far as not letting
them take each other on. I try to get to talk about their own issues without talking about the other
groups. I don't try to lead them into discovering their issues. Before I got into this, I was
finishing up a PhD in Adult and Continuing Education. The philosophies of adult and continuing
education are very compatible with peace making. The core value there is the adult knows what
the answer is, and it's the teachers responsibility to help them discover it. And I had students in
class with me say, "We really are the experts, right?" The teacher will correct them and say,
"No." You're an expert helping them discover. And I believe that, I believe whole-heartedly in
education. I think my role is to help them discover, and I'm good at that. Part of that is because
as strong as I feel about my own answers for my own questions, they will not be helpful to them.
It may be a great answer, but it's not their answer. And whatever answer they come up with is
going to be better then mine. I believe that. So I think those two disciplines really have
cemented my commitment to the fact that my job is to help you discover and to create a safe
environment. That is a critical element, I think. You can't discover and you can't explore if
there's not safety. We shut people down real quickly when there's not a safe environment. So I
try to honor that. I will give guidance and ideas when people are having trouble formalizing.
People realize that everybody in this situation can be empowered and nobody is going to be
diminished by it. They realize that by involving the minority community in decision making, it's
not going to diminish the power of the establishment, it's going to enhance that environment. To
me there is nothing more exciting than to see people actually start to believe it, because that's
what keeps them from cooperating, everybody believes they're going to lose control. You have
to create an environment where they can see that cooperative efforts enhance everybody. They
want that. It just takes such a burden off everybody.