Recently I was contacted via email by a university student enrolled in a Negotiations Program at a prominent “east coast” school. Her current “team” assignment was to develop a Conflict Resolution solution in the form of an agreement for a “community in conflict” case study. She had discovered my blog and web site while researching on-line and just decided to give a call after reading all the articles and content. The single thing that prompted her call was that my content states that OO uses “on-line” engagement methods, so she too thought we could work together in her study group. At my suggestion, after getting an emailed copy of the case, I “accepted” my role and was invited into a conference call with the study group to be a Community Ombudsman between all parties and groups. This added the real dimension of “independent and impartial” as it would have been difficult for anyone in their study group to “act” the role since they all are associated already. Each member of their team then took a role to “act out” or do “role play” based on a complex case study where multiple elements of racial discrimination, violations of personal and property rights and “us versus them” verbal tensions were building due to poor communications and poverty issues. I had them “act out” the catalytic moment to start the e-mentoring phase, put “feeling” into the context of the case and to demonstrate the “surfacing of deeper community tensions” between the three established community groups. This was very interesting and set the stage for “real” problem solving to now get done.
I learned a lot working with the “20 something” college group during this e-mentoring and e-mediation session. I didn’t let them stop until every “point of conflict” was “self identified” and “self directed” as presented from my analysis of the case. Deeper discussion on how to formulate and weave more than a half dozen complex issues into a “Terms of Agreement” followed resulting in a solution for the current issue while providing a new “community group” to handle future incidences as needed. To some degree, “forcing” them to look at issues and take the “time” to do it raised tensions in the members of the group and thus added an additional degree of reality. Several times, by me “hearing” and verbalizing their “stress” and impatience back to them, this seemed to help them realize what confronting conflict is “really” like and perhaps a level of sensitivity in their future profession also developed. I was reminded of fundamental requirements that were brought out by each “player” as they attempted to resolve their conflict and in a way that they could “hear it in action”. Their individual perspective and level of awareness is something I don’t often get the chance to “engage” with. I would not only provide input in moment to help move towards resolving the conflict, but also, for my first time, actually “training by example” in my role as Community Ombudsman. We would stop on each point and discuss it by “mirroring” interactions existentially, then verbally and then through vicarious actions until each individual came to understand “symptomatic” behavior versus “root causes” of conflict. I had fun providing this insight and we all ended up with a very comprehensive “consensus” regarding the initial incident and how to move forward and provide a “cell” of peace makers in a community as an ultimate solution and not just focus on a single incident.
One of the major hurdles and challenges for me was to help everyone to “get over” wanting “legal action” against the “other side” for the violations of law, rights and other issues. Their overall “natural” approach was to negotiate from the start from a position of “who has done what wrong, to whom and how should they be punished”. Defining ADR at the beginning was initially overlooked by me, but once understood the “sides” moved away from the “struggle” and towards the “goal”.
The thing I relish the most was that there was no continued focus on “legal requirements”, rather it was a process of more ethical, psychological, community oriented and socially responsible “points of negotiation” of which they eventually appreciated. I like planting these new “seeds” for a different way to mediate conflict, Ombudsman ADR style and hopefully a new “generation” and type of Ombudsmen and conflict managers . I really enjoyed not being “on the spot”, having fun and the opportunity to “play” outside of a real situation with real consequences… the pressure was off for sure.
I’ve been informed they’re going to provide me a copy of their “agreement”… will I get a good grade too? Fun…