CONSIDER FACILITATED DISCUSSION

By Janet M. Powers

Mediators are good at them.  We’re trained to lead two conflicting parties toward common ground and eventual solutions that please both sides.  But sometimes a full mediation is not needed.  Sometimes people who disagree on major issues just need help in talking about those issues to move forward.  They might be stuck on one point and unable to see beyond it.  Or they might need help in exploring alternatives other than the obvious ones.

Mediation Services of Adams County is now adding Facilitated Discussion to its list of available services. We’re doing so because we came to the conclusion that it’s a skill that is fast disappearing as more and more of us spend time on social media rather than in face-to-face conversation.  We’ve also had several occasions to provide facilitated discussions for situations that didn’t seem quite right for mediation but needed the sort of guided discussion skills that mediators provide. Recently, we’ve helped several families resolve thorny problems that at first seemed insoluble.

Often it is more than two people who need this sort of help, usually a group of some kind: a church congregation, a family, a club or a municipality.  Usually the group is split over one or more issues and unable to proceed.  Sometimes there are harsh words, a lot of interrupting and too much yelling.  If this description fits a group that you are part of, you might want to consider calling in a mediator for Facilitated Discussion.  Prolonged wrangling can be hurtful to any group.

Unfortunately, we don’t have good role models these days for civil conversation.  Just by turning on the TV or attending a meeting of a local governing body, we can watch people acting out irresponsibly.  Many talk show hosts and political debate moderators don’t seem to be able to calm down confusion when opposing viewpoints are being aired.  Mediators, however, always set ground rules and require participants to adhere to them by signing contracts.

Mediators are also expert listeners.  They can pick up suggestions or thinly veiled offers that may be lost in the general scramble for the speaker’s floor.  Mediators are also trained to turn what they hear into strategic questions or summary statements.  These comments can enable a group engaged in bitter arguments to begin negotiating with each other in a healthy way.   A good discussion leader is a godsend, but if you don’t happen to have one in your group, then perhaps calling in a mediator is the right answer.

Low-cost fees for Facilitated Discussion are similar to those which MSAC charges for Mediation and Conflict Coaching, based on a sliding income scale ranging from $5 to $50 per 2 to 3-hour session.  Why does it cost so little? The object is to make these services readily available for those on limited budgets. For more information about the various services offered by Mediation Services of Adams County, consult our website: www.mediateadams.org  or call our Help Line at 717-334-7312.