By Jan Powers
Every year, Mediation Services of Adams County offers training in conflict resolution skills. Many people take the workshop because they want to use those skills in a workplace setting. But what do they learn in that workshop that makes it so important for their daily lives?
To begin with, the first third of the workshop is concerned solely with communication. Why is communication so crucial to conflict resolution? It may be a no-brainer, but learning how to listen and respond is much harder than it sounds. For starters, we don’t interrupt or even tolerate interruption by the other party. We learn to pay attention to body language and tone of voice, but we also practice listening with appreciative responses: in a way that will encourage others to feel comfortable talking about their problems. Or if a person is angry, we learn how to create calm and elicit a more thoughtful approach.
Mediators need to use these techniques with two different individuals (or more, if it’s a multi-party situation) at the same time. One party may be close-mouthed, while the other is sucking up all the air in the room. A mediator must encourage both individuals to feel they are presenting themselves in their best light. Sometimes that means asking key questions. Other times, it means reassuring each individual that he or she is being helpful or generous in sharing information.
Mediators learn to deal with all kinds of personalities: the talkative one, the bully, the shy person, the storyteller, the attention-getter, the oddball, the shark, the jokester or the know-it-all. They learn ways of de-fusing difficult situations if emotions get out of hand. Identifying key issues behind a lot of words and bluster is also a skill that mediators learn. Helping disputants to recognize common ground is one of the most important aspects of conflict resolution.
These skills are really essential for everyone, although most of us have not mastered them. Anyone who facilitates meetings where varied opinions emerge will benefit from learning mediation skills. Teachers and professors who deal with a spectrum of classroom personalities could learn a lot from mediation training. Those workplace skills are beneficial to human resource personnel but also for anyone who deals with job issues. We haven’t even mentioned families, but all of us face difficult situations daily and at the holiday dinner table, especially in the last few years.
In December, I twice used my mediations skills in organizational settings when holiday stress and misunderstanding brought on threats of resignation. In one case, an apology and asking everyone to think things through brought us out happily on the other side. In the other, the situation was resolved by coming up with a third option that appealed to everyone.
Stay tuned for further announcement of a spring mediation training that will put these skills in your hands. In the meantime, if you have a conflict and need help in resolving it, call our MSAC help line at 717-334-7312. We also offer Conflict Coaching if you find yourself in a difficult organizational bind.