Group Mediation – Hearing the Story

Identifying representative stakeholders for community dispute resolution is one of the first of essential steps in structuring a community mediation. While stakeholder identification is straight forward, generating quality responses that truly represent stakeholder beliefs is quite another, and possibly a much more, important step.  Getting to the real story is not an easy exercise – but the entire mediation process depends upon candid input. Too often we mediators feel we are able, through active listening and mindfulness, to accurately record stakeholder beliefs, issues, emotions. Not always the case, and this is a part of the process with which I have struggled. This is why I devoted 2021 to learning how to hear the true story.  

Helping individuals share important stories, beliefs and memories is assisted by:

  • Relinquishing Control of the Story
  • Transcend Active Listening to Simply Hearing
  • Honor the Story Teller

The True Story – Resist the Need to “Grant” the Voice

Those of us involved in dispute resolution need to get past the urge to “grant” the participant stakeholder his or her voice in community mediation. This is particularly difficult for mediators involved in community or group dispute resolution. Our motives may be very genuine. However, in our quest for inclusion, we believe (not always correctly) that our invitation to share participant stories is a way to garner contributions from the disenfranchised. What we need to realize is that the simple act of “granting” individual voice is a demonstration of power.  In other words, if my agenda is to grant stakeholders the ability to tell their story… I am also in the position to control venue, topic, time and final presentation.

I was fortunate to spend time with Dr. Anuchka Ramos-Ruiz, Vice Provost and professor in the Interdisciplinary School of Humanistic and Social Studies at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Rico. Dr. Ramos-Ruiz has the powerful philosophy that everyone has an important story. These stories are the threads that make up the tapestry of civilization, and each story needs to be expressed candidly by the stakeholder in their own unique manner and on their terms.  When we approach storytelling by granting others their voice or granting their right to tell their story, we are demonstrating our power to allow (or disallow) the story to be told. Some may say this issue is simply semantics – but stay with me.

Dr. Ramos-Ruiz doctoral work is in Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. She has a wide array of pop culture and literary references that allow her to reach different audiences. In the word of Dr. Ramos-Ruiz, “…in our day-to-day activities and the archives of memory, there are lessons, stories, and observations that are worth documenting.”  This is particularly true in building group understanding and community dialogue. These are the stories and recollections for which we should listen.

Get the True Story – Moving Beyond Active Listening

The mediator / facilitator walks a difficult path. The need to create an environment for each party to comfortably and fully communicate while dealing with issues of power imbalances, may seem impossible. The role of referee is never a valued position as it speaks to the directive nature of dispute resolution.  On the other hand, despite all the preparation and agreement to proceed, power positioning can be unintentional and very subtle.  In genuine dialogue, we facilitators need to suspend our own opinion and urge to control. 

How we do this is by hearing.  Studies by Glenn and Kuttner (2013), employed the research method of conversation analysis (CA) to study the mechanics of talk that either contribute or undermine relational interaction in negotiation and conflict resolution. The study addressed the importance of identifying and being sensitive to micro-expressions in dispute resolution. Relational awareness and dialogue that call for moving beyond active listening and reframing, is a massive step towards genuine dialogue.

Honor the Story – Facilitator Diversity

That’s right – regardless of training and experience, mediator and facilitator selection should consider certain demographic needs. The National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) has produced an excellent community mediation start-up guide addresses the issue of mediator diversity (2012, p.421). The important take away is the need for the interview to be conducted by an individual who understands of the population they serve. It’s a balance, and in our opinion, not so much a need to mirror the stakeholder profile as to honor the story. I recently declined an invitation to interview minority football players. As an older female who lacks understanding of college and professional football – I was clearly not the appropriate interviewer.

The Objective – The Right to be Heard and Understood

In the end, each of us need to understand the vital importance of the unaffected story. Focusing our perception on perceiving what is genuine and, (in the words of Dr. Ramos-Ruiz), honoring the story, paves the way for honest dialogue. 

As always, we appreciate your questions and comments. While there are no two conflict situations the same, the value of the commitment to identifying the real stories remain constant.

References

Glenn, P., & Kuttner, R. (2013). Dialogue, dispute resolution, and talk-in-interaction: On empirical studies of ephemeral phenomena. Negotiation & Conflict Management Research6(1), 13–31. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csupueblo.edu/10.1111/ncmr.12001

Community Mediation Center Start-up Guide. (2012). https:/nafcm.org/mediationguide.

Seaman, R. (2016). Explorative Mediation at Work The Importance of Dialogue for Mediation Practice . Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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