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Mediator Highlight: Nicky Margolis

CCR Mediator Nicky Margolis smiles while looking straight ahead. She has light skin tone and dark brown, curly, chin-length hair. She is wearing a black shirt with a colorful tropical print on it and a pearl necklace.

Nicky Margolis has been a CCR volunteer mediator since early 2022. She joined us for a conversation about curiosity, conflict, and what improv comedy and mediation share in common.

Where did your mediation journey begin?

My interest in mediation began in 2018, when I started my Master’s in Conflict Resolution at Dominican University. For me, conflict resolution was so attractive because of the state of the world right now. I thought maybe, in some small way, I could have a role in how we learn to communicate with each other in spite of conflicting views and conflicting lifestyles. After finishing my coursework, which was focused on communication and understanding conflict, I heard about CCR. I applied for the Mediator Mentorship Program (MMP), and here I am!

Mediation has taught me so much about our shared humanity. We’ve been so far apart from each other: physically far apart because of COVID, and far apart in our ideologies. There’s so much polarization, and I just feel like the listening and empathy that I practice in mediation has brought me back to our shared humanity. Everybody really just wants to feel happy, secure, and safe. When they feel that is threatened, conflict emerges.

Is there a specific case you’ve mediated that stands out as particularly memorable?

I got to do a juvenile restorative justice case, which I really enjoyed. I talked to two teenage boys who were caught in a stolen car. One boy’s mother and the other boy’s father were also there. It was a really great conversation! I loved exploring not only what the parents went through, but what the boys were going through and how they all understood each other. What I liked about this case was that it was really about communication. There wasn’t an agreement or terms that we had to come up with - it was really about improving the ways they understood each other, and it felt so satisfying to explore that with them.

When it was over, one of the boy’s mothers asked if CCR does family mediation. I told her that’s basically what we just did, and she said “Oh! This is great - I want to do this again!” It was kind of like family therapy for her. Having somebody go between and communicate can be so helpful.

How has mediation shaped your professional and/or personal life?

I’m an alum of The Second City. In my former life, I started in their touring company, and I was on one of their stages that co-wrote and performed three original revues. And then I had kids - I didn’t want to keep pursuing an acting career professionally. I got my fill of it, really loved it, and decided I was ready to move onto something else. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since my son was born in 2011. And then I decided to do something else!

I didn’t want to be a professional actor, but I liked the skills I had. With improv, you gain some useful skills especially around communicating. Improv is all about listening and following a path - not having an objective when you go in, but going in and saying “Yes, and,” listening, and seeing where it goes. I feel that I use those skills a lot in mediation because I can hear something and decide to explore it, rather than get stuck on having a question that I want to ask. I don’t have an objective in mediation - I’m just following where the parties want to go. Joe, my mentor, was especially encouraging of having your own voice and style, and taking that style and that voice and integrating it with the CCR model.

I’m also a tutor. Last year, I tutored math at an elementary school, and this fall I’ll be tutoring at a high school in Uptown. Mediation has helped a lot with tutoring. For example, there’s a lot of emotions that come up with math. At least for me, I remember when I used to struggle with math. Feeling like I can’t do it, I’m not smart enough, I’m bad at math - all of this negative self-talk. It helps to explore those emotions when I see that a student is getting ready to give up. I get to ask, “What’s smart?” And when they say “Getting straight A’s,” I can say “That’s not smart - smart is asking questions and being curious.” I try to instill that in them.

What has mediation taught you?

I’ve learned to be careful about not making assumptions, and not trying to put any preconceptions that I might have on a situation. I feel like I listen so much better, and I ask so many more curious questions than I used to (probably to the point that it drives my family insane)! I just hear things differently now.

What advice would you give to new mediators?

1. Just be yourself, 2. Trust your instincts, and 3. Ask the burning questions. I’m giving myself that advice too!

Thank you Nicky for sharing your mediation experience and advice! CCR relies on around 180 volunteers like Nicky to provide free, high-quality mediation services across Cook County. To learn more about becoming a CCR volunteer, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page.

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