Wearing the Mediator Hat Outside the Mediation Room
Think your mediation skills only work in the mediation room? Here are the stories of two people who found otherwise...
Training Comes In Handy On The Train
Ricky Flores, a 3L at John Marshall Law School who has mediated with CCR through the John Marshall clinic, found himself using his mediation skills on the Pink Line one evening after school on his way to Ogilvie. An older gentleman was trying to pass between two train cars using the door at the end of the car, but a security guard with a dog was in the way and wouldn’t let him pass. Soon a shouting match between the older gentleman and the security guard erupted. The security guard yelled that he could lose his job if he let the man through. As the shouting match continued, two other security guards came up behind the passenger. The passenger did not seem to notice the guards, but it seemed as if the encounter could get physical.
At this point Ricky intervened, asking the older gentleman what he expected to gain from a physical altercation with the security guard. When the gentleman realized that the best he could hope for was to go to jail, he backed down.
It was clear to Ricky that each of them felt disrespected in the interaction. After the dust settled, the older gentleman actually ended up apologizing to the security guard, saying that he understood and had even held the job himself before. He even made an offer of extra employment to the security guard who calmly responded by saying, “It’s fine. I just want to finish my shift. Two more stops and I get to go home.” Ricky felt like he used reality testing, BATNA and emotions work, drawing on each party’s need and interest to be treated with respect. Ricky believes that even before receiving his mediation training, he would have intervened in the situation, but that his training gave him a set of tools to help the parties come to a resolution themselves.
“All the time, every time.”
Tanya Woods, Executive Director of the Westside Justice Center, completed CCR’s MMP program in 2016. She is an active CCR volunteer mediator, an outgoing member of the Volunteer Council, and a member of the MMP Selection Committee for 2018. She often finds herself drawing on her mediation training to deal with client family situations at the Westside Justice Center. One recent situation that stood out for her was a client who came to the Westside Justice Center for a real estate matter that turned into a probate matter. Resolving the underlying conflict in the family required her to uncover the needs and interests of the various family members.
Tanya’s primary client, Mary, was an elderly woman and heir to a home in which she had resided with her mother. Mary’s immediate need was to maintain safe housing for herself, her daughter, and granddaughter. Hanging onto the property itself was of little interest, but she needed to maintain a roof over her head. Mary’s sister, Karen, was the only other living relative of that generation. Karen had not lived in the house and had been estranged from their mother. Karen didn’t want to spend any time, money, or energy in disposing of the property and, if pressed, was resistant to any solutions. However, Karen still wanted to be sure that Mary had a place to live. Despite having very different relationships with their mother, they were close as sisters.
There were other family members who were interested in whether they would get paid from the estate and what their share of the property might be. Tanya started working with a handful of nieces and nephews on what their needs and interests were. She worked with all parties individually, never having everyone together in one room. Initially, the needs and interests seemed to be about money, but as Tanya continued to ask questions and excavate, she discovered that for much of the family it was about keeping the house in the family as a kind of legacy. Once those family members who were interested in legacy learned that the property was very distressed and needed work to even be passed down, the needs and interests shifted significantly. Then, the entire family wanted to work together to sell the property and see that the two oldest members of the family, Mary and Karen, were taken care of. The attitude became one of preserving the people in the family instead of the things. Being able to ask questions that get at needs and interests, BATNA/WATNA, and reality testing all came into play. But Tanya feels a lot of her job in this situation, as in most, came down to keeping her eye on the four agenda items common to so many mediations: relationship, money, ‘item,’ and communication. “Once you employ that agenda all the time, it helps you to frame the conversation every time.”