It is a fact beyond doubt that conflict is part and parcel of our human interaction. In fact, it has been described by some scholars as a natural resource in the human society (Brand 2003), given that it is natural for humans to be in conflict with each other as they interact. Some of the disputes are minor, such that a tacit agreement between the two parties suffices to diffuse it. For example, when two strangers want to turn to the same path from different directions at the same time, a form of conflict, albeit unvoiced, is likely to occur. However, eye contact between the two is enough for them to come into agreement as to who is going to take the turn first.
However, not all conflicts are resolved that easily. Some, due to their stature, calls for the expertise of a mediator. The latter brings the two warring factions into discussion, and from this, an amicable solution that is agreeable to the two is reached. It is important to note that the skills and expertise of the mediator are crucial to the outcomes of the process. The latter’s skills in managing the mediation process is the key to reaching an agreement that the parties can live with. This paper is going to discuss this statement in the context of an analysis of the mediation between Neighbourhood Care, Inc. and the community around the church where the former was proposing to set up a facility for the mentally ill.
Neighbourhood Care, Inc. is one of the major non-profit organizations that have set-up their operations in this country. This outfit avails counselling and recreational health services to mentally challenged adults and teenagers in the community. The organisation wants to open a new facility in the neighbourhood, and they have been looking for a space to the same effect. A local church was interested by the proposal of the organisation, and they entered into an agreement whereby the former was to rent a space in their compound.
Submission of complaints and responses
However, the community around the church is opposed to the idea of having mentally ill people congregating in their neighbourhood. This is despite the fact that these people (the mentally challenged) have lived in this community all their lives. They have mobilised themselves, and are planning to stage a protest at the forthcoming zoning hearing. The church, in this hearing, will be seeking a permit to operate this facility in their compound.
The above scenario spells out a case that is ripe for mediation (Brand 2003). The church and the community living in the neighbourhood are here to stay. This been the case, the conflict between the two needed to be dissolved. The church held that the community have been complaining on about almost everything that they have been doing. In fact, the church official’s were expecting this plan to be opposed, and they were not surprised when this happened. It is of the view that the community is nothing more than a bunch of selfish people and sees no point in trying to reason with such a group.
This attitude I a wrong approach to a dispute resolution. If both parties are adamant as to their position been right, they are unlikely to accommodate each other (Frey 2008). It is perhaps out of this realisation that the church’s alderman convinced the institution to send a representative in their minister to meet with a representative from the neighbours and a mediator who will arbitrate the dispute between the two. The meeting, and subsequent negotiations, took place at the local neighbourhood justice centre.
The mediator was retired judge Cyril Johns. Both parties agreed on this person given the fact that he has a vast experience in mediation, having served as a judge in the country’s circuit court for a period of two decades. He brought with him a wealth of experience in persuasion, as he used to persuade warring parties in his court to come to a settlement and avoid a court battle. But the church initially had reservations for the choice of mediator. It feared that he will be impartial, due to the fact that he had a secular background. Their fears were put to rest by the alderman, who assured them that it is not faith that will determine the outcomes of the negotiation; rather, it is the interests of the parties (Lowi 2009).
The judge started by introducing himself to both parties. This took about three minutes. The mediation agreement was explained and signed by both parties (Thomas 2004). The judge handled the introductions with a lot of tact, and no interruptions were condoned. The parties were informed of the fact that there will be no lawyer representation, and the mediator will only deal with them and not their representatives (Mareschal 2007). The objective of the mediation was to come up with a resolution, and neither party was to take it as a fact finding mission (Lax and Sebenius 1986).
After the introductions, the complainant, who was the community in this case, was asked to present their side of the story (Kolars 2009). The representative of the neighbourhood community described the circumstances that have led to the filing of the complaint with the justice office (Falkenmark 2007). The judge listened to the representative, who took about half an hour, without interrupting with questions. One skill that has to be possessed by an effective mediator, and which the judge seemed to have in abundance, is the ability to listen to the complaints of the parties without interrupting with questions or such other diversions (Tannen 1992). Questions are considered to interfere with the flow of the representative’s line of thought (Luhn 1992).
Among the things that were cited by the community as support for their opposition was the fact that the presence of so many mentally ill people within the neighbourhood will jeopardise the security of this otherwise peaceful community. They were of the view that their children will no longer have the freedom of walking unaccompanied. Their major concern was the fact that the inmates may break from the compound and roam the neighbourhood, probably wrecking havoc. The traffic of the mentally ill people to and from the facility was also considered to be a threat, since they will be interacting with the rest of the community on their way. The community accepted the fact that majority of the members who will benefit from the facility have been living among them for the better part of their lives. However, they opined that never before have such a large number of mentally ill people congregated in their neighbourhood. They were scattered before, but the proposed facility will bring them together, and combine them with others from outside the town.
The community was also of the view that the facility will spoil the status of their neighbourhood. This town is known to be one of the best places to stay, and the presence of a mental facility will portray this in a negative light. No one likes to be associated with sharing a neighbourhood with the mentally challenged.
The judge did not ask the community members what they wanted at this stage. This is another skill that has to be possessed by an effective mediator; never ask the complainant what they want before hearing the justifications that are put forth by the respondent (Wisinski 1993).
The church supported their action by stating that the mentally ill have been living within the neighbourhood all their lives. The Neighbourhood Care, Inc. also had similar facilities in other towns, and no complaints have been filed concerning their operations. The church claimed that the members of the community were simply selfish, and did not care for the well-being of the disadvantaged among them.
Judge Cyril Johns allowed the respondent to pose some questions to the complainant. The aim of this was to gauge the attitudes that were held by either towards each other (Bridges 1991). The church sought to know whether the community was against their project due to the fact that they are of different faith. To this, the community responded that they have no problems with the church’s faith, rather, their concerns was the activities that the church was engaging in. during this session, judge Cyril also asked both complainant and the respondent questions that were aimed at clarifying their positions. However, some questions that the mediator posed at the respondent seemed to be distractive and out of context. One such question had to do with the amount of money that the church will receive for the facility.
After the questions, both parties were informed that they would take a break, and allow the judge to confer with the co-mediator. It is during the caucus with the co-mediator that the judge discussed his findings from the earlier session (Crum 1988). A deep mistrust was evident between the church and the community. This was put down to the fact that both parties were of different faith. The strategy for a resolution of the dispute has to do with addressing this mistrust, and opening lines of communication between the two.
Judge Cyril held private and confidential session with the community representative. The latter expressed some reservations that they withheld in front of the church representative. These had to do with the fact that the church looks down on them just because they are from a different faith, and that is the reason why they never consult them on anything that they are doing. The community wanted the church to stop putting up the facility for the mentally ill. The whole project was to be abandoned. When the judge held private session with the church representative, he let known the position of the community. This position, as expected, was vehemently opposed by the church.
Negotiations started in earnest after this. The parties came together and positions were put forth, supported with evidence in most cases. Cyril Johns held various private sessions with the parties during the negotiations. The aim of this was to let the concerned parties know the consequences of their positions, and what they stood to gain or lose in alternative positions (Falkenmark 2007).
Outcomes and decisions reached
At the end of the day, it was agreed that the church will have to host the inmates on a permanent basis. This way, the interaction between the community and the inmates will be reduced to the minimum. This position was reached after the judge tactfully let it known to both parties that the problem is not the hosting of the patients; rather, it was the interaction of the same with the community.
There were some instances that seemed to stall the process, if not for the expertise of the mediator. One had to do with the positions that were held by the parties, and no one was initially willing to change theirs. The church strongly believed that the mentally challenged deserved a chance, and they were here to provide exactly that. The community was just adamant as a result of the differences in faith. The community, on the other hand, believed that the church was bent on endangering their neighbourhood given that they were outsiders, and as such, not concerned with the wellbeing of the community. The representatives could not risk giving in to the suggestions of the other. This would have reflected badly with their constituents. On realising this, the judge steered the negotiations and made it appear that the decision was his. This way, he attracted the criticism of the aggrieved constituents, and the representatives on both sides appeared to have acquiesced to his decision for lack of choice.
The skills of retired judge Cyril Johns in managing the negotiation process were very crucial in coming up with a resolution that the church and the community were comfortable to live with. The judge realised that the two parties were to stay together within the same neighbourhood, and as such, a solution that will bring them together, as opposed to making them drift apart, was called for.
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