Neutral party can enhance dialogue or mediate to reach better outcome for all

In search of win-win solutions

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2003

Throughout my 27 years as a peace and law enforcement officer, I have watched people resort to destructive and negative behaviors or violence because they didn't agree. On behalf of the Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue, I would like to talk about our service in an attempt to enhance the lines of communication and offer an alternative to destructive communications and-or actions. When two or more people do not share the same point of view or approach to an issue, resources are available that in the end may have all parties feeling more satisfied, and heard. CMCD's goal is that people come together, have dialogue and either come to an agreement or at least an understanding of the other's position.

In several management, supervision and leadership classes that I have attended over the years, I have had the opportunity to take personality tests. These are especially interesting when you have the opportunity to take them with colleagues and then discuss why the test results wound up the way they did and why you think the way you do.

Having this dialogue goes a long way toward understanding and accepting the differences of the people with whom you live and work. The personality tests are very useful, and I encourage every opportunity to use and discuss these. CMCD goes beyond giving the personality test.

Some people are very literal thinkers; others think more abstractly. The literal thinker and the abstract thinker may never see eye to eye. Sometimes when they talk they talk along parallel lines, which do not meet. They may not even be talking about the same subject. This can certainly happen with two literal, or two abstract people, as well.

Say a couple is having a disagreement over finances. One says, "You are spending too much money." The other doesn't believe this to be true and responds with, "I never give you grief over your spending so why are you giving me grief over mine?"

The fight ensues, yet the subjects are different. One may have concerns over having ends meet. The other has no concerns over making ends meet and wants the freedom to spend on extras. If an argument does ensue, neither one gets their issue resolved because they aren't communicating.

Listening is one-half of any communication. Really listening and trying to see the other's point of view is a skill and ability not often honed. Everyone wants to be heard and to have things go their way. Sometimes people just want to be right and have their way at all costs. These are not normally good candidates for mediation and avoidance may be the solution. Compromise, sometimes, or creative approaches to achieve win-win results may offer better solutions, but often this doesn't happen because a neutral party trained in problem-solving is not known or sought out.

We, as members of the community, also need to work on ways to agree to disagree. The enemy is not us, and everyone has a right to live in peace, with peace of mind that they can be who they are without fear of being overpowered by those who think differently.

I am an abstract thinker. I don't see in black and white but in many shades of gray. For me, in my situations, there is no one right answer but many possibilities for many right answers. I have been known to drive literal thinkers crazy. For them, if there is a wrong done, then it should be taken care of right now. It's difficult for them to see that in time the problem is taken care of in a less obvious way where having a loser is not necessary. For some, if there is no loser then there also is no winner. Unless we are playing sports, of course, win-win is the optimal outcome. And that is what the CMCD is all about.

Several years ago I served on a statewide committee made up of several different agencies. It was our job to plan programs and use grant money to reach a common goal. The members came from different backgrounds and each had ideas about the best way to attain the goal. There was tension and soon a breakdown in communication.

The co-chairs had the wherewithal to have a mediator come to a meeting to encourage productive and healthy dialogue. It took the neutral party to step in to help the group begin to work in a cooperative way. Among other things, she had each person select another member to say something about that person that they liked. That may sound too "touchy-feely," but the whole atmosphere and eventual attitudes changed by doing that one exercise.

Too many times people don't tell others the positive ways in which they see them. Even if a person doesn't like the way another thinks or acts, there are positives to be found. Once those are out there, it is much easier to hear the concerns and work on problems together.

There are two things that I would challenge you to do:

1. Remember the movie, "Pay It Forward"? (If you haven't seen it you should make a point to do so.) We ought to try a similar thing just today, if you wish. Find or call three people and tell them what you like about them. It will definitely make them feel good and will probably make you feel good, as well.

2. Remember the Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue as an option to either enhance dialogue or to mediate.

We have excellent mediators, and we are building our program to offer services in a variety of settings on a sliding fee scale. Profes-sional mediators also can be found in the phone book. Inquiries to CMCD are welcome. See or call 398-4027.

Shirley Gifford is a member of the governing board of the Center for Medication and Community Dialogue. She is the former police chief of Soldotna.

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