(back to part 2 here)

Guest blogger, Dick Todd, is a retired resident of Dayton, Ohio who spent nearly 30 of his working years as a Presbyterian Pastor and Denominational Executive. He enjoys gardening, reading, and wood sculpting. Dick has been an enthusiastic volunteer with the Dayton Mediation Center for about a year.

– Debrief Sessions
I quickly discovered debriefing did not simply happen during and after role plays. It happened every time any of us participate in a mediation. Always there are questions. What was your impression of the experience? Did you notice any shifts? What do you think you and your co-mediator did well? Do you recognize that your comments at a certain point in the mediation constituted a serial reflection? Would a summary have been more helpful at that point? Did you ever stray from the model and get directive?

It didn’t take many debriefs for me to realize I needed to stash my ego somewhere in the back seat; or better yet the trunk. It turned out to be about the easiest part of this whole learning experience. No one was ever shamed in any way as a result of “errors” we made. As with all things, I realized my best learning comes through making mistakes and being reflective on why they happened and how they might be avoided in the future. For quite some time, with every mediation came a new mistake and therefore a delicious new opportunity to learn. I received positive feedback from the staff as did all of those with whom I mediated. And sure enough, before long I came to recognize that I was getting better – not just the skills themselves – but in summoning the focus to listen attentively and attempt to truly reflect what was going on with each party to the mediation.

There was only one problem….
… I wanted MORE!
Yes. There came a time when I recognized I was not going to continue improving in my practice of Transformative Mediation if I did not practice it more frequently. Leaning a little toward being passive over being aggressive, I nevertheless mustered the energy to at least be assertive with my desire for more. I reached out to Cherise, the Volunteer Coordinator, and said I was a bit frustrated at how seldom those one-Saturday-a-month opportunities rolled around. Though I had some trepidation I might come across as a bit pushy or asking for special treatment, Cherise’s response assured me I was not at all being perceived in that way. On the contrary, she seemed genuinely pleased to have a volunteer show the level of interest I was displaying.

Within a matter of days of my assertive moment, I found myself beginning to co-mediate with members of the Dayton Mediation Center staff – often numerous times a week. What a gift! Not only was I receiving more practice; I was able to observe the skill level of mediators who had as many as fifteen to twenty years of experience. It soon became apparent to me that not only were my skills improving but my commitment to the process as well.

The debriefs were amazing. It became quickly clear that the established practice was to “tell on yourself.” One of the staff members would say, “I think I slipped outside the model in that mediation when I said ____.” The debriefs weren’t simply to identify mistakes or even to point out what any of us had done well. They were (and continue to be) more opportunities to learn and improve! I particularly remember one Saturday morning when an expected “no-show” group appeared late in the morning and I was the only volunteer still in the building. Rather than work with one of the staff, Trisha suggested I try mediating solo to see what it was like. She sensed way before I would have that I had enough confidence to do that.

The mediation went well enough but it is the debrief I remember most vividly. The only people left when I finished were Cheryl, Trisha and me. In keeping with the practice to which I by now had grown accustomed, I identified a moment in the mediation where I wondered if I had gone outside the model. There ensued a good fifteen-minute discussion during which the three of us debated that very question and posed alternate ways of handling the situation. For what it’s worth, we seemed to all conclude I had in fact NOT gone outside the model. (There’s that ego again!).

Having now co-mediated with almost everyone on the staff and having the opportunity to acquire a ton of practice in these last six months, I remain steadfastly supportive of the work done at the Center and positively amazed at the skill and commitment level of each of the wonderful people on the Dayton Mediation Center staff. Toward that end, I have shared my willingness to help find ways for at least some of my co-volunteers to get more practice. The Staff has taken me up on my offer and even given me a title –
– Special Projects Volunteer
While there’s been no change in my compensation as a result, 😊 , with title comes responsibility. None of us knows exactly where all of this is headed for me other than to identify some of the projects I am now undertaking. Up first is the creation of more printed role play scenarios. I’m in the process of contacting the other volunteers for ideas and have created a checklist for writing up the scenarios that they or I will use in order to standardize format and make the role plays work as smoothly as possible.

I will also begin soon to contact particular volunteers who show a keen interest in the process, inviting them to do a mediation that is video recorded. I’ll sit with them and the volunteer role players and debrief the sessions, aided by the recording of the experience for reference if needed. It also appears I may be involved with future training classes as a role play facilitator and de-briefer, work with staff in the Center’s conflict management programs in the city and county jails, and continue to be available to work with or in place of staff as a mediator in visitation, victim/offender, and employee relations cases which happen primarily during the work week.

We’re all just playing this by ear as we move forward. But one thing is for certain….
…I Believe…
… in Transformative Mediation and the work being done in and through the Dayton Mediation Center. When I referred earlier to that breakthrough moment for me when I recognized that it’s all about the interaction and not just getting agreements, that was the time when I really UNDERSTOOD what this is all about. In the months that have followed, however, understanding has morphed into belief: Belief in the value of reflection, summarizing, and checking in to help create empowerment and recognition; Belief in the value of truly helping people have THEIR conversation and supporting them in that process; Belief that even those ensnared in the most debilitating conflict imaginable can find a way to move out of their self-absorption and into a place where they’re open to hearing the other and exploring other ways of seeing what has happened and what IS happening; and yes, at a time when our society seems especially fractured and our government seems broken almost beyond repair, Belief in the basic worth and goodness of each one of us, a goodness that if supported, can help those in conflict climb out of the darkest pit into new possibilities for peace and understanding.

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