Imagine this: you are stuck at home, working from your computer and trying to get through the quarantine. Work is going well for the most part but one of your co-workers disagrees on something. It’s not something so huge that it will make or break your working relationship but it is bothering you. The next day they bring it up in front of your whole team during a video conference and you are not happy. You have some options as to what you can do next: work out your dispute with certified NYCID mediators or simply ignore it and let your anger build over time. Working through your conflict shows emotional maturity and strength while ignoring it doesn’t help anyone involved. NYCID volunteer mediators are here to help and are trained to do so!

Once volunteer mediators have completed their initial Basic Mediation Training, one of the ways that they can practice their mediation skills is through interactive roleplay. NYCID’s Conflict Management Services (CMS) Team offers monthly “Spotlights” to provide volunteers with skillbuilding and networking opportunities using Role Plays. The roleplay experience provides an opportunity for mediators to safely practice skills and build a strong community. Being that everyone is staying at home as much as possible these roleplaying sessions are moving online to help our volunteer mediators sharpen their skills and get a sense of what it would really be like to mediate a conflict.

I recently participated in one of the role play opportunities. The session begins with everyone introducing themselves and why they are here. Hearing from each participant what their motivation was for taking time out of their evening (6:30 pm to 8:30 pm) helps people feel more comfortable working together to play out this scripted conflict situation. Next we are assigned our roles, and sent into breakout rooms within the Zoom call to prepare for the ensuing roleplay. The specific conflict in this event is one that took place in a professional environment. Sergei is a professional dancer with years of experience and is partnered up with a newcomer Carrie. Carrie feels that even though Sergei is a great dancer and has more experience than her, he is not giving his full effort when preparing for their upcoming recital. He is showing up late, and hardly trying during rehearsal. This upset Carrie because what seemed like a great opportunity to her quickly turned into something that she felt is holding her career back. This can be a conflict that many people relate to, when someone is not pulling their weight in the workplace.

Once the roleplay begins mediators have their chance to practice facilitating a conversation. It is important to remember that the only tool a mediator has is themselves. It begins with the mediators asking the actors if they consent to being there to try to work through their problems. They also assure them that everything said in the session will be completely confidential and cannot be used in court. This is important because it allows people to truly open up and share their feelings. The mediators use a technique called “looping” which is demonstrating understanding of something one of the parties in the conflict has said in order for them to feel heard. The conflict comes to a head when Sergei finally reveals to the mediation participants that the reason his performance had been so poor is because his wife had left him and he wasn’t feeling like his heart was in his work anymore. The mediators made Sergei feel heard and supported and he feels like a weight has been lifted off of him after keeping the secret for so long.

Carrie now realizes that maybe she can be more empathetic and that Sergei will try harder because he doesn’t want her career to suffer because of something that is going on in his life. This shows how a conflict can be solved through mutual understanding. It also shows how the confidentiality of conflict resolution is so important. Without this Sergei will not feel comfortable talking about his situation at home. The mediators use their tools to let Sergei feel safe which may not happen without them.

After the roleplay everyone gets together to debrief the session. This is the most important part of the roleplay because it allows mediators to discuss what they have learned from the virtual roleplay. The mediators who had not yet mediated a virtual conflict note the differences between an in person mediation and a virtual session. And one person notes that they are biased against the man given their knowledge of the dancing world. Mediators must make sure to keep their own bias out of the mediation session to avoid having a party feel that a mediator is aligned with or against them, which will impact the ability for parties to feel fully and equally supported throughout the session. There is some disconnect between a virtual and an in person mediation. For example one mediator points out that eye contact cannot be made, and co-mediators cannot discretely communicate with each other using body language. While mediation in person is different from virtual with social distancing guidelines in place, virtual mediation can still be very effective and useful in resolving disputes.

The fact is that conflicts happen in life. While trying to ignore them may seem like the best course of action, the effect will be negative in the long run. People may think it is weak to acknowledge that you need help and strong to just shut your emotions out. To show that you have the ability, willingness and strength to work through a conflict shows incredible emotional maturity.

NYCID CMS team members and mediators are ready to help you deal with your conflict through volunteer training and interactive roleplays. If you would like to become a mediator or have a conflict that needs to be worked out please reach out to us at ADR@nycid.org or visit our website at www.nycid.org to learn more about the work we do.

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