Mediative Approaches & Group Work (Part 2)

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Mediative Approaches & Group Work (Part 2) 

  1. Mutual gains problem-solving mindset

Viewing the group’s work as a challenge to be addressed in a way that works for everyone removes the win-lose aspect of adversarial conflict and helps people save face. Face-saving, a key piece of restorative practice, is especially important in small communities, where people may spend much of their lives together. Even though it may take more time up front, a mutual gains approach promotes resolution and problem-solving sooner rather than later. Too often, time is spent in repair or fallout from a decision made too quickly. Ask instead: “What is most important here? What are we missing? What is the downside of this idea? What else needs to be addressed before agreement is possible?”

Sometimes small agreements, next steps, are the way to go. Begin with what is possible now. What options can everyone live with? (This is a good way to manage an inability to reach full consensus. Some may not be perfectly satisfied with every detail, but can they live with this arrangement/agreement? This approach invites a realistic assessment of options. If they can’t “live with it”, then more exploration/fine-tuning is needed.) Compromise may well be part of the way forward; ideally, the goal is to address as many of people’s key interests as possible, to look for mutual gains wherever they may be found.

  1. Common ground

Finding and naming common ground is an important and often overlooked aspect of group problem-solving. Anyone in the group can do this; it is not only the facilitator or leader’s task. Look for and say what people in the group have in common, even if it is only the need to get matters settled and end the stalled state, or the need to reduce tensions within the group. Damage to morale from a lack of a common sense of purpose or approach leads to resignations from community groups. People immersed in interpersonal conflict can’t see that they have anything in common with the other side. A facilitative group member can assist by finding and naming commonality for them. This is done as a kind of offering to the group (“It seems to me we all want to…..”), not expressed as an authoritative statement.

Often someone will then add to this statement, building more common ground.

  1. Maximizing the moment

Groups making tough decisions can benefit from recognition that what they are doing right this very moment is important and valuable. As in a mediation or a circle process, the moment can be likened to a “meeting at the crossroads”. The opportunity to make a good decision, to craft an elegant agreement, presents a moment that can truly be a turning point. Quietly emphasizing its significance can help disputants recognize the event as an opportunity for change, progress and closure. They then have the choice to accept the challenge (or not – sometimes people are simply not ready). Be sure to build in enough

time for people to absorb/adjust to changes that may be coming. Rushing or pressuring people to closure can create a backlash, and the group’s hard-won progress disappears.

  1. Creating & holding the container

Often people struggling with conflict in a group or organization benefit from knowing there is a “place” that can contain the conflict. If you are the Chair, the Board, the Head, you may well be that place, when you are engaged with parties in working on a particular task or goal. This does not mean becoming immersed in other’s people’s issues and taking on their problems as your own. It means providing the space, the ear, the questions, and the assistance needed while the group addresses its concerns and disagreements. On boards and committees, there is often an expectation that the Chair will be the “fixer”. The general culture however, is moving to the flattening out of hierarchies, so leaders need to model more adaptive, collaborative approaches. Empowerment and shared decision-making lead to increased creativity, greater buy-in, and renewed purpose. “Holding the container” may mean setting a time to revisit agreements reached, to fine-tune or adjust as needed, testing ideas in a pilot-like program with review built in, or other forms of oversight. These arrangements provide a safety-valve and recognize that during implementation, agreements/plans often need to be tweaked in some manner.

  1. Self-awareness

Finally, we can be aware of what kind of energy we each bring to a group’s work and be mindful of the fact that we project our disappointments, unfinished business, frustrations, and the like on those around us. Group work can be challenging and it’s important to try to bring our best selves to the group. The contributions volunteer community groups make to the well-being of a whole community are immeasurable. Kudos to all who engage in this way!