2, Number 2, Feb 2002
Stephen Roy and Kay Pickering
who engage in community mediation have undergone at least
some mediation training. Additional skills are required
to perform intake and scheduling of mediation sessions.
It requires an understanding of mediation, and more. However,
not much information is available on how to perform intake
and the possible pitfalls. The following are some general
hints on what has been found useful by the Neighborhood
Dispute Settlement Program of Dauphin County (Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania). It is a community mediation program which
receives referrals from criminal justice entities.
basic goals of intake are to obtain enough information
to tell if the dispute is appropriate for mediation;
if appropriate, to get agreement of both sides to participate
in mediation and to elicit sufficient information to
contact those directly involved on both sides.
Agreement to Participate
makes intake most difficult is the pent up frustration
individuals possess at first contact. Most have already
been somewhere or everywhere else and have not obtained
any satisfaction. To convince both parties that mediation
can work often requires some acknowledgment that they
have been victimized and that someone cares enough
to hear what is being done to them. It is not unusual
for someone to vent for 10-15 minutes before you will
be able to make a determination as to the appropriateness,
explain mediation, obtain their assent and get enough
contact information to arrange a meeting.
The following strategies may be helpful:
I. Let the individual vent anger, if necessary. Interrupt
gently by stating you need some additional information.
Once they start giving you contact information, keep
them going that way until you have what you need.
If they keep venting excessively, tell them you have
all you need to know for now. It is better to raise
these matters at mediation where they can be dealt
II. Try to obtain as much necessary information as
possible in the first contact. This is critical and
saves much time. Get the individual's name, address,
phone number, times and days available for mediation,
as well as other family members and individuals with
direct involvement on their side of the dispute. Then
seek, if they know, the same information for other
III. Try to find out whether any positive relationship
existed between the disputants in the past and just
where it went wrong. If the mediators want to know
beforehand, I relay this.
IV. If the dispute involves two equally antagonistic
individuals from two households, try to learn if there
are cooler heads from each that have been involved
previous attempts to resolve problems. Reinvolve them
in mediation. If it involves someone with mental health
problems, it can be useful to find someone who has
influence with the individual and have them in the
V. Disputants will often seek information about the
other from you, such as "What did they say?"
Do not pass on information. State that they will be
meeting directly with the other party and each one
will have time to express concerns.
VI. Avoid becoming a conduit for the disputants' attempt
to ping-pong their communications through you (variation
of the previous item). Disputants often try to have
you contact the other side and tell them something,
making you a third point in a "triangle."
I address this by stating I do not relay messages
but if they choose to mediate, they will have an opportunity
to state their concerns directly to the other party.
And the other party will also have the opportunity
to state his or her concerns.
VII. The phrase most frequently heard during intake
is, "You can't talk with them, I tried that and
it didn't do any good." The usual reply to this
is to state that the other party has agreed to meet
and talk within our regulated process. Once they are
informed that the other side has agreed to mediate,
it usually overcomes the initial reluctance some may
have toward meeting with the other disputants.
VIII. When in contact with a reluctant alleged offending
party, emphasize that mediation will not be a one-sided
dump session. They will meet on neutral ground, on
equal terms in good faith, and have the same opportunity
to tell their side.
IX. Do not judge the disputants! You will be surprised
how often after talking with the first party that
you are convinced the other is a total jerk; then
on contacting the other become equally convinced the
first really is the jerk.
X. Do not promise anything that mediation cannot or
will not deliver. Mediators often tell disputants
that we cannot solve their problems, that we cannot
promise that they will walk out of the mediation and
everyone will be in peace and joy forever. However,
maybe an arrangement can be found that works for everyone
much as possible, try to match disputants' backgrounds
with that of the mediators -- taking ethnicity,
race/color, gender, socioeconomic status, residence
and personality styles into consideration. If a
community mediation involves legal issues, assigning
an aspiring attorney with another mediator can be
Keep in mind that response time is often critical
when the parties decide whether to make an attempt
to settle it at the table, or take it to court or
settle it out in the street. Usually it is easiest
to schedule the parties, the mediators and then
the site (if you have multiple sites available),
in that order.
The closer a mediation can occur to the parties'
residence and/or worksite, and the wider range in
hours it can start, the easier it will be for the
parties to participate. This takes away a lot of
barriers and excuses not to participate. Churches
are usually willing to donate space for community
needs, can be available beyond usual office hours,
are community institutions and recognized as such.
Many disputants are reluctant to be disrespectful
or fight in them. The tradeoffs are that the facilities
may be beyond your control to some degree (the janitor
may not show up to unlock) or the facilities are
not as suitable as you would prefer.
Confirm all details (a second time if time allows)
before mailing the scheduling notice.
Reminder calls should be made to the parties (and
the mediators) either the day before or the day
of scheduled mediations. This reduces no shows.
No shows really anger those who do appear whether
they are parties or mediators.
Obtain as much contact information from the parties
as possible. Having ways to contact someone at literally
the last moment can save a mediation.
Violence at Mediation
do assume some risk of violence in community mediation.
It is a small risk but needs mentioning just the
same. Out of 140+ mediations over the first two
years of our operation, only one resulted in an
individual attacking another at the mediation.
No serious injury occurred. Where potential violence
is indicated, the police department with jurisdiction
is usually glad to station an officer nearby,
usually just outside the room, subject to being
sources usually like to hear about the results
in a timely manner. Keeping police informed
is crucial in this respect. Feedback is a very
good practice if you value the referrals. Keeping
the comments to facts already known outside
the mediation or limiting it to what the referral
source generally needs to know protects the
disputants' confidentiality. For example, you
may want to reply that "the parties were
cooperative, they reached an agreement to resolve
the pending charges."
will not always obtain agreements. Support
your mediators who may feel frustrated when
this occurs. Often just providing space for
letting off steam is enough to prevent violence.
If tension reduction is all that results from
mediation, we think the mediators should be
regarded as having succeeded.
Roy is Administrator and Kay Pickering is
Director of the Neighborhood Dispute Settlement
of Dauphin County, 315 Peffer St., Harrisburg,
PA 17102 USA. Tel: 717 233 8255.
article was excerpted from the Pennsylvania
Council of Mediators Newsletter by Paul
Wahrhaftig for Conflict
project of Campus Conflict Resolution
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo
to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.
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