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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
printfriendlyVolume 3, Number 3, May 2003

Conflict Resolver to
Conflict Creator: Thoughts on Writing Mediation Roleplays

Mediators, also known as conflict resolvers, are trained to help disputants resolve conflicts by peaceful means. Because mediators are fervent believers in helping to resolve conflicts, it would seem strange to have a mediator purposefully create them. But creating conflicts for study and practice is one of the best ways to train for resolving them.

I am currently a mediator and assistant case manager for the Mediation Service of NRC in Detroit, Michigan. I am also completing my final semester in the Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution (MADR) Program at Wayne State University (WSU), also in Detroit, Michigan. I was fortunate to gain employment in the field before completing my education, and have found the combination of working in the mediation field and studying it at the same time quite valuable.

Recently I had an opportunity to write roleplays for use during a campus mediation training conducted by Dr. Bill Warters. The roleplays were designed to help prepare the newly emerging student CPR (Campus Peer Resolution) Team based in WSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services office. Roleplays are a significant part of the education process. They play a vital role in training mediators to help parties consider positions from the other side. Mediators try to help parties use sympathy and empathy to understand viewpoints other than their own, because sometimes parties are so heated over their dispute that they have lost the ability to apply these qualities in their particular situation. Mediators play a major role in guiding disputants to a place where they are receptive to working with each other instead of against each other. In the process, roleplay actors playing the disputing parties experience encouragement to cooperate and collaborate with each other so that their discussions can be successful. These are all skills learned through roleplays.

Although I had never written a roleplay before, I felt that I knew what a good one should include in regards to details and descriptions. Creating the issues of the dispute so that they seem as real as possible is important. Including the right information and the right amount of information is important. Also, paying attention to gender makes a difference. Since I have been at Mediation Service, I have learned how to recognize when a roleplay has the necessary qualities to make a good dispute. Although the list above is not complete, most of the roleplays that I have worked with have included those factors. However, I had to learn through personal experience that actually writing a good roleplay is hard work.

When I began writing, I reflected on my prior experience in one of the required classes for the MADR program – the Practicum in Dispute Resolution. It is in this class where students learn the actual skills and techniques of mediation. In previous classes, we studied the theories behind the techniques, but in the practicum, we were able to actually practice the mediator skills. I thought about the roleplays that were used in that class. I was somewhat judgmental about them at the time. I complained that they were too silly, or that they gave either too much or not enough information. I felt that a few of them were not realistic or in some other way did not make sense.

After writing my first roleplay, it did not take long for me to realize that the roleplays from the practicum were actually really good. The first roleplay that I wrote for the project was extremely easy. The words seemed to come to me like magic. My thoughts flowed like running water and the task seemed as simple as child’s play. However, every roleplay after that took lots of time, patience and encouragement to develop. I did not have difficulty creating a theme for the roleplays, but what I did find difficult was finding the right combination of words to make the roleplays seem realistic.

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