Volume 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
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.