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

Conflict Resolver to
Conflict Creator: Thoughts on Writing Mediation Roleplays

I knew that I had to do something to help me balance the information in the descriptions. I did not want to give too much information so that the actors were simply reading the lines; yet I did not want to give so little information that the roleplay had holes in it too big to fill by improvisation. I wanted the actors to be able to read them and, for the duration of the roleplay, to adapt their thinking and attitude to the dispute and feel comfortable taking responsibility for managing it.

Roleplays should be about issues that actually happen to real people in real life. They can range from simple problems dealing with a car repair or store purchase to more diverse issues such as race, dating, or internal family matters. It helped me to pattern the roleplays after real experiences. Whether they were disputes that I was personally involved in or disputes that I was merely aware of, I used them to my advantage. I used them to help me concentrate on gathering just the facts of the dispute with a little bit of feelings and personal thoughts intertwined. I wanted the history of the issue but not so much that the parties could not concentrate on the present and the future. It was my job to write a roleplay that was not so rigid that it could not move, yet not so flexible that it could bend, twist and turn with little effort.

I tried to write the roleplays so that the actors can have concrete answers as to what their position is, but to feel comfortable making concessions that deviate from their position if it seems to be in their best interest. I tried not to write roleplays that left more questions than answers as to what the facts and what the ultimate goals are. I tried not to write roleplays that were confusing. I recognize that it is hard enough for experienced mediators to organize a chaotic argument; I did not want to frighten new students – who are possibly wide eyed and excited and usually very nervous at having their first chance to act as a mediator.

As I stated earlier, paying attention to gender is important when writing a roleplay. I was encouraged to write them as gender neutral, and at times I found it difficult to do so. Sometimes I had ideas that I created specifically for one gender or the other. But I also understood that limiting the roles to either male or female also limits the projects that it will be useful for.

Roleplays should be written to include a little difficulty between the parties, because these difficult moments are what mediators need to sharpen their skills in creating an environment of peace and cooperation out of anger and hostility. I have learned that in order to know how to handle disputants while sitting in the mediator seat, it is important for a mediator in training to know what it is like to be a disputant. Participating in a good roleplay is a wonderful way to gain this experience.

Although success rates are not the most important factor in being a mediator, I have been successful in helping others walk away from the table satisfied with their decision. I have mediated disputes that ended with the parties saying goodbye with a handshake when they were saying hello with a snarl. I have also mediated disputes that ended with the parties walking out exactly as they walked in. However, since mediating my first session, I cannot recall a single mediation where I have felt uncomfortable with my behavior as a mediator. I owe a portion of my confidence to the roleplays that I have had the fortune of using as practice tools. And in reflecting on how roleplays have helped me to become a skilled mediator, I tried to write mine in such a way that they would be effective practice tools for the upcoming group of conflict resolvers.

I recommend that potential roleplay authors take a look through the searchable roleplay collection found at the Conflict Management in Higher Education Resource Center in the online skill training complex. Link to the Campus-adr Training Center for ideas and inspiration. The cases I wrote are now included in this collection. Perhaps you might just want to join me as an author and help build the collection!

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Page last updated 04/27/2004

The CMHER is a project of
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources
with support from a FIPSE grant from the US Department
of Education and initial seed money from the
Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence to CMHE Report c/o
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication (Attn: Bill Warters)
Wayne State University
585 Manoogian Hall, Detroit, MI 48201.

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