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
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!