Call the Mediator!

By Laura Melton Tucker, May 17th, 2015

Listen to this entry.

How many times have you observed a conflict-laden situation and thought, “where’s a mediator when we need one?!”  Watching the oddly hostile interaction on a video posted to twitter that has now gone viral, between an exercise science senior at Kennesaw State University, and the department’s academic advisor who threatens to call security on him, gave me pause.  These two need some mediation skills!  Apparently, the student needed to see an advisor badly and wasn’t getting any attention from the staff after emails and an administrator-cancelled appointment.  To make his point, the student took a seat on the counseling office floor, vowing to wait until someone helped him.  The counselor who came out to meet with him let things escalate quickly when she threatened- and then left – to call security.  The situation backfired on her when the student’s viral video prompted others to tweet their own negative experiences with the advisor.  She is now on leave while school officials investigate the incident.  What mediation skills would have better served them?

Mediation is the pause button…albeit a long pause, since making phone calls and coordinating schedules for mediation usually takes time.  During mediation, both sides get their chance to listen and speak.  The counselor, for whatever reason, wasn’t willing to do either.  The student’s calm response makes the academic advisor look especially bad.

Conflict occurs when we need for things to go differently than they do.  We attach our expectations to a particular outcome, and when we run into an obstacle, we clench and close off.  What’s the antidote to difficult division?  The pause: the gap between our reaction and our response.  A reaction is instantaneous, emotional, and polarizing. It throws up a wall.  A response is considered, takes into account the other person’s perspective, and is worded with skill.  It offers an opening for repair.  One is an edict, the other is an edit.  One is a fist, the other an open hand.

The counselor responded with a clenched fist.  You could hear it in her tone, see it in her tight body language and her quick decision to call security.  Perhaps school officials will train her in skills that allow her to respond to challenges with curiosity, acceptance and non-judgment, so that she models for the students the same flexibility and adaptability they will need to be successful after graduation.  The takeaway is that mediation is an opportunity to pause, speak your truth, hear the other side, and respond skillfully. This is why, time and again, people arrive at mediation saying “it won’t work,” and leave saying, “I can’t believe it worked.”  The difference between those two statements is the mediation process itself that makes shifts in perspective and positions possible.

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