Newsletter Winter 2022
Editorspeak: This Issue of the Newsletter –
Welcome to Winter of 2022: a time of wind and rain, landslides, and tsunami advisories, Covid and … yes, yes – we get enough of that on the local news. This, your Washington Mediation Association News-letter, is about other slices of reality.
In this Winter Issue, you’ll find:
– a brief review of our WMA Fall Conference (a virtual experience from October ‘21)
– Wanderings: a pair of interviews from across the state.
– Reading: an invitation by member Sue Ann Allen to apply your mediation skills to your favorite works of fiction; and a couple of book recommendations
– an article on Mediating Divisive Topics written by our own Felicia Staub
– a calendar of recent and upcoming events at the Mediators’ Café.
Many of us are interested in the goings-on next door and out beyond the next road. In this section, we invite you to tell us about mediation in your neck of the woods. Is there a Restorative Practices project going on in your local high school? Does your community center sponsor or house a neighbor-to-neighbor conflict resolution program? Do you participate in parent-teen team-mediation? Are you aware of a mediation or restorative practice in your area that you think may be of interest to other members of WMA? Let us know – drop us a note by email (with the words ‘Newsletter–Wanderings’ in the subject line) to firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks.
In this issue, we’ll present interviews of two members of the WMA Board of Directors – one from east of the mountains, one from the west:
Interview: Marcus Lang
Marcus Lang is a relaxed and congenial man. His voice helped set the tone of our conversation as it would, I imagine, the tone of a mediation. He is currently the President of the Washington Mediation Association’s Board of Directors – a fine group of ten volunteers, mediators all, that do their/our best to keep the lights on and the dog fed
But back to Marcus. In our conversation we focused on his professional life – his work as a mediator and a lawyer. As it turns out, he’s been doing this for quite some time. He comes at it from a youthful interest in psychology, communication, and sailboats, and carved a path for himself that included working with boats, fishing in Alaska (he and his wife built themselves a Yurt as their home-base up there … that was more than a few years ago), returning to the lower-48 to finish graduate studies in communication and discover his interest in mediation.
He pursued mediation, and then branched off into law school and a law practice that focuses on family and tort law. As he climbed the mountain that is litigation, he lifted his head, scanned the horizon and (cue the chorus) saw the sunbeam of mediation beckoning from afar … or actually, from the Kitsap County Dispute Resolution Center, where he hooked up as a trainer.
His current mediation practice is principally in Kitsap and King Counties, with additional cases from Snohomish and Pierce Counties. He notes that with a virtual/on-line practice, geographic locations do not matter as much as they used to. His practice leans primarily toward the facilitative model – he finds it most gratifying when the parties are involved in some sort of ongoing relationship. He does, however, also take on some Foreclosure mediations through the Department of Commerce. Those he describes as a species of the evaluative model.
As mediators, we often find a fascination in the ways conflict arises and matures. Marcus has drawn from the writing of others as well as his experience as a mediator. He often sees situations in which each party views the conflict as an act of being blocked by the other party; quite often they attribute a generalized sense of intent to the blockage and become defensive – trying to protect their needs. In some of these situations, Marcus finds guidance in an approach suggested by Marshall Rosenberg, based upon a view that people’s behavior in conflict is often the strategy they use to meet their needs. The strategies adopted by opposing parties are often incompatible. It can then be fruitful to help them clarify what their needs actually are, and only then to move into questions referring to the behavior of the other. [See our Readings section in this Newsletter – Marcus has written a quick-n-dirty synopsis of Rosenberg’s “A Model for Nonviolent Communication.”]
For a brief touch of wisdom to pass along, Marcus turns to something he learned at the 2019 WMA Fall Conference from Susan Nienaber, a mediator (and so much more) from the Midwest whose practice focuses on conflicts in church-based settings. In her presentation, she noted that Once you understand the geography of mediation techniques, what you bring is who you are.
I should note that I told Marcus that we could probably work a laser cannon into his interview. Not exactly bribery, but …. So here you go:
Interview: Leslie Ann Grove
Leslie Ann Grove is another member of your Washington Mediation Association Board of Directors. Her day job is Executive Director of the Northwest Mediation Center in Spokane (one of 21 Dispute Resolution Centers established by statute across Washington state). The Center handles family disputes as well as neighborhood issues (often referred by local police) and employment/workplace disputes that arise in various organizations and governmental agencies. They have also participated in the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program since September 2020 – Spokane was one of 6 centers piloting the pilot program; all county DRC’s became involved by July of 2021. As executive director, Leslie’s day-to-day functions include administration, teaching, supervision, and the occasional treat of hands-on mediation.
Leslie’s pathway-to-mediator is quite rare. She was a musician/music teacher/music store and studio owner, and then became a judge – which sparked her interest in going to law school. Yes, you read that correctly. Her interest in mediation arose shortly after she graduated law school in the mid-1980’s. So: musician to entrepreneur to judge to lawyer to mediator. Insert a stint as Dinner Theater owner and transition through board member at the Northwest Mediation Center, and voila – a very loose sketch of a delightful history.
Leslie was particularly drawn to mediation by its focus on peacemaking. She is still fascinated by the workings and revelations of mediation. High on that list is the prominence of party self-determination; “it is so important, so basic,” she reminds us, and adds that a good mediator teaches them, shows them how. She is also recharged in knowing that we never stop learning how to be a mediator. She points out that she has been active since the mid-late 1980’s and “I always learn from my students.”
Among the lessons she is happy to pass along came to her from Robert Kirkman Collins of the Cordozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. Professor Collins also teaches an advanced mediation course at Northwest Mediation Center; his training manual includes a list of 39 interventions – actions by the mediator to help make the conversation more productive. An intervention can be as simple as a nod, as common as a decision to reframe rather than rephrase, as complex as drawing a picture or telling a story. With all these tools in mind, Leslie likens the mediator to a Jazz musician: You have to listen to those around you, you have to be ready, and then … roll with it.
We recently learned that our own Felicia Staub published an article at Mediate.com (original publication November 2021). With her permission, we share it here.
Mediating Divisive Topics
by Felicia Staub
In recent years, the divisions in this country have become increasingly polarized. People no longer just have an opinion; many of us have dived further down the well of our beliefs and become more and more extreme to the point where we don’t tolerate anyone with opinions different from ours. There is no more crossing the aisle. Family members don’t talk to each other. Friends have lost friends. There is no longer space to have a discussion. Minds are not open.
Many have tried to find a way to bridge this gap, a way to mend fences or live and let live, but they have been disappointed. These discussions have gotten nowhere and have led to arguments, digging in of feet, and intolerance. If someone believes differently on an issue, they are now the enemy with no redeeming qualities and nothing you can connect upon with each other. This is a very sad state of affairs. The ruptures in relationships have led to a country that is deeply divided. People can’t work together anymore and don’t want to. This is a dangerous situation as such a huge chasm historically has been resolved by violence more often than not.
One issue that has this sort of polarization is the Covid vaccine. I did a mediation recently between divorced parents about this topic. They had a disagreement over whether they should vaccinate their children against Covid. This is a very divisive topic with potential for explosions. It didn’t seem likely that we’d get anywhere, much less come to resolution, given the temperature of the country on this issue.
As a mediator, I have to be neutral, even when I have a strong opinion about what is being discussed. The discussion isn’t about me. I am not involved in their conflict, and my opinion doesn’t matter. I have learned how to put my feelings aside and be fully present with the parties without inserting my views on any topic under discussion. It is actually quite freeing for me to not judge people or their opinions.
This mediation was like that. I have a strong opinion about vaccination for covid. I will not tell you what it is here as that is not the point of this essay. But in mediating for these parties, I had to put my own opinion aside and be neutral so that I could be equally present for both parties.
When we prepared for the mediation, my co-mediator and I decided which client’s opening statement we would each reflect. We decided by the order – he would reflect the first client to speak; I would reflect the second. We didn’t choose who we’d reflect based upon their opinions or ours or by gender or any other factor, and the parties chose which of them would speak first. The way it worked out, my co-mediator reflected back to the client who shared his and my opinion. I ended up reflecting back to the client who had the opinion opposite to mine. I was concerned that my opinion which opposed his might leak out in my facial expressions or tone of voice, but it didn’t, thankfully. I was meticulously neutral and did not even think about my opinion while he was talking. I was able to be fully present with him – listening to find out what was most important to him about this issue.
Once we finished the opening statements, the parties began to talk together, negotiating about whether they should vaccinate their children. Thankfully, this couple, though divorced, had high respect for each other and communicated very well together. They were very civil and had done a good job of co-parenting up until now. That helped tremendously in this mediation.
After the parties debated this for a while with no progress, it seemed like continuing to go back and forth about the one issue was not going to be productive. Their positions were set. Neither could influence the other, and neither wanted to change their mind.
Part of what we do as mediators is look below the surface of what people are saying to get to the interests underlying their positions. Interests are what fuels your positions. Interests can also be called values, motivations, or needs. When one of your interests isn’t being met, you create a strategy for how to get that need met. That strategy is your position. Two people creating different strategies for how to get their needs met are what leads to different positions, i.e. to conflict.
In this case, both parties had the same interests. Their interests were the safety and protection of their children. They each thought that their position on vaccines was the best way to keep their kids safe. When a mediator digs deep into what a party is saying to find the interest, they are looking for what is most important to that person and calling attention to it. Most of the time, people can agree about interests. Both parties agreed that what was most important was the safety and protection of their children, and each believed that the other parent genuinely shared those interests.
Given that they shared the same interest on this issue but couldn’t agree on the strategy for how to achieve it, I thought I’d ask some questions. I asked how they make decisions on important issues like this. I broke that down to specific aspects of how you make a decision – what sources they’d accept for information, who they would accept as experts to consult, what qualities the data needs to have that they’d agree to use when researching studies on this issue. In other words, we delineated the criteria they’d use to make this kind of decision. I also asked what safety protocols they’d support and encourage their kids to follow, such as masking, social distancing, etc., and what they’d do if the children had a known exposure to covid as these were also of concern to them.
The parents were in agreement about safety protocols and how to deal with an exposure. That part was easy. Then they discussed and analyzed different sources of information. Some they both agreed on, and some they didn’t. So we dug further. What would make a particular source be acceptable to each of them? They both wanted the data to be authenticated data and data that was not cherry-picked.
We spelled these things out in their agreement – what sources they’d use for information, what qualities the data should have for the information sources used, what experts they would speak to, and a time frame for making the decision. In other words, they came to agreement upon all the criteria they’d use to make the decision. I was shocked that they were able to reach agreement, but they did. Despite not coming to a conclusion in that moment about whether or not to vaccinate their children, they had laid out a path for how to make that decision and will follow it once they’ve checked the acceptable sources and data, consulted with the agreed upon experts, and met the criteria they determined.
I am encouraged and excited about the direction this went. Maybe this is the way to have these difficult conversations with those who have different opinions than ourselves on some of these divisive issues like the covid vaccine – to first talk about how we’re going to have the discussion and how we’re going to make these decisions. Once we’ve reached agreement about how we’re going to decide, actually deciding is so much easier.
2021 Fall Conference
The Washington Mediation Association’s Annual Fall Conference celebrated another successful Virtual Experience on October 14, 2021. The theme was “Geography Un-bounded,” lending attention to the various impacts we’ve experienced with Remote Mediation. In the morning session, we heard from three speakers:
– Melissa Fuller, Attorney Director at Washington Arbitration and Mediation Services (WAMS), speaking on Mediating in a Time of Covid.
– Steven Velazquez, Audio-Visual Engineer and Business Analyst from the Washington Attorney General’s Office, speaking about Safety Tips and Best Practices with Zoom.
– and Michelle Hansen, Treasurer and on-deck President of the Washington Mediation Association, speaking on Considering Cross Jurisdiction Mediation.
Following the presentations, we had a panel discussion/Q & A session with our speakers to fill out the morning.
For the afternoon, we had three back-to-back forty-five minute sessions of break-out room discussions. Each session provided participants with three topics to choose from, each topic in a separate break-out room. In all, folks could choose from spread of nine topics. Several were quite lively.
Be sure to join us in the fall. We’ll keep you posted.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through you.” Mortimer J. Adler
Here we devote a bit more time to enhancing our craft, to improving our practice, to upping our game. This section is inter-active. Please think about a book you’ve read that has impacted your skills as a mediator. Jot a sentence or two – no more than a paragraph please – and send it (include the title and author, of course) to: <email@example.com>; please be sure to put ‘Newsletter-Reading’ in the subject line. Thanks.
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– William Ury: Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation
This book is recommended by Leslie Ann Grove (see our Interview with Leslie in this issue’s Wanderings section). In this book, Ury offers and explains five “breakthrough strategies” aimed at Turning Adversaries into Partners. The five are: 1. Don’t React: go to the balcony; 2. Don’t Argue: step to their side; 3. Don’t Reject: reframe; 4. Don’t Push: build them a golden bridge; 5. Don’t Escalate: use power to educate. Read the book for the explanations and to get a sense of the importance he places on Preparation.
– Marshall Rosenberg: We Can Work It Out: Resolving Conflicts Peacefully and Powerfully
This recommendation comes to us from Marcus Lang (see our Interview with Marcus in this issue’s Wanderings section), who describes it as: “A condensed work about transformative mediation – how to surface compassion between conflicting parties so that they can negotiate new strategies to meet what is most important to them in the conflict. Rosenberg provides specific language to guide clients on a journey to discover what is most important to each of them about the conflict. He then provides specific language for mediators to use in helping the parties problem solve and shape workable solutions.”
** We’d also like to pass along an invitation from one of our members to those of you who are fans of fiction. Sue Ann Allen suggests:
Using a book that builds to a crisis situation (whether Greek tragedy style or otherwise!), find key points where the reader could reflect and ask, “What would have happened if there had been a mediator intervention here?” It’s thought-provoking, creative, and often fruitful.
So please, take another look at your bookshelves, give it some thought, and send us a paragraph or two. [Please email to: firstname.lastname@example.org – and in the subject line put: Newsletter-Reading] Thank you. **
A monthly online meeting space for WMA members to network, discuss important mediation topics, and receive continuing education through in-services, webinars, and roundtable discussions. Now open to non-members for a nominal fee.
October – Vaan Wolfe: Gender Diversity
November – David Bailiff: Internal Impartiality
December – Gary Nacht: Difficult Clients
January 19 – Darcia Tudor: Best Practices for Mediating Cases with Domestic Violence
February 16 – Patricia Porter: Conflict Coaching
March 16 – Jennifer Dancy: Neurodiversity & How Neuroscience Affects Clients and Mediators in Mediation
Washington Mediation Association 2021 Board of Directors
Marcus Lang: President, Fall Conference, Guru Primo
Michelle Hansen: Treasurer, On-deck President, Fall Conference, Can-Do Coordinator
Felicia Staub: Secretary, Innovator/ Coordinator of the Mediator Cafe
Meredith McKell Graff: Chair of the Cert Committee, Recovering former Secretary
Leslie Ann Grove: ResWa Liaison, Honorary Neil deGrasse Tyson Chair of Reality Testing
Dacia Morrisonbuck: Certification Committee, Marketing Committee, Chief Foreign Correspondent
Eve Palay: Marketing Committee, Ursula K. LeGuin Honorary Chair of Future Vistas
Michael Boughton: Fall Conference, Utility Infielder, Bill James Chair of Broad Picture Details
Danielle Miercort: Marketing Committee & Newest Board Member
Gary Nacht: Certification Committee, Editor of the re-emerging WMA Newsletter
Special thanks to Jennie Lou Shirer, our illustrious Administrative Coordinator, for all she does and for her help with format design and distribution of this attempt to revive the WMA Newsletter.