I have taken, and given, trainings in mediation and facilitation, and I am always left with the belief that mediators and facilitators are born, not made. You either are drawn to the middle of conflicts and fascinated by differences, or not. This doesn’t mean that I love to fight, or even that I can fight. What I do like is being in the middle, seeing all sides, understanding, empathizing and finding paths for communication.
After many years of mediating and facilitating, I treasure the complexities in conflict. I approach each situation eager to learn, knowing that each one is unique. I know I must listen first to those who know the conflict best, those who are engaged in it. I also realize that I must think carefully about my role. Can this situation benefit from some kind of neutral intervention? What kind of process is needed? Am I the right one to help? I want to give the conflict and the parties the same kind of thoughtful attention that I will expect them to give to each other and to the resolution.
My experiences working with people in conflict have been my best teachers. From them I have learned important lessons: to listen first, to show respect, to keep a sense of humor, and to have the courage to take risks. My years in the heart of Navajo Country gave me valuable insights into the role of an “outsider” in another culture, and helped me understand my own strengths and weaknesses – both personally and professionally. We all have been an “outsider” in some situation. We may have been filled with fear and anxiety, and maybe a dose of guilt or shame. These reactions can be the roots of conflict, and need to be given the attention they need. I am always eager to work in cross-cultural settings, where I can share some of those insights and continue to learn.