On April 27, 2018, the Ohio Mediation Association convened its Annual Conference at the event center of the Bob Evan’s national headquarters in New Albany. Our speakers were crisis negotiator, Det. Terrence Kelley, and nationally renowned mediator, Zena Zumeta. Each discussed a process that was not traditional mediation but presented useful insights for mediators.
Detective Terrence Kelley
Det. Kelley gave a dynamic presentation from the front lines of crisis negotiation, with stories from hundreds of police barricades and even audio and video clips of crises that he deescalated. In his experience, people in crisis are inwardly focused, they are triggered by an event that had occurred 24-48 hours before the police are called, and resolving the crisis is about finding the trigger and talking the person through it. The average negotiation is 4.5 hours, with many people burning out after 90 minutes (when stress hormones are depleted).
Detective Kelley’s presentation demonstrated how similar crisis negotiation techniques are to mediation techniques. Crisis negotiators essentially use active listening skills to calm the subject down until they are ready to surrender to the authorities. Key takeaways were to never let an emotion go unlabeled, to find and build from positive emotions (e.g., pride commitment, devotion), to use effective pauses to draw attention to important things just said, to use open-ended questions that defy a one-word answer (e.g., “Tell me about…”), and to use voice to slow and soften the conversation. By being persistently respectful while using many active listening skills also employed by mediators, crisis negotiators are able to diffuse deadly situations.
One idea I had from listening to subjects hang up on Det. Kelley multiple times before eventually surrendering is that mediators could give high-stress disputants a “walk-out” room. In their openings, mediators could point out the “walk-out room” where parties can go if they are feeling overwhelmed. This would allow parties to exit a situation in the mediation that is unbearable without terminating the entire mediation. Think of it as a pressure valve. It seemed that many of the subjects Det. Kelley confronted were hanging up when the conversation became too intense but could come back to the conversation when they cooled down.
Thus, Det. Kelley’s presentation was interesting, dynamic, and insightful.
Next, Zena Zumeta gave a presentation on another process that has similarities with mediation—conflict coaching. Conflict coaching was originally developed by mediators when one disputant does not show up for the mediation session and the disputant who did appear still wants advice on dealing with conflict. Conflict coaching is an interesting skill that our private practice mediators could put to better use in the many cases in which one disputant refuses to come to the table.
However, this presentation also had interesting implications for mediators conducting mediations. Zena’s presentation revolved around the idea that people think and talk in stories. Conflict coaches help their clients understand their situation and craft the best possible story. This could be used by mediators in caucus to bring disputants to think deeply about their side of the conflict. Encouraging disputants to explore their stories is a way of getting them to step back and analyze their actions from a more-objective, outside perspective. The sense that I get is that people want to maintain a story in which they are the hero, and because heroes do not squabble, an outside perspective may bring them to adopt the noble stances from which conflicts are more likely resolved.
So, the next time you have to give a disputant bad news that the other side is avoiding mediation, you could tell them about conflict coaching and help guide them to craft a best possible story given their situation.
Ed Leaves the Board
2018 marked 8 years of Ed Krauss’s leadership on the OMA Executive Board. As Vice President and then President, Ed helped to guide the Ohio Mediation Association into the organization it is today. Professional associations of mediators across the United States have been on the decline in recent years, but Ed helped OMA stay afloat amid these challenges. His warm and friendly presence on the Board will be missed, and we wish him success in his future endeavors.