I have been a Group Facilitator and Mediator for nearly 28 years. When I started in the field in 1987, it was new to me and new to everyone I encountered. I was fortunate to have a sponsor for my training and early years of work in the field in Jefferson County, Colorado. The County retained me as a full-time mediator and facilitator for large land use proposals (mining operations, recreational sites, landfills, hazardous waste sites, etc.). It was a baptism of fire for a conflict resolution professional, but it allowed me to devote all of my professional energies to this fascinating field. As I gained more experience in the field and grew to respect the positive results of the process, I thought that more and more people in all walks of life would come around to using mediation as a way to solve all manner of conflicts. This has happened, but to a much more limited extent than I had hoped. Too many good mediators have left the field because they could not find enough clients. So, I would like to once more make the case for what has been come to be known as alternative dispute resolution or ADR (alternative because it does not follow the typical path of using confrontation in the courts – or other venues – to solve problems).

There are so many reasons for using ADR that I know I will not remember all of them, here. However, all of the reasons are compelling ones. Many of you reading this will probably say: “Why didn’t he list that reason?” All this tells me is that I am right. There is an overpowering need for this process in our world.

  • Group Facilitation and Mediation empower the participants. Typically, decisions are made by consensus, and everyone has buy-in. There is always give and take, but everyone owns some important piece of the solution. If a judge, arbitrator or some other official decision-maker tells everyone what to do, no one has buy-in (or at least, not much), and usually everyone resents the imposed solution.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation are usually faster than other processes. Everyone can wait six months for a court date, or they can schedule mediation or a facilitated discussion for next week. If a solution is reached, a lot of time has been saved. If not, the court date is still there.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation are organized processes. This is especially important for facilitated group meetings. Such a meeting can lose its way without a facilitator. A facilitator makes sure that the meeting has a clear agenda; all topics on the agenda are covered; no one is left out of the discussion; decisions are made in a way the group has previously agreed upon (often by consensus); and an accurate record of the group discussion and decisions is made both during and at the completion of the meeting.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation “expand the pie”. Too often, formal processes limit discussion to one topic or a small group of topics, and the universe of possible solutions is very small. When people all sit down together to talk things through, brainstorming generates new topics for consideration and usually new solutions that are often radically “outside of the box”. I’ve often had judges tell me that the solution reached by parties in a small claims court mediation is one he/she would never have ordered based on interpretation of the law – but it was a great solution.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation save money. It is often possible to engage a mediator before ever filing a court case or hiring an attorney. If parties in conflict decide to hire a mediator early on in their conflict, they can come together to reach agreement an pay only the cost of the mediator, thereby avoiding attorneys’ fees, court costs, and all of the monetary delays caused by the conflict dragging on for months. This is not to say that attorneys and their input to their clients is not often valuable during mediation.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation can save relationships. Meeting together to come to a shared agreement over a conflict is a satisfying process. It allows people to really hear each other and understand other points of view. If friends, neighbors, business colleagues or family members are in conflict, arguments and lawsuits only drive them apart (sometimes forever). Reaching agreement in mediation can remind people of the value of their relationships while resolving their conflict – not to mention learning a new, more positive way of relating to each other.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation provide Access to Justice. A self-represented (“pro se”) party typically feels at a disadvantage as compared to the other person in a dispute who may be represented by an attorney. Pro se parties often find completing and filing court forms to be daunting. I serve on our county’s Access to Justice Committee. There is broad consensus on that committee that mediation is a way for people to get justice, whether or not they have filed a court case.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation feel fair to everyone involved. Over my 28 years in conflict resolution, I have heard from many people who say that their court-imposed settlement was simply “not fair”. However, the parties to a settlement reached in mediation are often not totally happy with the result, but they own the give and take involved in reaching it – and thus perceive it as fair.

As I said, these are only a few reasons to hire a Group Facilitator or Mediator to assist in resolving conflict between two people – or even among two hundred people. If you think you have need for these services to help resolve your conflict, you can contact me, Mark Loye, or call me at (303)704-3808. If you recognize yourself in some of the situations described in this article, I hope to hear from you, soon.

By |9:34 pm|Group Facilitation Denver, Mediation|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION – WHY?

GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION: When do you know it’s time to quit?

As a Group Facilitator and Mediator, I know that my primary job is to help people talk to each other about their wants, needs, positions, feelings, opinions, etc. – in other words, all of the elements of any disagreement, whether major or minor.

If I do this well, parties typically come to some sort of resolution of their conflict.  A group of relatively like-minded individuals may reach agreement on an action plan for their group (e.g., the Board members of a non-profit organization).  Two individuals in a workgroup may sign a Memorandum of Understanding concerning how they will work together in harmony (or, at least, without overt hostility) in the future.  A large group of people with very diverse points of view may agree on a way for a project to move forward (large environmental projects often involve such antagonistic groups).  However, I must always remember that my success is not an agreement reached, but a real conversation completed.  If I fixate on agreement, I may not know when to quit.

Toward the beginning of my career in conflict resolution, I was asked to facilitate/mediate a group of 20 to 25 people who were at odds over a proposed major rock quarry.  There were representatives from the landowner proposing the quarry (his attorney, environmental consultants, etc.), citizens opposing the quarry (nearby landowners concerned with the potential impacts of such an operating quarry), attorneys and consultants for the citizen opponents, representatives of local and national environmental groups, local government regulators (planners, public health personnel, etc.) and anyone else who felt that he or she had an interest in whether or not the project should be approved.  The group was commissioned by local government officials (who would eventually be asked to say yea or nay to the proposal) to discover all of the issues of concern surrounding this proposal, discuss them and then, if possible, find ways to resolve as many of them as possible.  The group succeeded in the first two tasks but was largely incapable of (or unwilling to) accomplish the last.

Given the number of people involved in this “issues group” and the complexity of the proposed project, just discovering all of the issues took several meetings over a period of months.  The members of the group fell largely into two camps, supporters of the proposal and opponents (with the local government officials reserving judgment).  When agreement could not be reached on the potential impacts of each issue area, the group took several more meetings to reach agreement on a list of several experts to analyze the inputs from each side and give professional opinions.  When the experts’ reports were received by the local government officials, they largely supported the project – so the opponents then tried to disavow the entire process of selection of those experts.  So, the one area of agreement (who should give expert input on the issues surrounding the project) fell apart when implemented.

Still, discussions continued for several months, and the parties got no closer to agreement.  So, you may ask, why did the parties continue to talk, and why did I not halt the process?

My analysis is as follows:  No one at the table was interested in finding common ground.  The proponents of the project wanted it to be approved.  The opponents wanted it to be denied.  The local government staff members preferred some consensus by the group, but could not take sides.  However, to some extent, burning up time was in everyone’s interest.  The proponents wanted to give a strong impression that they were responding to the concerns of the public so that the local officials would have cover to approve the project when the time came to vote.  The opponents (as is often the case) calculated that delay was an ally.  If the project were eventually to be approved, a long negotiation process would push quarrying further into the future.  Prolonging negotiations had the added benefit of pushing the eventual decision closer to the next election.  Public officials do not like approving controversial projects just before an election.  The local government staff members did not feel that they could push the negotiations because such a stance would seem to compromise their neutrality.  Being new to the job as a facilitator paid by the County, I did not feel confident that I could shut down the process on my own initiative without penalty of some sort.

So, the discussions dragged on until everyone was simply burned out (and coincidentally, the next election day was getting nearer).  The proponents submitted the application, it went through the formal process, and, shortly before the election, it was denied.  By inaction, I had become an unwitting ally of the opponents of the project.

This brings us full circle.  When the parties had aired all of the issues, discussed them thoroughly, and clearly could not reach any real consensus, the process should have been ended – by me.  Continuing the discussions did not advance the stated goals of the process.  I now know that it the facilitator/mediator’s job to help people communicate constructively.  If they complete that process and cannot reach agreement, there is no shame in congratulating the parties on their participation and calling a halt to further pointless discussion.

As a paid neutral, it my duty to not waste the time and money of those hiring me.  Knowing when to quit is sometimes as valuable and bring the parties to an agreement.

By |10:50 pm|Group Facilitation Denver|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION: When do you know it’s time to quit?