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 […]