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In all aspects of social life, conflicts are bound to occur. These conflicts are normal and may, in fact, contribute to the health of the community. However, the positive contribution of conflicts greatly hinges on the conflict resolution schemes which are employed. As such, it is imperative that the people involved in the conflict resolve the issues constructively. Key to the constructive resolution of conflicts is the use of negotiation tactics and strategies in the mediation process. Stitt (2004, p.25) defines mediation as simply the act of facilitating negotiation activities so as to help the disputants overcome the various obstacles in the negotiation process and therefore get to an agreement.
In this paper, a review of a conflict between a church and the neighborhood shall be made. The paper shall reinforce the claim that the skill of the mediator is crucial to the success of any mediation process. A brief description of what the negotiation and mediation process entails shall be provided. An overview of the conflict in this particular case shall then follow with the major parties involved being identified. A step by step analysis of the negotiation and mediation process shall then be provided so as to highlight the significance of the mediator’s skills in arriving at an agreement that suits parties across both sides of the divide.
Mediation and Negotiation; a brief overview
Negotiation and mediation are termed as procedures that are utilized in dealing with opposing preferences (Carnevale & Pruitt 1992, p.532). Negotiation involves the discussion between the opposing parties with the aim of reaching an agreement. Meditation, on the other hand, is a form of negotiation involving the presence of one or more outsiders. In the negotiation process, the parties in question may choose to take an approach in which discussions are held concerning their respective interests. On the other hand, mediation is a process that employs a neutral party/parties to facilitate the negotiation process between the opposing members. Goldberg et al. (cited in Shamir 2003, p.23) state that “mediation is an assisted and facilitated negotiation carried out by a third party.”
Carnevale and Pruitt (1992, p.532) acknowledge that there exist other methods of dealing with opposing preferences, which include struggle (mostly characterized by war) and arbitration, which involves a third party making a binding decision concerning the controversy. However, these two methods are relatively costly and endanger the relationship between the parties involved. It is for this reason that negotiation and mediation are the preferred modes of resolving conflicts since they lead to mutually acceptable solutions without necessarily damaging the relationship between the opposing parties.
The church and the local community members have coexisted peacefully over the past many years. The contention arose following the decision by the church to rent out space in their building to Neighbourhood care Inc, a nonprofit making mental health organization. This action sparked off reproach from residents in the neighborhood who are opposed to the idea of mentally ill people being served in their area. From the church’s point of view, the building facility that it proposes to lease out to Neighbourhood care inc. Is its sole property, and as such, it can put it under any legally acceptable use without the need to consult with anyone. On the other hand, the neighborhood feels that it is wrong for the church to put up a mental facility in the area without consulting with them. This is because, by virtue of having lived in the area for a length of time, the neighborhood community feels that it deserves to have a say in the affairs of the community, and the actions of the church are at the very list dictatorial.
This status quo whereby one or all of the parties involved may see themselves as having the right or being entitled to a range of benefits is a common occurrence in most negotiation scenarios. Wade (2007, p.259) asserts that while this stance may have high personal importance for the party involved, it is detrimental to the negotiation process. At the very onset, the church was adamant about its position not to hold any talks with the neighborhood, as was reflected by its assertion that it expected opposition but had no intentions of sitting down and talking with “selfish people.” However, with a little persuasion from the alderman, the church agreed to hold talks. This very act was the most positive indication of progress since, as Rubin and Bercovitch (2002, p.200) declare, “The most difficult moment in a dialogue aimed at ending a conflict can be the apparently simple act of convening talks”. It is from this point where both parties have agreed to the dialog that the negotiation process can begin.
Negotiation involves the exchange of proposals and demands so as to reach a solution. This particular case presented well-defined goals by both parties involved. A goal is defined as a known or presumed commercial or personal interest of all or some of the parties to the negotiation (Wade 2007, p.261). The goal of the church was to proceed with its leasing plans unperturbed by the neighborhood members. The neighbor’s goal was to stop the church from renting its property to the neighborhood care Inc. Other goals and interests included the church’s need for an income generating activity and the neighborhood’s concern that their home values would be degraded as a result of the stigmatization that is attached to halfway houses.
Despite the presence of these polarized interests, there were also common interests by both the church and the neighborhood. Both parties were genuinely concerned about the well being of their community and its people. Both parties also desired to reach a solution that would not alienate them to each other since the two entities had always coexisted peacefully. These joint interests are very pivotal in the reaching of an agreement (Brett et al. 1998).
The mediator and the negotiating process
The mediator who was used to help in managing the negotiating process between the church and the neighborhood was a hired professional who had no direct interest in the conflict or its outcome, for that matter. This is an especially crucial consideration since if either party suspected the mediator of being partial or having vested income in the outcome, the process would fail. Poitras (2009, p.308) articulates that a mediator who is perceived to be impartial and only out to get a just solution will elicit the trust and confidence of the parties involved. The diplomatic nature of the mediator also increased the chances of achieving positive outcomes by facilitating unanimity (London 2002, p.259).
Before the onset of the procedure, a number of key activities were undertaken. The first step involved the mediator familiarizing herself with the issue. She examined the background information so as to develop strategies on how to deal with both antagonists. The mediator arranged for separate meetings with the concerned parties and clarified her role in the negotiation process. Moore (as cited by Poitras 2009, 307) states that the mediator’s attempt to establish common values and experiences with the negotiating parties may yield a good rapport with the parties.
Having established the positions of the various parties, and the role of the mediator, the negotiating and meditating process could occur. For the negotiation process to be undertaken, a strategy had to be followed. The Strategic choice that was employed in this negotiation was concession making. In this strategy choice, each party is required to reduce its demands or aspirations so as to accommodate the other party (Carnevale & Pruitt 1992, p.538). The problem-solving strategy, which involves trying to locate options that satisfy both parties, was utilized. In this case, each party gave its priorities, and a search for a solution was undertaken. These two strategies, applied appropriately, were arguably the most prudent given the fact that both parties involved had their demands, and there was little chance of either party giving in to the objectives of the other party without obtaining any gains.
Having understood the positions of both sides and established her role as the mediator, the mediator proceeded to facilitator of the negotiations. Since the goals and interests of both sides were already known, the mediator proceeded to help the parties better understand their interests and priorities. It was established that the neighborhood was not so much as opposed to the church renting out the premises as to the probability that Neighbourhood care Inc. would fail to fulfill its role of offering first-class recreational facilities to a manageable number of the patient thereby leading to rapid overflow of patients and a taint on the community’s suburban image.
Through the course of the negotiation process, the mediator noted that there was an impasse due to the neighborhoods’ perception of mentally challenged people. Schneider and Honeyman (2006, p.593) observe that an appropriately trained mediator can help the parties recognize and overcome culturally-based impasses. Once the mediator identified this impasse, she proceeded to highlight the issue to the neighborhood representatives who agreed on taking intervention steps so as to avoid this biased notion mentally ill people are a problem to the society.
Despite the many positive attributes of the mediator, her inability to reframe the views of the parties (in particular the neighbourhood’s dislike for mentally ill people) in softer terms made her come out as sounding harsh and judgmental. This impaired the negotiating process since the neighborhood group took to being defensive. However, by use of personal reflection, the mediator was able to detect her errors and proceed to rectify them. Her rectification can be attributed to the fact that reflection enables one to assess the situation and adapt as needed (Hardy 2009, p.386).
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Shamir (2003) defines consensus building as a decision and agreement reached by all the identified parties. Through this process, a unanimous agreement over the disputed issue(s) is reached. At the onset of the negotiating process, both parties were unable to see the common value issues where no opposition existed. The mediator enabled the parties to see these common goals, thereby showing the two parties that they were, in fact, not adversaries. Building on this basis, compromises were reached whereby the church agreed to enter into a contract with the Neighbourhood care, allowing the church to monitor the facility so as to ensure that no agreed on standards were met. Since these restrictions imposed on the organization would result in the church having to decrease its rent, a contingency contract, which takes into consideration the actual outcomes so as to ensure that each side wins, was adopted (Thompson & DeHarpport 1994, p.65). In this contract, the neighborhood would make contributions to the church so long as the church ensured that neighborhood care Inc abided by the specifications of the neighborhood community.
The neighborhood group also promised to be more accommodative of the less privileged members of the society and avoid sabotaging the church for its role in renting out space to neighborhood care inc. Part of the reason for the success in this negotiation arose from the fact that each negotiation counterpart felt that they had exerted some control over the proposals presented. A study by Ward et al. (2008) proposes that the chances of reaching an agreement are increased when the parties involved perceive that they played a significant role in the negotiating process. Having helped in the crafting of the agreement, the final role of the mediator was to oversee the implementation of the terms of the agreement. Since there was already goodwill and a desire to avoid dispute by both parties, it could be expected that both parties would fulfill their ends of the bargain.
This paper set out to demonstrate that the skill of the mediator is crucial as to the turn that negotiations take. The paper has demonstrated this by use of a case study whereby the role of the mediator who exhibited superior skill was responsible for the timely reaching of an amiable stand by both the parties involved. However, it has also been demonstrated that the mediator can only be successful in a situation whereby the parties involved trust in his/her motives. The role of the mediator is also invaluable in that it enables the conflicting parties to better understand their interests and also facilitates the moving forward of the negotiating process according to the needs and pace of the parties.
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