When city of Longmont employees have a conflict within their own bureaucracy, they sometimes bring in outside help to solve the problem because they have the option of talking it out with a mediator.
“It’s important to give employees the tools they need to make their work environment as good as possible,” said Ann Everhart, the human resources director for the city.
Mediators are becoming a widely used alternative for solving conflict. Everything from city government tiffs to divorce disputes are being settled out of court, for a much lower price and, some say, a more gratifying resolution.
Since 1996, Longmont has contracted out to CDR Associates in Boulder, which offers conflict resolution and training for future mediators.
But the idea of having a neutral party help solve a problem is nothing new.
Suzanne Ghais, program manager at CDR, said mediation is very simple — it is people listening to each other.
“When people are in conflict, they tend to spend their energy on what they disagree about,” Ghais said. “We try to get at what is the legitimate concern rather then reinforcing the negative message.”
Unlike judges, mediators don’t hand down a decision of who is right and wrong, they listen and impartially try to help participants come to a mutual understanding. Mediators say this distinction is often overlooked. Ghais said people often think mediators are going to give them a judgement.
“People are more committed to an outcome if they took part in shaping and creating it,” Ghais said. “I am more effective as a mediator if I am not trying to focus on a solution.”
Tom Bache-Wiig, a mediator with Connection Partners Inc. in Boulder, said the mediation field has grown considerably in the last 20 years. He and his wife started their company in 1999 after leaving other professions. Bache-Wiig said he was sometimes involved in negotiations in his past career and really enjoyed the back and fourth.
“We create a conversation,” Bache-Wiig said. “Courts are adversarial and can exacerbate a situation.”
Mediators coming out of other careers has been common in the past, but Ghais said that is changing. She said like herself, people are majoring in conflict-resolution programs in college.
Perry Hubert of Affirm Resolution in Niwot not only does business and personal mediation but also offers a different program called pre-emptive mediation.
Hubert said pre-emptive mediation is often done when people are going to have an ongoing working relationship with each other or are forming alliances.
“I ask all the difficult questions that they are uncomfortable asking each other,” Hubert said. “Then I help put in place procedures and protocols for problems that could arise.”
To become a mediator, there is no set licensing program or graduate program to complete. Bache-Wiig said that, technically, anyone can claim they are a mediator.
“In Colorado, the qualifiers are ‘buyer beware’,” Bache-Wiig said.
There is a Colorado Council of Mediators — of which Hubert is co-president — a state-wide group with a Boulder chapter. To be a member of the CCM, a 40-hour training program must be completed, and one must have gone through training in relationship dynamics, communication and problem-solving skills. A mediator must have also been involved with at least 10 different mediations.
Bache-Wiig is a former president of the Boulder CCM chapter. He said to find a mediator, people need to first look at how the mediator’s experience and background relate to their specific situation. He also suggests people get an idea of the mediator’s training. Bache-Wiig said the most important detail in looking for a mediator is that all parties involved feel comfortable with that person.