Bridge Builders Mediation Service

Bridge Builders Mediation Service is a new service set up to address the increasing number of requests for help we receive from churches, charities and organisations searching for different ways of addressing the conflicts that are causing them pain, fracturing relationships and disrupting the normal pattern of working.

The Mediation Service is being set up with support from the Kirby Laing Foundation who are funding initial costs to ensure the service meets the needs of those requesting help.

If you are dealing with tension and difference then you are probably entering into a place of conflict. If this is getting beyond your skill set and experience to deal with then you may need help. Mediation can take many forms, from two-party mediation through to large group reconciliation processes.

Please see below for details about how Bridge Builders might be able to help.

 

Handling Your Request

If you contact Bridge Builders for assistance we will:

  • Talk with you to get a clearer picture of the situation
  • Assess, in a preliminary way, the sort of outside help that might be appropriate
  • Discuss and agree options for moving forward, followed up with a more detailed proposal including costs and timescales.
  • Provide mediators with the appropriate skills and experience to work with the parties in conflict.

The Mediation Process

The first stage to any mediation will be Individual meetings with all parties to gain first hand perspectives on what has been happening, the impact of these events and the goals of the individual from the mediation

If, after this, all parties and mediators are willing to move forward to a full mediation, then the joint meeting will be arranged. There is a 5-step process to mediation:

  1. Welcome and Introductions
  2. Uninterrupted Speaking Time – each party has 5 minutes to say something to the rest of the group about why they are there, impact of events and goals for mediation
  3. Issue Identification – mediators will work with the parties to identify the key issues and prioritize which order they will be addressed in.
  4. Discussion of Issues – each issue will be discussed separately focusing on what happened and how to move forward. During this stage actions might be highlighted to take into the agreement phase of the process.
  5. Agreement building – this is where the participants will look to agree how they want to move forward from the mediation. This may be written or verbal depending on what the parties need.

During the mediation there will be breaks. These can be requested by anyone in the room and can be for a multitude of reasons. There may also be times when the mediators wish to speak with the participants separately, if this is the case the mediators will indicate what they are doing and why. Equally, participants may request to speak to the mediators separately.

Variations to this process will happen as led by the mediators. If at anytime participants don’t understand what the mediators are doing, they should say so and ask why.

Mediation is appropriate when the parties who are in dispute are willing to try and resolve their disagreements, and mend broken relationships, yet do not feel able to do so without assistance. We ask that the parties take part voluntarily, mindful of the teaching of Jesus to his disciples to talk directly with those within the community who have offended us.

interpersonal mediation is most often conducted between two colleagues. Where the number is greater than about four to six people, we recommend exploring a process of group reconciliation instead. Interpersonal mediation is not appropriate in cases where there is no realistic chance of negotiation between the parties, or where the number of people involved would be too big for effective face-to-face dialogue.

We will not attempt mediation when we judge that the conflict is intractable. On the other hand, conflicts are sometimes more amenable to mediation than enquirers first suppose.

  • The parties who are in dispute engage in face-to-face dialogue
  • The mediators lead the process but do not determine the outcome
  • The process has a definite structure
  • Ground rules are agreed at the outset
  • The mediators do their best to act impartially
  • The aim is to promote deeper listening and understanding, and to find ways forward that address the concerns of all the parties involved.

Group Reconciliation

Group reconciliation draws on a broader range of processes than interpersonal mediation (although the aims are broadly similar). This is because conflicts that involve many people are invariably complex. Often there is considerable history tangled up with the presenting issues.

By necessity, group reconciliation processes are bespoke. Each has its own unique characteristics and so needs its own specific approach. Therefore, the mediators, once assigned, will work with you to understand the context, the history, the presenting issues, size and make up of the conflicting groups and then design a process appropriate to the situation.

Group reconciliation is appropriate when a substantial majority of those who are significantly affected by a conflict are willing to try and resolve their disagreements, and mend broken relationships, yet do not feel able to do so without assistance. Depending on the circumstances, we may encourage everyone in the group to take an active part in the process. Whoever is involved, we will encourage each person to accept responsibility for their own contribution to the situation, and to express apology or regret where they appropriately can.

Examples:

  • A congregation is divided over an important issue
  • A large leadership group is unable to resolve disagreements
  • There is hostility between different church committees or worship centres

Group reconciliation is not appropriate in cases where there is no support for the idea from the church’s leadership group, or where the conflict is focused entirely on the minister’s performance.

  • The parties who are in dispute can express their views in a variety of ways
  • The facilitators lead the process but do not determine the outcome
  • Ground rules are agreed at the outset
  • It may take several weeks of gathering information before a structure for the process is firmed up
  • The facilitators do their best to act impartially
  • One aim is to engage with feelings and find agreements that address the concerns of all the parties
  • Another aim is to learn better ways of handling conflict in future, so that outside assistance will not be needed again

Frequently Asked Questions about Mediated Conversations

Structured mediation is an unfamiliar experience to many people. Here are some questions that you might want answered before you try such a process.

Suppose your relationship with someone else is strained, possibly near to breaking down. You are not succeeding in resolving disagreements, however much you try, and in spite of heartfelt prayer. It looks as if nothing will change without somebody else intervening. But rather than resort to calling in “big guns”, you are willing to try to sort things out, face to face. Mediation can open up a pathway for that dialogue to happen in a safer and more constructive way.

A mediated conversation is a conversation between two (or more) people who aren’t, at the moment, able to have that conversation without someone else present to help them.

The primary purpose of a mediated conversation is to gain greater understanding through listening to each other. You each listen to the other person’s perspective, what they think and feel about events that have brought you to mediation. You each have the opportunity to speak about what you think and feel about events that have brought you to mediation.

A mediated conversation has agreed ground rules, these are normally:

  • Respectful listening, in order to understand
  • Listening without interrupting
  • Careful speaking, in order to be understood
  • Speaking for yourself, not on behalf of others
  • Confidentiality – what is said in this conversation does not get reported elsewhere, unless agreed by both parties (or all parties if more than two people). Please note, the exception is if something is said that would indicate a risk of harm to someone – the mediators will work with those in the conversation to identify who is informed.
  • Mobiles off

Both parties are asked to agree to these ground rules ahead of the mediation and again at the start of the mediation. Each participant in the mediated conversation will be asked to sign a mediation waiver, which ensures that the mediated conversation remains separate from any other existing or possible formal processes.

A mediated conversation is usually a difficult conversation. Participants often feel nervous and anxious about the conversation. The mediators will meet with you beforehand. The mediators will ask you what you hope to come from the mediated conversation, your goals, and how you can contribute towards the conversation. The mediators won’t tell you what to say; they will help you to think about what is most important for you to say. They will also help you think about how you will prepare to listen to what the other person says.

  1. The mediators will ask for a commitment to the ground rules (sample, above).
  2. Both parties are given some time at the beginning to talk about what is important to them and their goals for the mediation.
  3. The mediators will work with you to identify the key issues, the things that need to be talked about.
  4. Each issue is taken, one at a time, and explored in more detail. This is a combination of enabling greater understanding about why an issue matters and an exploration of possible solutions or different approaches in the future, to address the issue.
  5. The amount of problem solving and agreement for next steps will be different with each mediated conversation.

Working as team with the two of you who are in dispute, the mediators would help you to:

  • Talk about what is causing you concern and what you are hoping for
  • Get a clearer picture of what the disagreements are about
  • Express your own feelings and describe your own experience of the conflict
  • Understand things from the other person’s point of view
  • Look at key problems, one at a time, and come up with ideas for solving them that seem realistic to both of you
  • Offer each other what you feel able, in the way of apology or regret for your own part

The mediators’ job is to keep the process on track, and to create a safer environment. Their role is not to decide who is right or wrong.

The mediators will work with you to find a venue that is acceptable and feels safe enough for all involved and offers suitable privacy, quiet and confidentiality.

A mediated conversation is dynamic, it is a conversation and therefore you will be asked not to speak from notes. If you need to have some brief notes to remind you of what you want to say, these can be referred to if necessary.

Again, because this is a conversation you are asked not to take notes during the conversation, so that you can be attentive to the other person. This is also helps with the commitment to confidentiality.

The mediators are not there to make judgements of you or the things you may have done that have contributed to the need for mediation. We recognise that when conflicts occur these rarely bring out the best in people. Our role is to support and encourage both parties in their search for a way forward.

You are only responsible for yourself in the process, not for anyone else. If you are willing to come into the mediated conversation to offer your perspective and to listen to the perspective of the other person, then it is worth you offering yourself for a mediated conversation.

The purpose of meditation is to build greater understanding. As a result of participating you may find your view or attitude is changed by what you hear. You may find you still don’t agree with each other.

Reconciliation is a journey rather than a moment. It can take time and there are various stages on the journey. Sometimes the mediated conversation does enable steps towards reconciliation; other times it does not.

Several reasons:

  • One mediator can be listening or noting down ideas (often on a flip chart) while the other is engaged in conversation with those participating
  • There is less chance of bias creeping in
  • The mediators can support one another through what can be a tiring process, handing the baton back and forth
  • After the session, each mediator has someone to mull things over with, without breaking confidentiality

The mediators’ role is to enable a safe enough space for the conversation to take place so that the people involved in the mediation can explore possible ways forward. The issues and problems remain the responsibility of the people having the conversation, they work on solutions. The mediators will not tell you what to do to address issues and problems.

The mediators will meet with each person beforehand to hear the story from their perspective, to explain what mediation is, to invite them into mediation.

Often a mediated conversation will take place during a full day, but sometimes the time is set-up differently. Difficult conversations like this take time and energy too, you are likely to be tired afterwards.

When the people involved in the mediated conversation agree about ways forward they will also agree how this is taken forward and who needs to know.

Sometimes the mediators will report to the bill payer (for example, diocese) that the meditation has taken place, they won’t report any of what was discussed, see confidentiality above.

You can’t know that mediation will work – it is bound to be an exercise of faith because the process is not about forcing anyone to be different. However, you can make sure that, on your side, the whole process is tackled with a desire to build up and not tear down, to take responsibility for anything that you have contributed towards a breakdown of relationship, and to avoid blaming the other person. Bridge Builders’ experience is that mediation can help to create a shift in relationships which have got stuck and can open up new ways forward – sometimes with a profound transformation for those involved. Expect to learn new things about yourself, about others, and about God’s love for us.

Mediated conversations are hard work, they involve a lot of concentrating and listening as well as paying attention to how you say things that might be difficult for the other person to hear. By the end of the day of mediation you will are likely to be tired. We suggest that you don’t plan to do anything demanding that evening, but instead create some space to rest and take care of yourself. You might want to ask someone to pray for you during the day, recognising the need to adhere to the confidentiality agreement.

No. At the end, the mediators write up any agreements that have been reached by those involved through the process of discussion. The mediators will not try to determine the outcomes of the process, unlike an arbitrator who is invited to settle the dispute.