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From Jeff Thompson's Enjoy Mediation Blog
I've been reading the posts on this topic and am of so many different minds that I haven't yet developed a firm point of view. I do know that I feel comfortable about my ability to meet the challenge of building trust regardless of how the parties self-identify or their initial assumptions about me as a 64 y.o. white woman.
That somewhat useless bit of information said, I think Judy makes an important point in the discussion and wonder how the parameters of this facilitator request differ from what is provided in peer mediation.
My first reaction to the original posting, and all of the previous comments, was, "As trained and experienced facilitators, our FIRST and PRIMARY responsibility is to create and ensure an environment, in which all participants feel safe enough to express themselves, candidly." Of course, this may be easier said than done; and how do we effectively measure the "safeness" of the environment, "we think" we create. Hmmm!
While the pool of facilitators should reflect the population served; it is most important that each facilitator earns the trust of the participants--regardless of whether the facilitator shares the "same" or similar "demographic" characteristics. As professional facilitators of "assumption busting," we need to be careful not to, also, ASSUME narrow or stereotypical constructs about the facilitator-group participants relationship.
I am an African American woman, I am very often asked to facilitate groups of people--in which there are NO African American participants. Such situations have even included--on several occasions--facilitating extremely sensitive, "difficult conversations" about feelings and beliefs about race and ethnicity, in which there were no African American participants. In many instances, the groups have invited me back, time and time again--so they must have felt safe. (Also, I routinely use anonymous evaluation forms, for feedback.) These opportunities have heightened my awareness about a facilitator's responsibility to create a safe environment--in which participants can say WHATEVER is on their mind--without the fear or concern about being judged. These instances have also created opportunities for me to check-in with myself, about any "assum! ptions" or prejudices I might be feeling and projecting. It is important to give participants permission and opportunities to challenge our "objectivity."
Recently, I facilitated a group of nearly 300 people, in another country, and there was NOT ONE black person present--although, there were other people of color. I do not know what the participants were expecting, of me, but I knew that I had to earn their trust and help them feel safe and comfortable. The outcome of the sessions were amazing! Participants experienced major "breakthroughs" and "revelations," which they shared.
I'm letting it all hang out here--I am 63 years old, and yesterday, I was blessed to work with a group of high school students; and to "connect" with them, on so many dynamic levels--using music, artwork, game theory, collaborative brainstorming, candid discussions, and--most importantly--TRANSPARENCY! That is what I believe professional facilitators DO! (or should do.)
Intergenerational dynamics have become a special interest of mine; and I have been blessed to facilitate workshops on this topic for ACLEA (Int'l Assoc. of CLE Professional) and the 2008 ABA Annual Conference. I am pleased to be facilitating a workshop, entitled: Building Bridges Across the Great Intergenerational Divides: Opportunities for Intergenerational Collaboration..., at the June 25th Annual ACRGNY Conference. www.acrgny.org
One of the things I LOVE most about being a professional facilitator--especially of very "difficult conversations"--is that it challenges me, to be honest with myself and with others--in so many ways, and on so many levels. It challenges me to continuously learn and relearn.
So, perhaps we need to challenge our own assumptions and the assumptions of others, about our services. Isn't it wonderful to be engaged in such dynamic work!
.. I am often asked how can I, a white-jewish 35 year old write a dissertation on and provide expertise on adolescent african american innner-city girls... I do it the way and the why of what you described.. More so, at 28 I was the youngest, jewish and white woman to ever teach at spelman college- a historical black womens college.. I was told by most of my students that I could and still do understand them more than most of their black professor.. I am still close with a cohort of 6 of them and it has been 5 years..I do a lot of diversity work also and where I recognize the importance of having folks identify with someone of their identity/racial group.. I also know that we all can do the work and connect with all folks.. Its a gift to know how to connect.I am often the only white woman doing work with all black children and it is wonderful for them and me..So, I appreciated your comments and concur with them..Is there a way that the onslaught of e-mails on this topic can be stopped. The "reply all" response permits dozens of e-mails to crowd our computers. I think the message has been received and appropriately commented on.
Well, as a 59-yr old goy, I thought it was hilarious that a posting seeking young Jews to facilitate a discussion between Jews about the Jewish State should offend someone because of the "young" aspect. Nu?
As a person of a certain advanced age who loves facilitation opportunities, I too was frustrated enough to write, back-channel, to Rabbi Weintraub. She kindly respond much as she did to the list noting that some groups, such as abuse victims, may be more comfortable with facilitators drawn from their own group or gender.. Patricia Barnes makes a similar point about peer mediation, and it is common practice for heterosexual divorce mediation to use co-mediators of the two major genders. In my own facilitation practice, I have recruited colleagues of color to complement my white face by co-leading groups with me at predominantly minority settings. We certainly wouldn't sanction restricting an apartment building to whites, or taverns to men on the basis that it would maintain comfort for the existing white tenants or male patrons; however there is a plausible argument for using neutrals representative of the population being served. However before making a determination based on "hearsay" and general impression e.g. "young Jews often describe not feeling safe talking freely about Israel with older Jews", I believe it is incumbent upon organizers of program like the one described below to at least try to gather some systematic data. In this case, it would not be difficult to select a small sample of representative young Jews who sign up for the program and ask them for facilitator preferences if any, fear about "safety" etc. etc. Without evidence, the "fears" may be in the minds of the organizers. In addition mixing groups and facilitators may result in positive change and tolerance especially with trained facilitators who is likely to accept and reflect all views that are expressed. In the absence of research other than impressions or anecdotes, I believe the default would be to at least allow some "differently aged" facilitators to ply their neutral trade. This could even be an opportunity for research with the old and young facilitators each collecting identical evaluations which would then be evaluated and published right here on this list.
I am running out of room for my email This conversation should be moved to a blog
Someone earlier suggested you take this conversation to a blog, I wholeheartedly agree.
So, leaving it off at that last comment, if you so choose to continue it here, just click 'comment' below, it's free and easy to do. You don't have to register or anything like that, just a name and email... Enjoy!
Jeff Thompson is a certified international mediator. He is also a law enforcement detective in New York. His law enforcement role include a being a communication and conflict specialist, interfaith dialogue, developing and implementing community engagement programs, and designing training workshops. Jeff is currently a PhD candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School. He also received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Creighton University School of Law. Jeff has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally and has been published and featured with numerous international media organizations. He currently writes also at PsychologyToday.com. (All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions as a mediator and not that of any organization.)
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Jeff Thompson is a certified international mediator. He is also a law enforcement detective in New York. His law enforcement role include a being a communication and conflict specialist, interfaith dialogue, developing and implementing community engagement programs, and designing training workshops.
Jeff is currently a PhD candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School. He also received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Creighton University School of Law. Jeff has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally and has been published and featured with numerous international media organizations. He currently writes also at PsychologyToday.com.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions as a mediator and not that of any organization.)