Talking to Disputants

Silke Hansen

CRS Mediator, Denver Office

[Full Interview]


What kinds of questions do you ask?


Now, with individuals or small groups, I start by asking them, "What's going on? What is happening here?" Usually, even though I explain the role of CRS and the fact that we are impartial third parties, that we are there as mediators and that we work with both sides, people will try to "bring us over to their side." Maybe that's just human nature. They will come up with proof and documentation and offer to get more documentation. So it always becomes a balancing act. On one hand, I don't want to cut them off, and make it look like I don't care. So I accept that behavior, because it might also provide useful background information. On the other hand, though, I use it as an opportunity to remind them that I am not conducting an investigation, and that even if they were to convince me that they are absolutely right, that wouldn't resolve this particular conflict. I say something like: "Yes, I appreciate the information that you are giving me, and it will be helpful to my understanding. Remember, though, my role is to get you together with the other side and to see how we can resolve this. So thank you for the information, and it will help me understand some of the dynamics, and maybe point me toward other questions that I need to ask." Then I have to hope that they'll understand that I don't need the documentation. If they ask if I want all their documents I usually say, "Yes, that's helpful, but if you can't find it or can't prove it to me, I don't need the whole paper trail that you have. Documentation is not going to change the dynamics of what I am trying to do here." Eventually I think people catch onto that.