In these turbulent times, with escalating tensions in world politics and when society seems increasingly polarised, you could be forgiven for thinking that there has never been a greater need to educate people about dispute resolution and how to deal with conflict effectively.
The ability to deal with conflict is not something that comes instinctively to us as a species. In fact, our instinctive “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat (which is how the brain interprets conflict) is a survival mechanism that is hard-wired into the human brain. In the face of conflict a primal response kicks in. Whilst this may be a natural response to conflict, it doesn’t have to be an inevitable response. An understanding of the dynamics of conflict and how to deal with conflict and disputes more effectively can be learnt. Yet few outside of the mediation community (or those who have taken mediation training) are taught these skills.
TalkingWorks is a registered charity that believes that one way to begin to address this gap and to start to embed conflict resolution skills into society is by providing training to young people as part of their education.
Although many young people are seeing and facing conflict in their daily lives, and witness conflict and disputes in the world around them, they are not generally provided with the skills to help them manage these situations.
Learning to handle conflict in productive ways is an important social skill that young people can use throughout their lives. The core skills of conflict resolution, namely good communication, real listening, and looking for solutions are valuable skills in all walks of life. The focus on resolving problems also teaches young people how to think creatively and to evaluate solutions. It gives them the confidence to solve problems in a positive and constructive way.
At TalkingWorks we believe that young people being fluent in the language and techniques of mediation and dispute resolution, and being confident in dealing with conflict when they encounter it, can only be a good thing for them and for society at large.
In partnership with law firms and other funders, TalkingWorks provides a one-day practical training in mediation skills that has been developed specifically for sixth formers and post-16 students. The training is led by an experienced trainer who is assisted by a team of professional mediators. These mediators volunteer their time to act as coaches and share their experience of dealing with conflict with the students.
Students learn the core skills of mediation and learn more fully how they can apply them to daily life and everyday situations. They get a sense of the differing places where conflict exists and how mediation could be a better way of resolving those conflicts.
The training itself is very interactive and highly engaging.
It combines practical exercises and role-plays in small groups with each group of students receiving coaching on the skills they are developing from a professional mediator. The aim is for the students to find the day challenging and thought-provoking but also fun. Creating a memorable learning experience that will stay with students long after the day of the training has been key to the success of the training. In addition to role-plays of scenarios that the students can relate to, the training also uses current events and topics identified by the students themselves to keep it relevant to them. Having been a coach on the training, it’s inspiring to watch how quickly these young adults understand how these skills might have a real practical application in their own lives and an impact on the world around them.
In just one day’s training the students acquire skills that they can immediately put to use in their lives. These skills include active listening, empathizing, effective questioning, generating solutions and being impartial. The training highlights how to deal with difficult situations and but also when not to intervene.
Most disputes have their roots in a breakdown of communication. When people are in the midst of a dispute, or find themselves in conflict, effective communication can be even more difficult. It can be particularly challenging to really listen to others when they are expressing views and arguments that we disagree with or that make us upset or angry. In this situation, although a person may outwardly be taking in information they are often already busy in their own heads preparing a response or a counter-argument.
As all good mediators know, active listening is an important skill to get to the heart of what is going on in a dispute and to build trust. During the training we help students understand what it means to “actively listen” and we teach them practical skills to help those in dispute to really listen to each other. Listening carefully to try to really understand what the other person is saying and why they are saying it, rather than just to respond.
They learn the power of accurately paraphrasing what the other person is saying to demonstrate that they have really heard and understood what that person wants to say. They also learn the importance of body language and role of non-verbal communication in helping people have good conversations.
Using fun practical exercises the training teaches the students the value of questions and how they can use different types of questions to understand what matters to a person, to obtain information and resolve ambiguity, and generate solutions.
The training provides young adults with vital skills to understand and deal with conflict at school, at home and beyond. The hope is that in doing so we are equipping the next generation with not only a range of valuable life skills that they will be able to draw on in their school life and future careers, but also embedding an understanding of some of the key processes for conflict resolution into our society. These young people are, after all, the future.
If you would like to get involved or support TalkingWorks please visit www.twis.org.uk, where you will find links and futher information.
By Gill Mansfield, Commercial Mediator and Trustee of TalkingWorks