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How to deal with racism during mediation
Question: What do I do if, during a pre mediation meeting, one of the parties says that she suspects racism is an issue. However, she says that she doesn’t want to raise the issue during the joint mediation meeting?
Well, the simple answer is that you respect the confidentiality of the party and the principle of self determination and don’t bring it up. Not that satisfying right?
Racism is a hot potato and not something to bring up lightly (although progressive comedians may disagree). Even bringing up the issue may appear like an indictment or even a self-condemning racist perspective. So before I do anything, I like to support the party in their position of feeling like there is something really difficult to bring up and that they are not sure how to do it and work from there. And support the party to think about all the things that makes it difficult to bring up, find out more and look for options.
“What is it that makes you think that it’s racism?” is often a nice question to ask.
Is it because of skin colour differences? This has been the basis for pseudo-scientific “genetics,” often used as justification for mass cruelty of one culture (often “white”) over another (often “black”) but definitely not confined to that dynamic which, thanks in part to the human genome project, a complete phallacy. *However, the wounds of this history are still largely experienced by almost everyone.
Other times its cultural, when people identify themselves and the other as having different perspectives and therefore behaviours. And it is here that we might find opportunity for more constructive conversations and a shared learning experience. It is not my experience that people are openly, let alone proudly, racist. Usually it’s the last thing people want to have said about them because of the ties with it being ignorant or “un-pc”, or at worst, an indictable offence. I also don’t think people want to intentionally malign others unless they have already been hurt.
From that as my starting point, I like to have the discussion about behaviours and expectations and talking about how the perceived differences impact each other. From there we can at least begin a dialogue that the parties may find the answers that they are looking for. As a mediator we can then look to see what is happening in the communication dynamic that may be reinforcing or countering the perceptions of racism. By slowing the conversation down and helping parties talk about what’s happening in the moment can help shed light on the difficulties that the parties are having.
These are just a couple of responses you may want to consider, as well as caucusing and checking out with the parties what it is they really want to bring up. Please feel free to comment below.
*There is greater genetic diversity within traditional “race” groups than between them.