Like it or not, we all have conflict in our lives. Whether with our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, our children — at some point we find it hard to get along.
Common reactions to conflict are avoidance, anger, or even litigation. But two mediators in the Methow Valley are offering what they see as a more productive way to deal with conflict.
George Schneider and Sherrie Farmer have created a new business, called Project Connect, which provides conflict resolution for valley residents. Both are certified mediators who met while doing volunteer mediation work for the Okanogan County Dispute Resolution Center, and decided to develop their own mediation service in the Methow Valley.
People who come for mediation will participate in a confidential and collaborative process, where the mediator helps them discuss creative solutions, Farmer and Schneider said in a recent interview.
“I love mediation. It’s a great way to create peace and understanding among people,” Farmer said. “Conflict can be scary and many people avoid it. Left unresolved, it can create deep pain and resentment.”
“People often feel that a disagreement or dispute is something to be won,” said Schneider. He has worked as a mediator in small claims court, where money awarded by a judge is the only solution.
But in many cases, “money is really not the heart of the problem,” Schneider said. “The problem is not solved by money. Sometimes you just want your stuff back, or you want the other person to stop certain behaviors, or you want to restore a relationship to its pre-dispute condition,” Schneider said. “In mediation we’re looking for a win/win solution — a settlement that both parties feel is best.”
A key to the mediation process is that the resolution of a conflict is in the hands of the people involved. The mediator is a neutral facilitator who creates a constructive environment for good communication and understanding — they are not a judge or arbiter.
“Mediation allows for personalized solutions. The outcome of mediation could be anything. A handshake, or a hug, or elbow bump, an agreement written down, or as formal as a signed contract,” Schneider said.
“Mediation works because no matter how different we think we are, we as humans have certain commonalities,” Farmer said. “We all need food, shelter, financial security, to feel safe, and to trust. We also need connection, belonging, and to be heard seen and valued. When there is a conflict, it’s often because one of these core needs has been violated or threatened. Once that has been identified and addressed, the immediate issues can usually be resolved fairly easily.”
The mediators are trained in techniques that help people move past the anger or hurt and work together to resolve their conflicts. Along with an agreement assuring confidentiality, people who come into mediation also agree to certain terms of behavior, such as using non-inflammatory language, Farmer said.
Each party in a dispute gets to explain their side to the mediator at the beginning of a session, Farmer said. “The mediator uses active listening to understand the participants’ concerns and may then reframe what she has heard to help message be more ‘hearable’ between the parties and to identify any concerns or interests the participants may have in common,” she said.
Mediators also use agenda setting as a way to help people focus on issues to resolve, Schneider said. “Within five to 10 minutes of meeting with parties, it may sound like there are dozen things to solve. We help distill things to an agenda of essential items, which may be a subset of all the things that have been raised. It keeps the tangents and distractions to a minimum.”
Mediation is often a “pretty brief process,” Farmer said. “Almost all of the mediations I’ve done have been one session. Things are usually resolved pretty quickly as long as people are willing to work together.”
Schneider said mediation sessions are usually limited to three hours, but the majority of sessions are completed before the time is up. That makes mediation far faster and less expensive than litigation in dealing with disputes, he said.
It’s also less damaging to relationships, he added. “If your relationship with the other party is important to you, whether personal or business, mediation allows you to get past a problem without risking a relationship disaster like a typical lawsuit might.”
The mediators said they want to make their services available to anyone who could benefit from it, and will consider a sliding fee scale for people who need it.
Project Connect provides mediation and conflict resolution services for families, co-parents, parents and teens, friends, neighbors, landlords and tenants, employers and employees, businesses, building contractors and homeowners.
Schneider and Farmer also plan to offer conflict resolution on a larger scale if needed, facilitating forums for discussion and problem solving if conflicts are impacting an entire community. “I have an interest in doing community listening circles, bringing people together,” Farmer said.
In addition to conflict resolution services, Project Connect also offers strategic planning to help organizations that need change or are contemplating change.
The process involves a neutral party who supports communication and collaboration to help an organization align its interests, and refine its vision and mission. Strategic planning is available to nonprofit organizations, businesses and government agencies.
For information, Schneider can be reached at 509-449-2008, and Farmer at 509-341-4028, or email ProjectConnectMethow@gmail.com.