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Mediators Work to Cut Through Divisions and Get to "Yes"

PHOTO: Speaking in Portland on Friday, Susan Podziba is a nationally-known mediator and author whose cases have spanned issues from abortion to workplace injuries, to land-use disputes. Photo courtesy of Podziba.
PHOTO: Speaking in Portland on Friday, Susan Podziba is a nationally-known mediator and author whose cases have spanned issues from abortion to workplace injuries, to land-use disputes. Photo courtesy of Podziba.
October 31, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. – People and politics often seem more divided than ever, but a group meeting this weekend in Portland is convinced it doesn't have to be that way.

At the Oregon Mediation Association's (OMA) fall conference, social workers, attorneys and human resources professionals will discuss ways to manage serious conflicts that prompt all sides to collaborate on an outcome without sacrificing their principles.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Susan Podziba, has mediated issues for cities, federal agencies and even the United Nations.

"I like to think about mediation as enabling people to solve their own problems,” she says, “as opposed to having a judge making a decision that may or may not fit the situation in all of its complexity."

Podziba says a good mediator can help people emerge with a solution that none of the parties could have reached on its own.

While mediation often is associated with labor negotiations or divorce and custody battles, it is growing in popularity for neighborhood disputes, foreclosures and public policy debates.

And couldn't Congress use a mediator?

Podziba has a different and more hopeful take. She points out that many lawmakers are excellent negotiators – when they want to be. But recently, one faction tested the limits of its power, and she says when that ran its course, the government shutdown ended.

"It's important to note that we had no violence,” Podziba points out. “In many other countries, this deep of a conflict would lead to violence. So, we have to be thankful for that, and know that our democracy functioned."

There are no specific requirements for becoming a mediator, but Liza McQuade, OMA executive director, says there are classes, the group has core standards and guidelines and is working on a certification program.

She hopes one day mediation is a first choice for resolving disputes, as a less expensive and more practical alternative to filing a lawsuit.

"Magic happens when people start really communicating, and really trying to get to the bottom of what is the issue and how can we resolve it,” McQuade says. “And often, there are creative ways to resolve it, and when you work together you can make that happen."

The OMA conference is this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 1-2, in Portland.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR