Originally published in Just Resolutions by the Section of Dispute Resolution.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste” – Alistair McIntosh
If the greatest adversity and challenges may bring the greatest opportunities and responsibilities, what might those be for us as collaborative problem solvers and conflict communication professionals, and how might virtual communications serve them?
In this pandemic that affects all sectors, how do we use virtual communications (video, online, e- mail, phone and others) to build pathways to not only survive it together as intact as possible, but also to develop more egalitarian distribution of rights, opportunities, and resources to replace existing patterns and systems that increase inequality, to expand respect and protection, especially in those most empowered, for individual and collective rights, opportunities and resources, in all sectors, individually and systemically, particularly for those most marginalized, disempowered and underserved. Examples may be:
Policies and Practices Working Groups:
- Use virtual communications (podcasts, webinars, discussion forums, town halls, etc.)with diverse groups, including especially those more empowered and those less empowered, on implementing policies and practices to achieve verifiable diversity, equality, inclusion, and empowerment that enable underserved groups to attain meaningful roles and status in decision-making and actions in ADR, law, education, health care, labor and employment, the environment, climate change, energy, and other sectors; and
- Use our best conflict communication qualities and abilities, in virtual communications, to try to help level the playing field of rights, opportunities and resources in all sectors, individually and systemically, and to develop prevention and resolution of inequalities and injustice, and of the ensuing conflicts and harm they generate for those least able to cope and deal effectively with them.
Collaborative Leader Working Groups:
- Form working groups to identify and reach out through virtual communications to collaborative leaders in all sectors to develop, support and implement those egalitarian policies and practices, such as by learning about, joining, participating in and supporting groups like Mediators Beyond Borders International, the Divided Communities Project, the New York Peace Project, Move the Needle, and others serving the above egalitarian objective;
- Identify and reach out to the most collaborative of those with the greatest resources and power, through respect and understanding for their values (such as their belief inequality, charity, altruism, kindness, empathy, compassion) to cultivate and nurture in them the motivation to learn to understand and respect that building, respecting and honoring true diversity, equality, inclusion and empowerment best serves both their interests, and all of ours; and
- Cultivate more egalitarian attitudes and behaviors in communication. Research shows that power manipulation and abuse tend to dominate many conversations, decisions, and actions, and that increasing diversity enhances the effectiveness and sustainability of decisions made and actions taken; among the most effective techniques, in virtual as in in person communication, are to ask someone different than the dominant speakers in a discussion (e.g., someone younger, or of a different gender, ethnicity, culture, or other human element) to take the lead or share their thoughts; to show respect and understanding for the unique perspectives and contributions of less vocal participants; to honor participants’ differences as value enhancers to the communications; and to employ other ways to maximize participation and motivation among diverse participants.
Standards and Criteria Working Groups:
- Form working groups to research and establish criteria and standards for the implementation of those egalitarian policies and practices, based on objective data and feedback, to assess, report on, incentivize and maximize their growth, effectiveness and sustainability.
Data Base Working Groups:
- Develop and act on objectively reliable data that builds understanding, respect, and motivation to achieve the above objective, for instance, by joint fact-finding processes, neutral expert investigations and studies, use of artificial intelligence in problem assessment and solutions; working groups on key issues in various sectors; and development and use of objectively reliable data and neutrally managed communications, evaluation, decision-making and action planning to accomplish the above objective.
Research and Education Working Groups:
- Develop working groups for evidence-based research, education and discussions on implicit biases, secondary trauma, conflict prevention, management and resolution, and other factors impacting conflict communications and processes.
Dispute Resolution Working Groups:
- Reach out to and connect with the most respected dispute resolution practitioners and leaders, pick their brains, view their publications and podcasts, and learn from them;
- Help guide and manage innovative dispute prevention and resolution professionals to offer virtual discussions and action planning for adaptive new processes and pathways to connect previously unconnected and possibly competitive groups, especially those more empowered and those less empowered, to collaborate to serve the above egalitarian objective;
- Mentor young and less experienced dispute resolution professionals and others to learn of, value and collaborate on the above objective;
- Cultivate in us and use in virtual communications the assets and aptitudes of effective agents of change, that Malcolm Gladwell identified in The Tipping Point:
♣ Connectors, who build strong networks of people with particular skills and resources, and connect them with those who can most benefit;
♣ Mavens, who build great knowledge and expertise in particular areas and provide them to those who can most benefit; and
♣ Influencers (Salespeople in Gladwell’s term), who develop knowledge of and access to valuable products and services in particular areas and offer them to those who can most benefit.
Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Empowerment Working Groups: •Reach out for collaboration to those whose differences from us offer opportunities for unique and invaluable learning, for broadening and deepening both our understanding and our networks, and for the chance to build friendships that further that enrichment for us and those we serve;
- Keep, renew, and develop new connections and activities with colleagues and friends who offer and share unique, rewarding learning and value in what they do in their lives and work; and
- Attune to, respect and understand the differences they bring and share, how these enrich your and others’ lives and understanding, and what shared thoughts, values, beliefs, and collaborations be possible with them.
Technology Working Groups:
- Learn and use evolving virtual communication technology and its convenience, low cost and benefits to innovate and adapt learning activities and experiences in conflict situations to expand our connections with a broader, more diverse range of people, opportunities and sources for learning; and
- Seek and connect with the people, technology and resources that have both professional and personal meaning and value to us and others, help us to grow, and expand our perspective on and understanding of conflict resources; use virtual tools, forums and events to connect and learn with, from and about a more diverse, global community of DR people and those we serve, to build pathways to more egalitarian rights and opportunities that benefit all.
Reflection/Intention Working Groups:
- Nurture our imagination, curiosity, empathy and altruism, and make them the themes, tone and spirit of virtual communications among broad, diverse groups from different sectors, to build connections and collaborations with people, activities, subjects and processes we might not have previously thought possible or worthwhile;
- Reflect on who and what interests the people and resources involved might serve and how; on what meaning and value they might make possible for you and others; and on how they might contribute value to the egalitarian objective above;
- Reflect on what established and new activities, events and resources you have learned or can explore through virtual communications; on which people and groups to use them with; on what opportunities they offer for enhancement of knowledge, skill, relationships and quality of life;
- Reflect on what you do and might learn and do, personally and professionally, to use virtual communications to serve individual and systemic benefits and solutions consistent with the above egalitarian objective, that might offer the greatest meaning and value for you and others; and
- Memorialize and share those experiences and that learning, through virtual events and connections, with friends and colleagues for whom your stories, beliefs, values, and what you do and how and why you do it, might have meaning and value, now and/or at some time in their lives.
For all those willing to share responses, thoughts, stories, questions and anything else that these musings bring to mind, those will be welcomed at [email protected]. I will read every line of every one, and I will respond. Someone asked me what we’re here for. Maybe it’s to connect the best ways we can with the best people we can, to help see, understand and make good choices that serve our individual and collective humanity. That is at the core of what we offer and do in our work, and likely in our personal lives as well. Maybe this pandemic helps us see, honor and value that true diversity, equality, inclusion and empowerment, especially for those least empowered and least served, are at the heart of the matter. Sincere, honest respect, understanding, curiosity and outreach to the humanity in others, especially those in conflict, trauma or crisis, may enable pathways to meaning and value for each and all of us. Hopefully this thought piece shares and can evoke ways to do that with virtual communications as we have done and do in direct in person communications, and to pay it forward.
Heartfelt thanks and credit to master mediator and treasured friend Elizabeth Kent for invaluable edits and input.