Unless you live in the perfectly utopian condo or co-op (in which case please disclose where), conflict is virtually inevitable. Whether is it a noise complaint or larger issue of governance, disputes between neighbors and board members will arise yet are fortunately resolvable. However, because many communities have a difficult time conciliating conflict, many residents and boards are looking to outside mediation to help negotiate problems more effectively, with less dirty looks and cat fights involved. Organizations such as the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) focus on promoting mediation along with specific resolution strategies to help solve and mitigate conflicts in not only condo and co-op communities, but also between family members, employees and significant others.
Let's Talk It Out
NAFCM is a national organization based in Mesa, Arizona, that supports and promotes a network of more than 400 local mediation centers. It focuses on providing the latest mediation training, program administration resources, and locating funding. NAFCM also promotes collaborative projects between mediation centers, endorses mediation research, and educates on the benefits and effectiveness of using mediation as opposed to other, more common yet less effective tactics, such as banging on your neighbor's ceiling with a broomstick.
NAFCM was founded in 1994 by a group of individuals who were the executive directors of their local community mediation programs. The aim was to create an overarching organization that would oversee and unite local programs. While mediation was a fairly utilized method at the time, programs were sparse and lacked cohesion and unity.
“It was a pretty isolated field,” says Justin Corbett, executive director at NAFCM. “At the time, [mediators] were looking at a specific tree standing on the street. There wasn't really an organization that was looking at the forest as a whole, how the field of mediation was developing, what sort of resources could be shared with one another.”
Structurally, NAFCM is a member-based organization that does not administer mediation services but instead provides support and resources for local community programs, who are members of NAFCM. These centers offer a wide variety of mediation services for over 100 different types of conflicts, including disagreement in condos and co-ops. All centers are able to assist with housing based conflict but 87% have specific programs tailored toward landlord-tenant disputes and 63% have programming particularly designed for condominiums and HOAs, Corbett says.
Get the Elephant Out of the Room
Although mediation organizations such as NAFCM have been around for a long time, many people are not exactly sure what the mediation process entails. Will you be holding hands with your neighbor singing Kumbaya? Not quite.
“Mediation allows you to have a really difficult conversation with someone, one that we may not want to have by ourselves. It brings in this trained third party, that's not taking sides on the issue. They're not issuing decrees on who's right and who's wrong, instead they are trained experts in how to handle really difficult conversations,” Corbett explains. “They encourage people to get past the name-calling and get beyond the finger-pointing. What's nice about mediation is that it gets to the underlying issue of what is motivating the conflict and it takes a future-oriented approach toward resolving it so that the parties can continue living next to each other in a more harmonious way.”
This harmony is achieved by really pushing both parties to express their true feelings, enabling open communication in a safe and neutral environment. Statistically, 80%-90% of mediation cases end with both parties coming to a mutual agreement, says Corbett. Mediation makes it easier for individuals to express themselves because no one is making a final judgment or contract such as in a court order. The mediator is also well-trained to guide and monitor the conversation so that both parties well they are respected and able to communicate their grievances and perspectives clearly. The mediators work collaboratively with both parties to lay everything out on the table and then see how a mutual agreement can be achieved.
While the likelihood of agreement is very high, not all parties reach an explicit agreement, which doesn't mean that nothing was accomplished. In fact, the sole act of coming together to communicate is a big step.
“It is not to say that people always walk out shaking hands and will never have a future conflict between them, but for that particular conflict, at least, they get an opportunity to real get down to the meat of the issue. You have a deeper understanding of where the other party is coming from, so you can hopefully continue to work on moving forward, even if you don't have a resolution at the end of mediation,” Corbett says.
In addition to providing resources to who need to be mediated, NAFCM also supports mediators by organizing trainings and seminars to help advance their skills. The Certificate in Center Administration webinar series is a sequence of convenient, online training courses specifically designed for community mediation program staff members looking to advance their professional development and move their program to the next level. NAFCM's webinars are professionally designed and delivered by leaders in the community mediation field, and provide actionable recommendations and tangible resources to enhance key areas of center administration. Participants will learn the latest developments and smart practices on core topic areas, including: Case Management, Fund Development I & II, Government Relations, Program Evaluation, Quality Assurance, and Volunteer Administration. Program staff members may choose to register for these 90 minute courses a la carte, or as an entire series to earn NAFCM's Certificate in Center Administration.
Periodically, NAFCM holds one- and two-day Regional Training Institutes (RTIs) in locations around the country designed to connect and inform those involved in community mediation. These trainings, offered to board members, executive directors, and staff of community mediation centers, are intended to improve programs' capacities and proficiencies in fundraising, management, stakeholder engagement, strategic planning, volunteer administration, and many other topics of specific interest to those working in the community dispute resolution field.
More information on training can be found on NAFCM's website http://www.nafcm.org/about/programs or by calling (602) 633-4213.
Mediation is a proven successful approach to resolving personal and community disputes. Even if the parties in conflict don't leave as best friends, knowing that their concerns and perspectives have been expressed, individuals part with the skills and confidence necessary to be better communicators for the future.
Maggie Puniewska is an editorial assistant at The New Jersey Cooperator.