National Association for Community Mediation Reconciling Conflicts in Your Condominium

 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.  

 Advancing Further

 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.