Creating Compassion, Collaboration, and Connection. Member Spotlight: Tracy Horning

Most of the times, conflict shows itself as a complicate combination of different factors. Emotions, pre-existing stances, and personal objectives to which one is deeply attached, all convey to build up barriers and widen the distance between the parties involved. The way these walls and voids are dealt with by the mediator makes on their ability in transforming the conflict successfully. According to Tracy Horning, in these cases, the key for an effective conflict resolution process lies in “broadening the perspectives of the parties, empowering them to have a voice and see the humanness of one another”. When the mediator can guide the parties to see beyond their own presumed perspectives and goals, those mentioned barriers are torn down, and those voids of hatred and enmity filled with understanding and compassion. 

Connection to MBBI

With more than 10 years of experience in the field and hundreds of mediation cases followed, Tracy is an independent Consultant, Mediator, Facilitator and Trainer, based in Philadelphia, United States. Her area of expertise is very broad, having started as a community mediator, and eventually shifting more towards schools, workplace mediation and training. Tracy joined MBBI motivated by the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals and put her skills at the service of MBBI global outreach. Since then, she has been actively participating in MBBI’s Health and Conflict Working Group. Thanks to her experience, she is majorly contributing to design a training aimed at strengthening the ‘self-regulatory’ capacity of the mediators, namely their ability not to get caught emotionally and physically within the conflict they are seeking to mediate.  

Making of mediation a living profession. 

Tracy did not always practice as a mediator. Her encounter with the field of conflict resolution was propitiated by an early passion for interpersonal communication and for “uncovering the details through which people communicate, and which influence our conversations”. That is why she firstly earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication at the University of New Hampshire, at the dawn of the 90s. During these academic studies, Tracy got into contact with mediation, and she never left it since. She describes how fascinating this different approach to conflict resulted, particularly seen in a not adversarial manner. “Of mediation I immediately liked the fact that you do not have to give up on everything, but you can negotiate in a respectful manner and try to find middle ground”, Tracy acknowledges. Following this enthusiasm, Tracy trained as a mediator at the Center for Resolutions, getting involved on a voluntary basis in a broad range of mediation cases at the community level. 

As a matter of fact, mediation does nor figure among the easiest career to start, mainly due to economic constraints in terms of sustainability. This intrinsic limit brought her to start working in the sales & marketing industry to make enough money for a living. After few years, however, she decided to give mediation a try. “Finally, it worked out better that I could have ever imagined”, she happily says. Needless to say, her success was laudable. Tracy was indeed able to start a career at the Center for Resolutions as the Director of Mediation & Training. This very broad and diversified role massively supported her professional development, by fine-tuning her mediation skills and making her “learning new strategies to help people seeing the humanness of one another”. Tracy gives credit to the deep passion for mediation for having supported her throughout this professional learning process, especially at times where she was faced with novel tasks and programs, such as the design, implementation, and supervision of mediation trainings. At the level of mediation training and programming, Tracy particularly worked to include peer mediation and other conflict transformation skills within schools’ curricula as well as in the teacher training. 

Currently, Tracy is still in contact with the Center for Resolution as a contractor and consultant. Nevertheless, as she got more interested in performing actual mediations and trainings than running programs, which involves lots of paperwork, she decided to start her independent mediation business in 2018. One of the unique strengths of Tracy’s profile as a mediator is her broad mediation expertise, making her capable of effectively assessing and adapting to different conflicting situations. As an independent mediator, Tracy provides customized solutions for individuals, groups, and organizations encountering conflict. 

Helping people to see each other perspective

“Broadly speaking, something that is particularly challenging at the time of mediation is when people are tightly attached to their belief systems and their goals”, Tracy explains. According to her, they key for an effective conflict resolution lies in moving the negotiation from their respective objectives to what stands underneath these latter. “If we are able to move people from what they are stuck in, from negotiating about what they want to what they need. There exists much more likelihood to reach any form of understanding and agreement among the parties”. She continues by pointing out how much effective is, in these instances, to broaden the perspective of the parties, pushing them to see beyond their own barriers of fear and anger and recognize the common humanity which is nevertheless bonding them. In this respect, the mediator must be thoughtful in asking the right questions with the appropriate timing to foster curiosity, to reframe one’s perspective and to finally lead to creative solutions. “When parties can acknowledge one another’s perspective, the magic begins”, Tracy keenly states. 

Ken Cloke introduction to MBBI

While at the Center for Resolutions, Tracy additionally became part of the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators, acting as a Board Member. During one of the Council’s annual conferences, Tracy met Ken Cloke, the most prominent figure among the visionary founders of MBBI. His enormous talent and wisdom represented a great source of inspiration for Tracy. “I think that Ken is capable of taking a unique dive into mediation, looking at what stands underneath the surface of the conflict and helping parties to get unstuck with renewed awarenesses and openness to change”, she describes. 

This key encounter also led Tracy to discover and, after a few years, join MBBI. With the organization, she hopes to fulfill one dream that always remained vivid in her mind along her career. “One of my greatest dream since I was young is to work in third world countries, to help bringing people together in particularly fragile situations. This broader vision has been carried with me throughout my life; it is no coincidence that I am now part of MBBI”. Certainly, given the global commitment of MBBI and its capacity to act internationally, such an objective is at Tracy’s fingertips. Tracy likes to conclude with a quote that she says is quite representative of herself: “I’m not waiting for humanity to embrace compassion, kindness, and equality; or acknowledge our fundamental need for connection and collaboration. Instead, I’m creating it”.

Interview by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer