Berkan Manaigo-Vekil is a conflict resolution professional working at the threshold of human resources, law and corporate culture. He has more than 12 years of multinational experience gained in various functions at the United Nations (UN) in New York (USA), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing (China) and most recently, at Mars Inc. in Munich (Germany). He trained to be a Mediator at the New York Peace Institute and graduated from the apprenticeship program mediating all kinds of conflicts in their community centre in Brooklyn. He stated, “I always worked at the threshold of dispute prevention, human resources and corporate culture and enjoyed working in culturally and demographically diverse environments.”

Intercultural Mediation

He became interested in the field of mediation early in his life: Growing up as a child of Turkish immigrants in Germany, I always had to bridge different worlds”. Learning about the psychology and tools of mediation was life-changing for him: At law school, listening to professors lecturing about procedures of an adversarial civil court trial, I always had the nagging feeling that there must be another way out there to resolve issues,” he said. He became interested in finding a way that did not depend on one side’s rhetorical or intellectual supremacy or depend on a ruling of someone else based on general and abstract norms. He stated, “there had to be a way that addresses the root causes of conflict and considers its sometimes messy emotional dimensions, a process helping the parties to heal while empowering them to find common ground. In my final year of law school, then, I learned about mediation and knew that I had found my calling – both on a personal and professional level.”

He was always invested in contributing to workplace conflict prevention within organizations from an individual and a systemic perspective throughout his career. He stated, “the last year brought up many timely and relevant questions in this respect, not only around ‘flexible work’, ‘diversity & inclusion’ but also around the future of collaboration and mental health. Here, the holistic approach underlying mediation and principles like ‘self-determination’; ‘equality’ and ‘co-creation’ can guide and infuse inclusive next-level corporate practices, which is something I am very excited about. An example of this would be meeting practices. 

How meetings are conducted not only impacts the quality of decision-making but also organizational culture. Here, more intentional facilitation can help reducing behavior which discourages participation and introduce habits which empower diverse voices”.

Organizational Cynicism

Berkan also expressed interest in “Organizational Cynicism,” which he researched during his Master’s in Public Administration at the Hertie School of Governance. He stated, Organizational Cynicism evolves where there is a large dissonance in the perception of staff between the values and actions of an organization. Not addressed, it can erode organizations from within, in the form of poor job performance, absenteeism, high turnover or even burnout.” Therefore, for him, mediation is a powerful tool to bridge this dissonance. In mediation, parties can experience that there are often two narratives and more sides to the same issue. He further highlighted, mediation allows both sides to hear each other and thus builds trust and promotes dialogue, not only in evaluative relationships but also in staff-management relations where there is often an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality.”

Berkan’s interests expanded through the Mediators Beyond Borders International platform. He met Kenneth Cloke many years ago at an event at the United Nations in New York, where he spoke about the opportunities and limitations of mediation in workplace conflict. He stated, I was touched by an example Ken provided where a conflict starting with harsh mutual accusations had, with the help of a mediator, turned into a healing conversation which deeply transformed the relationship between the parties. This is, of course, not always possible. But the belief in the possibility of channeling tensions of conflict through a transformative and constructive process somehow always stayed with me.” For Berkan, this is ultimately what MBBI stands for and promotes, through its many working groups and capacity-building initiatives.

Listening is the Heart of Mediation

At the heart of mediation lies a skill that must continuously be refined. He stated, the pandemic has caused many people to reassess the relationships in their lives – be it to friends, family, neighbors or the stranger with the mask in the supermarket. As we are anxious to go back to our old ways and habits, I hope we can hold on a bit to the sense of solidarity that shone through in the past year.” He went on to say, During the height of the crisis we asked more often than usual: ‘Are you ok? Do you need anything?’ and it is that listening for each other’s needs that I hope we don’t forget about once we’re back to our pre-pandemic lives.” 

For Berkan, this is best summed up in the Chinese character for listening. It consists of several different elements and includes “ears” to hear, “eyes” to see, “mind” to think, and “heart” to feel. It also includes the characters for “undivided attention” and “king.” He further stated, for me that means, listening is “king.” And as a mediator, this reflects my hope for the parties involved: That there is more listening and thus more understanding at the end.”

Article by Elizabeth Gamarra, MBBI Writer