Re-Conceive the World, Re-Conceive the Path Toward Resolution. Member Spotlight: Bernie Behrend

“The most accepted idea about conflict is that it exists in a world of scarce resource.  As a result, we think we have to compete for who gets the oil, who gets the food or who gets the kids.   So, when you have that conception of the world, it is natural to think that the best way to approach a problem is to be competitive. Most mediators understand that competition is not the most effective way to reach a resolution.  If you think of the world as one rich with possibilities, there are multiple options to be explored. If you think of the world in that way, then it will make sense to collaborate. It is natural to collaborate if you see the world with mutual possibilities. Re-conceive the world in which conflict occurs and you re-conceive the path toward resolution.

Discovering Mediation as a life career passion

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, being the middle child, he jokes, might have prepared him to become today a prominent professor and practitioner of mediation. He started his studies in the law, not being a “really happy law student” completed his Juris Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1978. He started his professional career as a traditional lawyer, working as an associate attorney for a few years. In 1982 a friend of his took him to a lecture given by Professor John Haynes, on divorce mediation and in 1983, he received his first mediation training.  “At the time, few people heard about mediation, I tried to explain to my mother and to my mother-in-law what I was doing, it was sort of hard to do that. So, I had some other jobs, trying to stay in the middle as an investigator, and as an employee relation person”. The lecture opened the world of mediation where he found his passion. He joined the family mediation council, now the Mediation Counsel of Western PA, and started to co-mediate divorce cases, at the same time working as a workplace relations specialist at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. He started teaching conflict resolution classes at Duquesne University in 1990, at the paralegal program and then their leadership program. But it was 1999, having developed a mediation practice over the years, that he became Mediator full time. In this interview, he takes us into his professional career journey as a Mediator, and gives us some of the key tools that every mediator should have.

What is the difference for you between law and mediation?

“In law you have to represent somebody´s interest, it is an adversary process, where sometimes they both are losers if they spend a lot. The remedies and the options are quite limited, people want things beyond what the law can provide. Contrarily, in mediation, you can explore with individuals those other aspects that help them make a decision that is satisfying for both sides. So, I actually think of mediation as a facilitative decision-making process.”

How do you manage being a facilitator and remain neutral?

“There are three things you will need to consider in the mediation process: the situation (as broadly, as comprehensively as possible), what are the parties’ interests (what is important to them, in terms in the making decision) and what are the options. And this is the conversation I am having with both sides. I am not telling anyone anything, I am just asking questions about what would be important, for example: in this particular situation, have you considered what the others think about it?  Or, would you be able to demonstrate this, or is this going to be an obstacle if you go to court?”

What is your style of Mediation?

“I guess from a traditional type of analysis, I probably put myself in the category of a facilitator mediator, but I am also been trained in the transformative method, I like to think I incorporate a lot of these techniques in what I am doing. If the relationship is an issue, then I will be trying to focus them on the relationship. So, for example in the custody issues that I do, sometimes they need to renegotiate their relationship in order to make satisfying good parenting decisions.”

What do you think are the key elements a mediator should have?

“The key is to be able not to make a decision, it’s the parties’ decision to make, and so, your job is helping them go from a position of conflict or dissatisfaction and lead them to a more satisfying place. Then, one of the things that I also help new mediators to understand is that those things that generate emotion are  attached to one’s sense of who they are. So, one of the interests people always have is to protect their sense of self, a sense of identity, and you just need to allow that to be expressed, just need to recognize that it exists. Additionally, it is important for mediators to understand the value of the relationship that you have with the parties and that you build that trust.”

How did you get involved with Mediators Beyond Borders International?

“I had known Bob Creo for a while and appreciated his entrepreneurial experience. I don’t remember the exact time, but he came and asked me if I was interested in this new organization that he was putting together, he explained we are going to try to build institutions that will allow more peaceful resolutions moving forward, and I was definitely on board with that. It started with some local projects, with some local discussions, and I was part of it.”

Are you currently partnered with MBBI in a project?

“The only project that I was involved with was a local one where an effort was made to teach graduate students at the university of Pittsburgh about mediation and about conflict resolution, trying to inspire them to think about it as a way forward for them.”

The core lesson from this interview is that a mediator facilitates the channel of communication between the parties, guides the conversation into a more collaborative and productive one, and more importantly build a relationship of trust with the parties every step of the way of that mediation process.

Article by Francini Umanzor, MBBI Writer