Updated: Mar 6
by Caroliza Tulod-Peteros
Trust in the mediator and the mediation process are key elements that account for the success of any mediation undertaking. According to Alan Gold, a Canadian mediator, “The key word is ‘trust.’ Without it, you’re dead. Without it, stay home!”
What is trust in the first place? And how do we build trust in the mediation process?
Trust means a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something, such as relationships.” In conflict situations, the relationship of parties is affected such that they could no longer listen objectively to the views and proposals of the other. There is difficulty in communicating each one’s interests, needs, and wants that reaching an agreement is hard to reach. Emotions get in the way, and trust in each other is also greatly affected.
The mediator needs to present her/himself as a trustworthy third-party facilitator and win the trust and confidence of the conflicting parties. In different cultural contexts, be it in the family and community, the mediators are chosen based on their integrity and reputation as leaders, consensus builders, and respected elders. Traits like honesty, truthfulness, objectivity, compassion, a sense of responsibility, and being accessible are interwoven.
In the case of MedNet, its reputation as an organization mediating multi-party public disputes helps in lending credence to its mediators, earning a certain level of trust from among the stakeholders. However, in areas where MedNet is not known, the role of a Convenor is crucial for its mediators to be recognized and trusted. A Convenor is someone respected, credible, and trusted by all the stakeholders to a conflict.
The important role of the Convenor was clearly demonstrated in the case of the proposed 300 MW Pulangi Hydropower Project in Bukidnon in 2011. The project divided the communities in 26 barangays of the four towns of Bukidnon, namely Damulog, Kibawe, Kitaotao,and Dangcagan. There were those who opposed the project as it will inundate some barangays, totally or partially, while the rest would serve as buffer zones. Those supportive to it saw its benefits like a steady supply of electricity and the promise of progress and development. The affected barangays are within the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Malaybalay. Then Bishop Jose Cabantan, requested MedNet to study the case and whatever findings of the study would serve as basis for the position and actions of the Diocese on the matter.
MedNet sent two mediators, Edwin Golosino and myself to conduct conflict mapping study. Since MedNet and the team were not known to all the stakeholders – proponents, concerned LGUs and the affected communities, the bishop informed the concerned parish priests of the Conflict Mapping process and the team. These priests introduced the team to key leaders of the parish Social Action Committees and Basic Ecclesial Communities who have direct interaction with the affected communities. The stakeholders trusted the endorsement of the bishop and concerned parish priests and local church leaders.
There were instances where the bishop issued a letter reiterating the role of MedNet and its team to clarify the process. He was also present, along with the concerned priests, when the findings of the study were presented in a multistakeholder forum. He listened to the views, feelings, and proposals of the attendees. The bishop also supported the agreement of all the parties to proceed to a mediation process to address data conflicts. The parties requested the Conflict Mapping Team to act as mediators. This showed that the team earned the trust of the parties to facilitate their joint problem-solving process.
Earning the trust of the parties in the conduct of the conflict mapping and mediation process
The support of the bishop was very crucial. However, the team had to continually build and deepen the trust of all the stakeholders while doing its work. How were these done?
Being present in all the agreed meetings despite the distance (team members were from Manila and Davao City). Presence also meant full attention in actual discussions, use of active listening and nonviolent communication skills in steering the exchanges, taking down notes, and providing them summaries of previous meetings to facilitate their recollection of matters already addressed, and next steps to be discussed and agreed upon.
Onsite visits even in very remote and mountainous areas to get a sense of the situation, interact with local leaders through focus group discussions, giving opportunity for the team to understand better their concerns and how the project would impact their lives.
Demonstrating genuine concern on the interest of stakeholders to be listened to and be assisted in their joint search for a better solution to at least some of their immediate concerns.
Being patient, open, flexible, adaptable, and accessible, given the diverse cultural and educational backgrounds of the stakeholders.
Treating the parties equally, allowing them ample space and time to express their thoughts and feelings.
Clarifying the mediation process to the stakeholders, our role as third party and impartial intervenor, and always reminding ourselves of such crucial role by assessing how we handled ourselves after every meeting.
Being honest and transparent of our limitations, humble to accept mistakes or clarify issues or terms used that need to be understood within their context. Assumptions need to be avoided.
Paying attention to logistical details such as meeting venues where parties feel safe, comfortable, and confidentiality assured; provision of food no matter how simple.
Clarity of communication channels as agreed upon by all parties, especially for those without access to mobile phones.
Attention to the security of the team considering that the areas visited were conflict-affected (strong presence of the New People’s Army).
Strengthening inner peace, positivity, and seeing meaning in the responsibility as part not just of an advocacy to help conflict-affected communities resolve their differences but of one’s spiritual purpose in life. Through this, difficult challenges were overcome.
Caroliza Tulod-Peteros is a member and trainer in MedNet. She is a social development practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in mediation and an accredited OADR trainer in the field of alternative dispute resolution, a third-party facilitator, and a researcher in areas of human rights, gender, and peace building.
This article is part of the August 2022 issue of The Mediator. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for regular subscription.