Sept. 5, 2008

Students learn how to resolve conflicts professionally

The scenario: Worker Pat and supervisor Carrie have a problem -- each other. Tension between them disrupts their workplace. Pat says her workload "is completely unreasonable." Carrie counters, "The work needs to be done. That's what you were hired for."

This conflict was an exercise defused by 26 Cornell students at an August seminar offered by the ILR School's Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. Professional mediators taught students how to mediate interpersonal, community and workplace disputes.

"This is harder than it looks," said J.R. Rothstein, a second-year Cornell Law School student who played mediator for Carrie and Pat.

Jon Auerbach '10, cast as Carrie, said he learned that "mediation is not inferior to law; it's separate from the legal system." He continued, "I was very skeptical about mediation when I first got here. I am much more now" a believer in its value.

Understanding that most mediations provide closure, not necessarily justice, was another insight that sunk in during the training, Auerbach said.

Chad Hall '09 said he learned that "negotiations positions are usually fronts for underlying issues. Probe for those; that's where the resolutions come." Hall also noted, "There are a lot of people skills" -- including tone and body language -- required of mediators.

Ninety applicants competed for slots in the student workshop, offered free of charge twice a year. A January student workshop will focus on cross-cultural issues and mediation.

Mary Catt is a writer for the ILR School.