RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Disputes can happen over anything from the price of produce in a grocery store to where a property line runs, but they can often be resolved with some help from a mediator.
Solving problems at the lowest level can save significant time and money. To recognize these savings and other benefits to alternative dispute resolution, the Air Force General Counsel awards individuals and organizations for exemplary contributions in ADR, whether it is disputes, negotiations or other means that promote the Air Force ADR program.
Steven Goldman, 502nd Air Base Wing equal opportunity and alternative dispute resolution director recently earned the 2010 General Counsel ADR Award in the individual category for Air Education and Training Command, for his work on Randolph helping Airmen sort out their differences. He is now competing at the Air Force level.
"The award stemmed from a culmination of accomplishments from program oversight of 13 mediators, to mediating and resolving some high-profile cases, while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and resources and was able to help the organizations get back on track and focused on their missions," he said.
Sometimes people embroiled in disputes don't want outside forces to interfere, but that is often exactly what they need to see a commonly-accepted solution to the problem.
"The award was also as a result of aggressively marketing the program and architecting a marketing campaign, Breaking Barriers/Building Bridges. After all that is what mediation is about, tearing down the barriers that occur between people in conflict and once the barriers are down to help build a bridge so people can focus on the mission without obstacles getting in the way," he said.
"Many times people have issues with communication and the mediation process can help bridge the gap and break down barriers and provide for an effective flow of communication," Mr. Goldman said. "It is a great feeling knowing I can help people accomplish that."
Communication is important to ADR and often a crucial, but vastly overlooked component in conflict resolution. Being more open-minded and less rigid isn't a sign of weakness or defeat; often a little flexibility goes a long way.
"The cases often revolve around a huge lack of communication and personnel being rigid and not willing to move off of their particular positions," he said. "As a mediator it is important to attempt to help the parties move from their rigid positions to interests and trying to create a win-win situation and bridge the communication gap that often arises."
"The mediation process involves being a really effective communicator and listener," he said. "The other area that is sometimes difficult for people is to always remain neutral. Sometimes you might think to yourself, 'I know what would resolve the conflict between these people,' but it has to be the parties who come to the resolution, because it is about them."
Mr. Goldman said all parties involved should feel as though they had a part in the solution and the mediator's job isn't to solve problems, rather to help others work it out on their own.
"You can't have an appearance of taking sides because that will destroy the integrity of the process and could result in the mediation ending with no resolution," he said.
"Being a mediator is not cut-out for everybody, but I can tell you it is many things wrapped in one," he said. "It is challenging, can be tiring, but is very rewarding when you see people walk out of the room with a signed agreement and shaking hands and the look like a huge burden was lifted from them."