To Reflect and Trust

Eileen Babbit

Assistant Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law, Tufts University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

A: Here's how we did it. We said, as insider facilitators, you have to be able to manage the emotion in the room, in an empathic way. And in order to do that, you have to begin to understand what's going to trigger you. Because it had already happened with us, that people who we had facilitating a session would suddenly get dragged right into the conversation because it was about stuff they really cared about and they are of the community they're not separate from it. So we said you have to begin to understand what your trigger points are. What are the things that for you, create an emotional response. And also in doing that, understand what it's like for other people to get triggered so you can be empathic in those moments and don't just jump on them and tell them to shut-up because that really isn't going to be helpful.

The way you're going to learn how to do that, is by getting to the heart of the matter and here's what we're going to do. We're going to use this TRT process, which we explained. And you're going to facilitate each other telling your personal stories. We're going to ask you to be in groups of two or three, I can't remember how many, I guess it was three or four people, two Arabs, two Jews. We're going to do this over the course of two days. There will be a different set of facilitators each half day. It will be your responsibility to determine the ground rules under which the storytelling, the narratives, happen and to manage the dynamics in the room as people tell their stories. It was so incredible. This process. We were literally making this up as we went along.

But we were so clear that people needed this a key thing, for all of us. When you're working with incredibly volatile conflict, that has a depth and an emotional valence, you have to go into yourself, you've got to be clear yourself how you feel. How this volatile, what this volatility might bring up in you. If it frightens you, if it angers you. If it kicks off something in you that you feel you're not going to be able to handle because you need to able to sit with people, which means that we as facilitators and mediators have to work on ourselves as much as we need to work on our mediation and facilitation skills. That is part of what we have to do is know ourselves extremely well. It's very hard. Very, very hard. And there's not a lot of explicit work on that as you prepare to do this professional work. There really isn't, it's sort of hit or miss. Well we were very convinced particularly with insider facilitators that this was key. You can't go in there unconscious and think that by simply knowing how to do consensus building and you know generating an agenda, you're going to be able to manage a really volatile conversation between people who are frightened and angry and hurt and all the other things that people bring into the room in these protracted conflicts. You have to feel it yourself.

Q: So the TRT part was to prepare the facilitators to learn how to do the first and second part of the training, which was the consensus building and the problem solving.

A: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And, in the context of doing the TRT, they had to practice their communication skills. They had to be able to sit there and listen and it was very hard for them, very hard for them. The first step in the TRT process is to only ask questions of clarification. How hard is that? It was really hard. Because what people wanted to say, and there was one for example, one Palestinian person, an Arab person who spoke about, because we had people from the Israeli Arab community who were not only Arab Muslims, they were Arab Christian and Arab Druze, which is yet another section, subgroup of the Arab population.

And the Druze, when the state of Israel was established, the Druze elected to swear allegiance to the new government. Whereas the Arab Christians and the Arab Muslims did not. Therefore the Druze serve in the Israeli military and the other Arabs do not. So you can imagine what the relationship is between the Arab Muslims, Christians and the Druze. The Druze are considered sort of traitors in a way even though they are Muslim, it's a certain sect of Muslim. There's also a very difficult relationship between the Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian Arabs, which we began to see in this group.

Someone in the Arab community was telling his story what we asked people to do was talk about their families going two generations back and the impact of their family history on their experience of the Arab-Jewish conflict. And one person was doing this and so someone said I have a question of clarification and the question was something like, "But don't you think that, in fact, what happened was du du du du du du?" And the people who were facilitating said that doesn't seem like a question of clarification it seems like you're telling him that he's wrong. "Oh no, no, no. I'm just trying to clarify but, you know." So what we were able to do is to revisit how you ask open-ended questions how you listen.

Q: What clarification means.

A: Then of course the next step in the process is empathy. The first time through nobody understood what that meant. What do you mean empathy? What does it mean to express empathy? So we went through a whole discussion of what is empathy. What does it mean to be empathic what does that do to a discussion process when you express empathy, what does that do to the dynamic in the room? It was remarkable. You could see it happen. People could see it right in front of their faces. People's expressions would change, their eyes would soften. You know everything about them would relax when they felt as if people were saying, "I understand. I understand how hard this must have been for you." And not to say, "You know don't think that," or "let me tell you about my experience that was very much like yours," but to say, "Yeah, that must have been really awful." Incredible, incredible and they could see it happening right there in their own group.

Q: It sounds like that was very isomorphic in a way of what they were supposed to do and how they were going to deal with what was going to come up in their dialogues with their communities.

A: Yes exactly. What we did on the last day, was spend the first half of the day debriefing the facilitation; group by group. What was it like for you? We decided not to do the debriefing as it went along because it would interfere with the flow of the stories. So we waited until the last day. We used some of the note-taking techniques that the second trainer had given them to keep track of their comments but not to share them orally until the last day. So we had a really wonderful conversation about what kind of facilitation processes were effective what were not. Giving people very difficult but important feedback on what others in the group thought they did well, and could do better the next time.

Then we spent the last half of the last day saying how do we put all this together? If you're going to do facilitation in these difficult circumstances, how do you take these three different kinds of approaches and work with them? And we said we thought they could actually do it in the same order in which we'd introduced it. That in a group that's going to do problem solving on some very specific task instead of starting with the task start with the needs and fears, to change the tone. Then go into the task-oriented stuff. If you find that even when you get to the task oriented stuff, there's road blocks that you can't get through, then think about whether you might use the TRT process, not just as a tool for the facilitators to become more comfortable, but as something you might initiate in the community.

But you have to be very careful in how you do it. And people have to have developed some sort of relationship with each other before they will participate in anything like that. So the process needs to be rather far along before you bring this other thing in. And the other things that we realized that you have to get people on the ground in Israel who are experienced, who can be mentors. Because you can't have novice facilitators jumping in, in the middle of these complex processes.

So we're now in the process of putting together and advanced training that will bring these three approaches together and we're going to identify a group of senior people in Israel, both Arab and Jew, who have done lots of facilitation and mediation and there's quite a community of them. People in Neve Shalom. People in I think it's called Shavat Aviva. There's a couple of communities where this kind of work is done all the time. Not necessarily Arab-Jewish work but intra-community work. Anyway to bring people together who've done a lot facilitation and or mediation and introduce them to our idea of bringing these three different processes together. Work with them until they get some level of comfort with this, and then they can be on the ground as the sort of senior both facilitators and mentors of this other group who are more novice.