Senior Conciliation Specialist, Community Relations Service
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: A lot of it was basically over the use of bi-lingual versus ESL education. The two sides were really entrenched. Part of the way we got around that is we didn't talk about ESL, we talked about native language instruction. There came a point where the district was willing to entertain that. Even though they would never, in a million years, provide bi-lingual education. But if there was some need for native language instruction, they might be willing to do that.
In a case like that I did as much shuttle diplomacy between the parties when we were away from the table as I did at the actual table. Just to explore, to find out where the moveablity might be. If I found out that the district might be willing to talk about native language instruction, I'd go back to the other side and ask them if they'd be willing to talk about the issue in terms of native language instruction too. They said, "Oh, they'd never consider that." I said, "Oh, you might be right, but if they'd actually do that, where would you be willing to bend?" "Well, then we'd...," and there would be that kind of back and forth.
A:. Exactly. Some people think that manipulation is a dirty word, but there isn't a mediator that doesn't do some kind of manipulation. Some people think about manipulating as so Machiavellian, as having evil intent. But I manipulate situations to allow for success on both sides. To allow for a sense of accomplishment on both sides. For instance, if I know that one side is willing to provide some bi-lingual education, but I don't disclose that to the other side, until I see where their flexibility might be, someone would say, Silke, "you are being manipulative." Well, absolutely. Absolutely. Because I think I need to help both sides be creative in coming up with some solutions, but also to see that if they get something from the other side, that they need to show some flexibility as well. I don't think that's getting people to give up something that they don't want to give up. It's getting them to realize that there are benefits to being flexible, and that if they are flexible, then the other side might be flexible as well.
Q: It seems the timing is critical.
A: Timing is crucial, absolutely. Could I do a guidebook on how to use timing? I'm not sure that I could. Part of that is just experience, instinctive. That isn't very helpful, I recognize that. But thinking about the timing is important. Part of the strategy really is any time I present possible flexibility of one side to the other side, I always combine that with a "Okay, what can you do? What can you give?" Not a giving up, but a giving. And then I take that back. "If they were willing to contribute this, then what can you do?"