Building Mediator Trust

 

Werner Petterson

Former CRS Mediator, Chicago Office


[Full Interview]

Question:

How important was it for you to gain the trust of the parties?

Answer:

Oh well, you know probably in almost all cases there's an outsider and you're always faced with that because in most cases people don't know you. At this particular time, and at any time over the history of CRS being a representative of the Justice Department, you were always suspect by somebody and it would depend on the community, depend on the times that would shift, who was particularly suspicious about who you were. The way that you overcome that is just by sitting down and talking with people and demonstrating to them you're committed, you're involved in helping them find a solution. You can be answering questions people have concerns about, if they have any, what they see as leniency on one side or the other. If you try to clear that up they will come to trust you, but it takes some work and preparation. I think over time as they see that you're there to be of help, there are no suspicions about where your commitments are. It's only over a period of time that as people get to know you, those sorts of suspicions get to be set aside.

Question:

What were some specific trust- building strategies or activities that you used when either race, ethnicity, gender, or CRS affiliation was an issue?

Answer:

I would find someone from whatever the community it might be and in this particular situation it was in the black and the white community. I knew that if I would involve the community in this process it would be helpful to have people within the community who knew me, to introduce me to people and become a bridge and to be a patron of what was happening. And in that particular case there was a prominent State Legislator that I had known for many years and he was well loved in the community and became my bridge into that community. There were parts of the community that I needed to have some access to. It was also true on the other side that we were going to want the business community leaders in particular cities to be committed because in this particular city nothing happened unless a "blue book business" leader was being alarmed. So again, it was through someone I had met in the city, in another case, that became the bridge into that organization where I could go over there and speak and talk about what I was trying to do. I could win their support that if we could reach an agreement it was going to be something the business community was going to support.

Question:

In this particular case, this wasn't a community that you lived in. How did you cultivate those networks of people that you could call?

Answer:

I had other cases in this community before so I knew individuals here and there, and that's one of the real things. In that case it was a blessing because so many times you may go into a city and you have no context at all. That really makes it even more difficult.

Question:

In those instances where you don't have any networks or any people to intervene for you how do you build networks, or find them? How do you identify the resources?

Answer:

Well, I think mediation is a lot of work. I think you have to be willing to just talk to a lot of people and as you do, you're not only introducing yourself to people in the community, but you're receiving information that might help find a solution. And so it's just a lot of work and talking to people. I think by helping parts of the community become involved in finding solutions, sometimes what CRS has done is understanding the problem. For some reason the parties never seem to come together, or when they do come together it never goes anywhere and CRS, when it works well, helps things come together and if you can do that, then that in itself gives you a new standing and gives you a credibility that you are able to do something. You were able to bring talks together and just by being able to do that, it adds something to your name. Then you have to continue and show the parties that you're committed to helping them find a solution.