Managing Conflicts in a Pandemic
By Jemimah Mangeni, Esq.
When 2020 began, none of us could have predicted what a year it would be. Must of us were certainly optimistic that it was a year of change. None of us could have foretold what kind of change it would be, but we never foresaw the magnitude of changes Covid-19 would force us to deal with. With covid-19 being highly transmissible than any other coronavirus, it has forced us to be home-bound meaning for mediators/negotiators/arbitrators, we have been forced to work remotely, something that many of us rarely do.
This is because conflict resolution is mostly dependent on the connections the facilitator (mediator/ arbitrator/negotiator) is able to establish with those he/she is trying to assist. We are trained that the first thing you have to work on is creating a rapport with the parties so they can trust you with their problems. So how do you create a rapport with people over the phone, or video teleconference? Conflict makes us instinctively defensive. So removing the in person contact from the process limits the tools a facilitator has available to them that will help the parties resolve their conflict. How do we ensure that this person feels that I'm actively listening to them so they can feel safe and open themselves up to the process? But not all hope is lost.
Just as every other industry has had to do, resolving conflicts during this pandemic will require creativity. For those who have invested in their craft, change will be painful but not impossible. I have personally had to accept that I'm going to be on the phone for at least an hour to be able to gain the trust with the party on the other side, allow them to present the facts from their perspective, give them my opinion after weighing the facts based on their perspective, and working together to identify what the interests are and how to attain them.
Without the in-person contact, sometimes words will be lost in translation, tones will be misinterpreted, emotions will flare up and characters will clash. But that's where as a trained mediator/negotiator/arbitrator, your skills should kick in and you have to always be in control of the process.
There is a lot that people have been forced to come to terms with during this pandemic. The loss of lives, loss of income and the despair that many of us are dealing with because of the uncertainty that lies ahead. No one seem to have the right answers and it seems more likely that we are going to have to learn to live with this virus indefinitely. Since giving up is not an option we might as well pick ourselves up and make the necessary adjustments. Many of us have dedicated our lives to working with those that are vulnerable in our communities. The fact that we can no longer communicate as we used to does not mean we are no longer capable of transforming their situations. These people need us. So I'm looking forward to seeing how creative we are going to be as an industry and continue to transform multitudes of lives.
Remember to wash your hands more frequently, stay home if you don't have to be outside, and when you are outside observe safe distance (six meters apart), and where that is impossible, wear a mask. Protect each other and be kind to one another.