Susan Dearborn

Director of the Pacific Family Mediation Institute

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: One of the techniques that I find most helpful is seeking the permission of people that come either for education or for mediation or other types of work that will involve me in their process, to really seek their permission in the setting for my being involved. I'll also seek permission for coming in and out of their conversations and dialogues, so that I'm not just intervening from out of the blue, but instead that I have permissions from parties to come in. Especially if they have concerns about time or getting off the subject. I'll make sure that I have their buy in for coming in and reminding them for how much time we have in a different setting, or for having private meetings or for asking for certain kinds of questions or for certain kinds of information, if I feel that it's sensitive for them.

Q: Can you give me some examples?

A: One example would be that if parties were discussing issues having to do with certain people living in their household. If my sense is that they haven't included in their initial interview the fact that they have grandparents living there or brothers and sisters and so on I say, "Would you mind if I asked you to say a little about the other folks, if any, that also share your home, or may I ask about pets, that also share the home?" So that I want to make sure they're comfortable about that within. You know if they say, "I'm not comfortable about that" and they say, "You know, we've had to share where we've lived before, and we've never seen our brother or sister again." Then I'll explain a little more about who I am and what I do as a mediator for example. I will also say that this is not something that you are required to share in any way, but I thought it would be helpful as we look at times the children spend in the home and away from home of who's available there or who might be able to help with care-taking.

I think that it's making my motives and intentions known as part of the permission process. Is that ok with them and would they be willing to share if it doesn't feel good, what that might be about?

Q: How do you think the experience might be different for the parties, if you asked the same question in two hypothetical settings, one asking their permission to ask it and one without permission?

A: Well, I've had the experience doing it without and I've been greeted with just silence or no. In some ways, it simply stopped the process that I was working on. So I did a fair bit of reflection on what would enable this process to move forward. And another technique is asking them, "How have you handled issues where neither of you as parents is available to care for your children, how has this worked I the past?" And almost in all of these I need some way of people giving permission beyond what they sign on to, when they sign a contract to participate in mediation, where it says you will fully disclose and so on. Well if you're not of this culture to begin with (the conflict resolution culture) it doesn't. They're not sure what they're signing to do or not do. They remember what they read when they first came in and when they were nervous and so on. So I don't rely on it. I rely on person-to-person interaction, like do you feel safe enough in this setting with me to share this?

Q: So the simple act of asking for permission puts people at ease?

A: I think it really helps. And it makes me a person with them, that I don't have a right to bypass social customs in a way that is intrusive. That would be one technique, one about permission asking. But it's one I use a lot.