Coaching and Power

Nancy Ferrell

Former CRS Mediator, Dallas Office; Private Mediator and Trainer

[Full Interview]


You mentioned coaching. Did you coach everybody together, or did you coach some groups individually?


In the initial contacts, part of that would occur with the individual groups, talking to them about what's going to happen. Certainly you have some rage, certainly you have some interest in sharing that feeling that you have. But what is it going to get you? You need to be very clear about what your concerns are and they need to be definable. They need to be stated in a way that they can be resolved. Saying you're angry at the administration because they're not responding to you, doesn't tell the administration anything and there's nothing they can do to respond to that. So coaching them to really clarify what their concern is. That's definable, something you can respond to. Not being treated fairly in student government is a valid concern, but what does that mean? You can't be elected because it's always at large, so you can't have representation at student government, that's specific. So I coached them in being prepared to sit at the table.

I think that's always a big part of it. Not diminishing someone, is making sure they are prepared for what's going to happen. If you put somebody there and they're not ready, then they feel like they've been put down by the other parties that can talk more easily. The other party is more prepared with the response, then you haven't done them any favors. My coaching there would be getting them ready to come to the table and feel confident. The student had as much power at that table as the vice president of student affairs. There was no power and no rank. And that was part of my process, my responsibility. And everybody had to agree to that, the tenured faculty included. They had no more influence on the group than a student did.


Did you do any coaching of the faculty or the administration?


Yes, the same kind of thing. Sometimes from a different perspective of being able to hear and listen to the students or listen to the other group without becoming defensive. It was that whole issue of helping people understand that being defensive is not helpful and it doesn't help resolve problems. It just entrenches people. So the coaching may be different, sometimes not. Generally it was more from that side of, you do have the power, but what's going to happen to you if you don't have the students. What's going to happen to you if the community believes that you are this kind of institution. You're more likely to be appealing to their public relations image than anything. Coaching them in that sense would be more geared toward listening and not being defensive. It was hard for an administration or an institutional mind set to listen to things that they believe to be completely contrary to what they were doing. They believed that they were doing the right thing. For somebody to attack them with the opposite, it was hard for them to hear that.

I could coach them in saying that community or the student's perception is that they're treated unfairly. Now if that's not true, don't you have an interest in helping them understand why that's not true? If it is true, then you should have an interest in helping them figure out how to change that. So either way there's a response. I never went in and tried to get an institution to say they were wrong. That would just be wasting time for one thing, and I didn't have to get them to say that. The only thing I had to get them to say was that things could be better. That's another one of those little keys, that if you go into an institution, or a minority group for that matter, and say, "Your system is deplorable, and if law enforcement people came in here they'd take you to court and everything's terrible." If you go in there like that, why should they listen to you? Why should they come to the table with you? But if you go in there and say, "this is what the community believes, this is how they feel about it, now if that's not correct, then you have an opportunity to help correct that perception. But even if some of it's correct, can your institution do better?" I've never had anybody say they couldn't do any better. And it's amazing what that one little thing will do for any kind of mediation. If you try to make the respondent say, "I was wrong," then it's a hurdle you may never get over. But if you can get them to say, "Well sure, we can all do better," then I can help you. So that was the dance to me. It's moving with them, where they are, and not trying to drag them somewhere. You dance them into the place where you want them to be, but if you don't keep the rhythm, then you're pulling and dragging, and they're not ever there in good faith.