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Peace Skills: A Manual for Community Mediators

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Conflict is part of every person’s daily life. Most people, however, are not equipped to handle conflict constructively. The Peace Skills authors believe that the secret to dealing with conflict successfully requires transforming it, rather than merely resolving or managing it.

If handled correctly, the energy generated by conflict can be directed to foster lasting and beneficial changes in the community.

The manual seeks to prepare ordinary church members “who want to improve their ability to handle conflict constructively in the places where they live and work.”

While acknowledging a need for professional mediators and negotiators, the authors believe there is a much greater need for skilled laypeople “who can help others work out their differences on a daily basis.” This process of mediation is the focus of the manual.

The authors define three purposes for the manual. First, it is the foundation for a training workshop in conflict transformation using mediation skills.

Second, it provides additional resources for workshop participants. Third, it offers ideas for individual readers who wish to learn more about mediation and conflict transformation.

The manual contains four sections. The first section establishes the authors’ views about conflict and the role of peacebuilders. Far more than introductory, this section provides the premises for their entire approach.

The second section is the heart of the material, an introduction to mediation. This “how to” section offers stage-by-stage instruction on the process of mediating a conflict.

The third section discusses various communication skills and tools necessary for successful mediation.

The final section describes the process of translating these skills from individual conflict situations to group or community scenarios.

The authors meet the three purposes of the manual, but with varying degrees of success. The primary purpose of the manual is obviously as the foundation for the workshop. This is the greatest strength of the manual. It is an excellent “how to” discussion of the process of mediation. The methodical, step-by-step approach is educational, informative, and remarkably thorough in its presentation.

This thoroughness is limited however, to the introduction of ideas and methodologies. There is little room for expansion or explanation. Most sections are only one or two paragraphs in length. The assumption is that these concepts will be enlarged during workshop discussion.

Each chapter provides excellent application exercises, but most of these are designed for workshop participation, with almost all requiring interaction in some form. The material is also presented in a rather dry instructional manner that would benefit from a personal presentation by a workshop leader.

These limitations hinder the purpose of benefiting individual readers. While individuals can definitely garner information from the manual, they are at a distinct disadvantage without group input and direction.
The provision of additional materials is limited basically to one page of brief “additional reading” material and the web address for the publisher.

Overall, the manual serves best as a very good resource for a workshop on conflict mediation. The question arises, however, as to who is going to lead such a workshop. The leader’s guide seeks to answer that question.
This guide provides excellent direction for leading the workshop. The guide does not include material from the manual, but refers to it. A detailed knowledge of the manual is necessary before effectively using the guide. With that knowledge however, almost anyone could successfully lead the workshop by following the directions of the guide.

A background in mediation would not be necessary for the successful production of this workshop. The guide is remarkably comprehensive and detailed, and presents the information in such simple step-by-step procedures that success is almost certainly guaranteed.

The strength of this material comes in the opportunity to provide a productive workshop on a crucial issue. With an effective workshop facilitator, the manual provides enough material to successfully train a group of laypeople to become effective conflict mediators. With the leader’s guide, an effective workshop facilitator is almost guaranteed.  Thus, when used in tandem, this set could reap great benefits in the area of transforming conflict.

Van Christian is pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche, Texas.

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