Mayhew-Hite Report        Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum

Mary Bockstahler

I. Ally-Ship

In Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press explore how dispute resolution practitioners can serve justice. The authors suggest providing opportunities via creation of space and development of skills for individuals to resolve conflicts.[i]

The authors begin the article by providing definitions of ally. Merriam-Webster defines an ally as follows: “to join (yourself) with another person, group, etc., in order to get or give support.”[ii] The authors then offer “snapshots” of ally-ship to add deeper meaning to the term. The first snapshot describes the ally-ship between Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Polish born rabbi, and Martin Luther King Jr. marching to protest racism in Selma.[iii] After the march, Heschel said, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”[iv]

The second snapshot describes same-sex marriage laws in Minnesota. In 2011, Minnesota voters rejected a same-sex marriage ban. The authors suggest the rejection of the marriage ban was accomplished by the LGBT community working together with allies in the community. A powerful aspect of the campaign was a “conversation drive,” where supporters of same-sex marriage talked about voting no on the amendment.[v]

The third snapshot refers to an advertisement in a Minnesota newspaper calling on Minnesota residents “to reject anti-Muslim expression as ‘un-Minnesotan.’”[vi] The list of allies in the advertisement included non-Muslims, Muslims, Democrats, and Republicans alike. The authors presented these snapshots as examples where allies helped affect a change in a community.[vii]

II. Conflict Resolution Skills

The authors assert conflict resolution practitioners can serve as allies by lending their mediation skill-set to a cause.[viii] Although active listening, perspective taking, interest identification, cultural and bias awareness, and option identification are normally associated with mediation, they can be adapted to help people advancing a cause.[ix]

Active listening involves focusing, withholding judgment, impartiality, openness, and care.[x] As a practical matter, conflict resolution practitioners are skilled at hearing what multiple people have to say on any given conflict.[xi]  Conflict resolution practitioners are also trained to help parties take various perspectives and use tools such as summarization and restating to check for understanding.[xii]  Another core competency of mediators is the ability to identify interests and underlying positions, essentially addressing the questions: what matters and why?[xiii]  Helping parties explore options for resolution is also an important mediator skill.[xiv]

Finally, a conflict resolution practitioner’s awareness of bias and the ability to identify cultural patterns can encourage ally-ship.[xv] Being aware of biases and increasing cultural awareness helps parties break down barriers while remaining open.[xvi]

While mediation is rooted in the civil rights struggle, the development of mediation has led to a more institutionalized setting in court, which has resulted in limits on how mediation is utilized. In particular, neutrality of the mediator has become a prevalent concern.[xvii] The authors note how two of the eight standards in the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators relate to the topic: Standard II, Impartiality and Standard III, Conflicts of Interest.[xviii]

Standard III requires mediators to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of a conflict during and after mediation.[xix] The standard states “conflict of interest can arise from involvement by mediator with the subject matter of the dispute or from any relationship between a mediator and any mediation participant, whether past or present, personal or professional, that reasonably raises a question of a mediator’s impartiality”.[xx]  Standard III also requires a mediator to make an inquiry regarding any possible conflicts of interest and to disclose all actual or potential conflicts of interest immediately.[xxi] The conflicted party can still act as a mediator if both parties agree, although mediators must withdraw from, or decline to proceed with, the mediation if the conflict undermines the integrity of the mediation. Thus, impartiality is at the core of mediation.[xxii]

According to the authors, a search of the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution’s National Clearinghouse for Mediator Ethics Opinions revealed the three most commonly requested areas for guidance were impartiality, quality of process, and conflicts of interest.[xxiii] Therefore, the authors conclude it is crucial for conflict resolution practitioners to be thoughtful and intentional when deciding when to serve as an ally.[xxiv]

The authors next discuss William Ury’s The Third Side,[xxv] which explored allies as “thirdsiders.” The “Third Side” is a perspective and approach to handling conflict which emphasizes constructive change.[xxvi]  The Third Side splits thirdsider roles into three categories. The first category identified is prevention, where the provider, teacher, and bridge-builder roles live. The second “resolve” category includes mediator, arbitrator, equalizer, and healer. The final category, roles to contain, includes witness, referee, and peacekeeper.[xxvii]

The authors developed additional roles conflict resolution specialists can play as allies:

  • Facilitate dialogue groups or circle processes;
  • Run conflict resolution processes;
  • Comment (set the tone) in a manner that adds another perspective and “complexifies [sic] the discussion, on social media or news sites anonymously;”
  • Comment (set the tone) in a manner that adds another perspective and deepens the discussion, on social media or news sites with attribution.[xxviii]

The authors assert it is possible to trace even large conflicts back to a simpler time when the conflict was interpersonal.[xxix] An ally can play a significant role in helping build capacity for individuals to develop the skills necessary to address issues when they are more manageable. The authors note this important work begins when a thirdsider involves themselves in preventative work.[xxx]

The authors envisioned facilitating dialogue groups or circle processes in response to a conflict—both involve allies working with communities in conflict to engage in conversation to improve understanding and diffuse tension. Further, the authors note mediation (in the context of ally-ship) is the most commonly utilized conflict resolution process. An ally could utilize dispute resolution skills to assist in creating an environment for conflict resolution.[xxxi]

The authors also urge conflict resolution specialists to make an anonymous comment on media websites in an effort to join the conversation. Allies can enter the discussion and change the tone, inviting others who think differently than “the mob” to participate in the conversation.[xxxii]

While commenting without attribution is useful, the authors assert there is added value in adding attribution to comments, but also risk. Attributed comments tend to be taken more seriously. Conflict resolution practitioners can serve as allies by weighing in with attribution. By virtue of their understanding of interest identification and perspective taking, and because of the respect they posses, dispute resolution practitioners add valuable input to the cause. The risk comes from the possibility that a dispute resolution practitioner will be seen as compromising neutrality and thus not able to provide conflict resolution services. Additionally, the conflict resolution practitioner may be subject to personal attacks.[xxxiii]

The authors also encourage allies to participate in the conversation physically, rather than merely inserting a written comment. Because conflict resolution practitioners are skilled in taking perspectives, they can bring alternative perspectives to conversations in their role as an ally.[xxxiv]

The authors discuss various Black Lives Matter protests planned throughout Minnesota, and the backlash the protests caused.[xxxv] The events themselves and the planning leading up to the protests provide opportunities for allies to enter the conversation.[xxxvi]  Specifically, Sharon Press often found herself explaining to people opposed to the protests that the protests were non-violent, and that Black Lives Matter had publicized its plans in advance so that arrangements could be made. In engaging with the community as an ally, Press saw an acknowledgment and understanding of the other side’s perspective.[xxxvii]

The final role the authors suggest dispute resolution practitioners can take on as an ally is conflict coach.[xxxviii] Conflict coaches take a proactive role in helping the parties resolve the dispute. Acting as a conflict coach could be extremely useful to the group, but it would likely foreclose the practitioner from acting in other ally roles due to a real or perceived lack of neutrality.[xxxix]

There are other ways dispute resolution practitioners can get involved as an ally. In considering how, or whether or not, to get involved, conflict resolution practitioners should consider how action fits their interests and the interests of the group being served.[xl]

III. Conclusion

In conclusion, the authors suggest conflict resolution practitioners take a part in community issues by serving as allies to causes, while still being mindful of the risks associated. The authors encourage others to further the conversation and look for ways to serve as allies. The article provided an interesting perspective on how conflict-resolution practitioners can become involved in the community via ally-ship.

[i] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1572 (2016). Benjamin Lowndes received his J.D. from Hamline University in 2014. Sharon Press received her J.D. from George Washington University in 1986.
[ii] Id. at 1581.
[iii] Id. at 1582.
[iv] Id.
[v] Id. at 1582-83.

[vi] Id. at 1583-84.
[vii] Id. at 1584.
[viii] Id. at 1584-85.
[ix] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Mitchell Hamline L. Rev. 1572, 1585 (2016).
[x] Id.
[xi] Id.
[xii] Id.
[xiii] Id.
[xiv] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1572, 1585 (2016).
[xv] Id. at 1586.

[xvi] Id.
[xvii] Id.
[xviii] Id. at 1587.
[xix] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1572, 1587 (2016).
[xx] Id. at 1588 (author’s emphasis).
[xxi] Id.
[xxii] Id.
[xxiii] Id. at 1589.
[xxiv] Id. at 1590.
[xxv] William Ury, The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop 22-26 (2000).
[xxvi] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1572, 1590 (2016).
[xxvii] Id. at 1591.
[xxviii] Id. at 1591–92.
[xxix] Id. at 1592.
[xxx] Id. at 1592.
[xxxi] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1572, 1593 (2016).
[xxxii] Id. at 1594.
[xxxiii] Id. at 1595.
[xxxiv] Id. at 1596.
[xxxv] Id.
[xxxvi] Benjamin Lowndes and Sharon Press, Ally-Ship and Dispute Resolution Practitioners: A Continuum, 42 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1572, 1597 (2016).
[xxxvii]Id. at 1598.
[xxxviii] Id.
[xxxix] Id.
[xl] Id. at 1599.