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Monday, October 8, 2018

Dear Hannah: LEarning (Role Players - Know Your Role)

Dear Hannah,

I have often been advised about, admonished for, and accused of using a pedagogical, lecturing tone - especially when I am directly involved in a conflict.

Point taken as one to grow on anytime someone gives that feedback - regardless of our conflict and their intentions.

I have also often been taken to task about that pedagogical, lecturing tone by people who - for whatever reason - object to my authority.

I have learned the hard way that while I may sound like an authority to many, I do not look like an authority to any.

Lots of us listen and think with our eyes - and are often easily fooled.



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"LEarning (Role Players - Know Your Role)"
By Derrick Brown

Our daughter Hannah is 4 now.

Since her birth, I have taken care of her during the day.

That makes me a "veteran" stay-at-home Dad.

I kept that to myself for a long time, because a wise man once told me that a wise man conceals knowledge (Proverbs 12:23).

Keeping my quiet provides a safe boundary from what people think of my decision to be at home - and all that they might read into that decision to confirm their opinions, perspectives and underlying assumptions.

Feel me - I maintain this boundary with folks who might support the decision, and those who oppose it.


Because none of them had anything to do with the decision - or its outcomes.

That is all on me.

This experience with my daughter has changed my life.

I have watched her grow, and I have learned how to be "me" all day every day.

That's a simple statement, but it is heavy, man.

I have found emotional, intellectual, and creative freedom during this time.

This freedom that I have found was not "free".

I had to buy a lot of time to finance our growth.

I would not trade this experience for anything.

With my new life and responsibilities, I don't have as much time as I used to.

This simply means I don't have time to waste.

I have less direct interaction with people now (conversations & correspondence) - so each encounter is more important.

These direct interactions help you "sow" (contribute to someone's well-being).

They help you "know" and "grow" (understand and discern human nature - your own and others).

They help you "show" (demonstrate wisdom earned through lessons learned).

In a perfect world, you remedy this lack of interaction by reaching out and interacting more, right?

I have learned that it may not be that simple.

We live in a time and culture where people do not respond to what they consider irrelevant.

What is relevant is relative, but I get it.

I have had to accept reaching out several times to get a single response.

I have had to accept that reaching out several times is easily interpreted as "desperate" - so when you do connect, communication carries the tone of "what can you do for me?".

However it comes, and however it goes - I make it work for me.

I cannot afford to do anything else.

Let me hit you with a story pulled from recent headlines.

For several years, I was a registered Georgia mediator.

This was a skill I acquired in preparation for my "next life" - once I left the formal working world.

During my training, I was surprised by the lack of hands-on training we got during our very expensive class.

No worries - this lack is an opportunity disguised as work.

The best part of our class was the informal role playing that let us practice being mediators and combatants, and observe others in those roles, too.

Our role play activity had powerful potential, and even more pitfalls.

One pitfall has been mentioned - we spent very little time doing role plays.

You need repetitions and "scene diversity" to become effective at each role.

Another pitfall was that the role play productions were usually corny, impromptu, and overdone.

Nobody wanted to be the mediator.

So the poor soul who drew the mediator assignment often had to contend with combatants who did way too much freelancing in their roles.

I admit now, though, that dealing with that type of volatility is a lot like real life.

This is because people really do too much sometimes - so this exposure to chaos might make you a better mediator.

Formal mediation opportunities were scarce and insulated (which means that insiders collude to keep those opportunities for themselves and their friends).

Access to quality role play material was scarce, too.

Most of it was possessed by the mediation trainers who charged those expensive fees for their classes, and for the role play materials.

Game recognizes game.

However it comes, and however it goes, though - I make it work for me.

If quality role play materials are scarce, I may have to produce some from my experiences.

Luckily, my lifetime has probably included more conflicts than most.

My writer's nature was useful in documenting and sanitizing a lot of those conflicts so that they could be shared with audiences.

Lack of formal mediation opportunities also made me seek new opportunities to mediate informally.

These opportunities were as prevalent as the conflicts and quarrels that often arise among us.

For several years now, I have compiled and published a "conflict catalog" of every disagreement that I either witnessed (in person or on TV) or participated in directly.

I sanitize and summarize each scenario so that I can use it to produce lightly scripted, mostly improvised role plays like we did in class.

I have about 100 of these scenarios now that are ready for the "bright lights".

One twist I added to my approach, though - was to cast talented improvisational actors as the combatants - so that all "students" would take turns engaging and observing the mediator role.

Why am I requiring students to play and observe the mediator role?

In role play debriefs, the mediator's role is the only one that is critiqued.

So no one wants to be the mediator.

Once any group member is critiqued on their performance as mediator, it is fair and balanced for that member to observe the evaluator's performance (and subsequent critique) as mediator.

Their performance will then either lend credence to or properly qualify the evaluator's critique.

For we all tend to be perfect judges - but flawed players.

This inherent human contradiction makes simulation of the mediation process via role plays that much more important.

Each mediator has to learn and hone their mediation philosophy and style - which includes developing their listening, speaking, and self-control skills.

My mediation philosophy is that I am not "neutral" - rather, I am a "neutralizing authority".

I am an "equalizer".

I discern deficits in resources, interests, communication, and expertise to create and maintain a balance of power between the combatants.

I control the conversation between combatants by controlling myself - which maintains a climate conducive to peacemaking, and makes it clear when any behavior threatens that environment.

I reserve the right - and bear the responsibility - to address that behavior privately and directly.

Mediators also have to develop the spiritual and emotional maturity to discern subjective opinions, and implicit, unspoken bias - especially their own.

I am biased against micro-aggressive bullies and lazy folks who expect others to do their work.

This awareness helps us recognize the types of cases we should accept, and the ones that we may need to avoid.

There are obviously some cases I would be wise to avoid.

Role playing helps you accomplish all of this with much less risk than "on-the-job" training.

Once I refined my role play project, I wanted to approach the mediation community to market it (and have it vetted).

It took a while, but the opportunity finally presented itself earlier this year.

A prominent local mediator was conducting a one-week class.

He invited other mediators to attend the last day of class to participate in role plays (to support the current class' students).

Man, this sounded like a plan.

I signed up and showed up early on a Saturday morning.

One other student showed up, along with the teacher.

The three of us would have to role play with no audience, and no real role diversity.

I then had a revealing chat with the student.

She told me that she had been invited to interview for a job that would coordinate a county's mediator staff.

She lacked mediation credentials, so the teacher created a special session of his class just for her so she could obtain the credentials ... and then pursue an insider opportunity to direct the activity of other perhaps more
experienced mediators.

This is why she was the only student that showed up.

Remember what I said earlier about the mediation insiders colluding to provide opportunities for themselves and their friends?

This is what that collusion looks like.

Focus, my man.

We head into the classroom, and the student announces that she does not want to mediate first.

She is the person who needs to mediate most.

I volunteered to mediate first (which means I get to sit on the hotseat first), because I would only be staying for one hour.

As the case begins, I am informed that two co-workers have been issued an ultimatum by their boss to mediate "or else".

The male junior coworker (the mediation teacher) asserts that the female senior coworker (the mediation student) should be more willing to help the junior coworker do his job "because she already knows how to do this stuff".

God has a sense of humor.

This case hit so close to home, I had to pump my brakes ... hard.

In the real world, I would probably recuse myself from a case like this.

We are role playing today, and I am on the bus now - so let's ride it out.

My challenge was to make sure that I did not get drawn into the case too far - because I have some obvious biases about lazy folks who expect others to do their work.

In every conflict, there is much that I cannot see.

Here's what I did see.

I saw a subordinate who needed to start pulling their weight, or risk losing their job.

I saw a supervisor who was frustrated with dealing with a pushy, manipulative subordinate that she probably could not discipline or fire.

The subordinate talks like he is in charge.

The supervisor does not feel or act empowered.

They are both interrupting and talking over each other - because they probably do not like each other much.

Time to take control with self-control.

I interjected with a pep talk.

I tried to take them to the mountaintop to see the "big picture".

I reminded them both that they had been sent to me as an ultimatum, and that to make a start towards peace they were both going to have to set a different tone than the one I had observed thus far.

I then called a caucus (one-on-one meeting) and told the subordinate that he was not in charge.

I advised him to consider constructive ways to request the training he lacked from his supervisor - who probably had a mandate to take the lead in resolving the conflict and its underlying causes.

In a separate caucus, I told the supervisor that she was the supervisor, which charged her with the greater responsibility for resolving the conflict. I advised her to allow her subordinate to maintain his dignity in asking for the training he needed.

We reconvened, and they both heeded my advice.

They worked out a plan to have the subordinate complete a series of courses that supervisor and subordinate collaborated to develop.

During the debrief, the mediation teacher (who played the pushy, manipulative subordinate) complimented me on my self-control, and for maintaining a peaceful environment by taking control of the room when things got out of

He then admonished me for speaking to them both in pedagogical, almost lecturing tones (translation: he said I was condescending to them both).

He gave me a "patronizer's pass" because he remembered that I told him that I was a "schoolteacher" once (I told him that I was an administrator).

He told me that during the role play, his character gave me several opportunities to explore his emotional needs further (what made him pushy, manipulative, and "lazy"), and that I missed each cue.

His final comment was that I had a chance to make real peace in the conflict through deeper exploration of each person's needs.

Instead, all I produced was a plan for "training".

He challenged me (somewhat derisively) to respond to his feedback.

I smiled, and said that I know that I need to listen first, and then respond objectively - if necessary, and if I am able.

Today, it would take a while for me to unpack all that I had just absorbed.

Once I unpacked the next day, I had great clarity.

Here's some feedback on his feedback.

I have often been advised about, admonished for, and accused of using a pedagogical, lecturing tone - especially when I am directly involved in a conflict.

Point taken as one to grow on anytime someone gives that feedback - regardless of our conflict and their intentions.

I have also often been taken to task about that pedagogical, lecturing tone by people who - for whatever reason - object to my authority.

I have learned the hard way that while I may sound like an authority to many, I do not look like an authority to any.

Lots of us listen and think with our eyes - and are often easily fooled.

I do not know this mediator personally, but have had enough parallel experiences to discern that he (even in the role playing scenario) might have been tweaked when I addressed his character's behavior.

Ideally, you do not get to check grown folks about their behavior without some pushback.

Ideally, you should also never have to.

I reviewed my notes from my 2011 mediation class, and was reminded that needs exploration is a best practice taught by all mediation professionals.

For whatever reason (I have a guess), needs exploration was not at the front of my mind during that 2018 role play.

Addressing that lazy, abhorrent behavior was.

Maybe my biases kept me from getting out of my own way.

I will do better next time.

It remains to be seen whether holistic peace can be achieved in a single real mediation session.

During that role play, though, I think I wanted it to end sooner than later, and chose starting a path to peace (through "training") as an specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely (SMART) goal.

Peace between those two folks would have to be a process that continued long after our session.

Oh, and it was not lost on me that the mediator was more than a little condescending in real life while telling me I was condescending during the role play.

I kept my quiet so I could hear what he told me about me, and also hear what he told me about himself.

Listening without retaliating made it clear to me that I probably do not need to do any more role plays with this mediator.

I do want to observe him in an actual mediation, though (not a role play), between combatants who go "off-script" in ways that wreck traditional and theoretical approaches.

That will give me perspective on how closely he adheres to mediation theory during real-world practice.

This will either offer me insight to how it is done, how difficult it is to do, or perhaps both.


In conclusion, this role play was a positive, simulated experience that showed me things I have learned and practice well, as well as things I need to work on.

I was reminded about key mediation components that I was taught, but forgot to use.

I know that my calm and self-control have reached new, positive levels.

I know that I am comfortable speaking in authority, but that authoritative discourse may tweak some no matter how it is delivered - so it must be used with care, concern, respect, and wisdom.

Above all else, I am convinced about the power and validity of role playing as a useful, low-stress training ground to learn important lessons about myself and others.

It allows me to gather real-time and reflective insights without inciting some of the more engrossing, stressful conflicts I experienced during my career.


2650 words

About Derrick Brown (Standup Storyteller)

I am Keisha's husband, and Hannah's father.

I am a “standup storyteller.”

I fuse rap, spoken word (poetry), oration (traditional public speaking), singing, and teaching into messages of hope, healing, and change that I write, direct, and produce to help people who help people.

Everything must change - and stay changED.

Tradition begins and ends with change.

Change begins with me and the renewing of my mind ... then continues through efforts to effect small-group discipleship (equipping others to equip others) with audiences that respect and embrace mentoring, mediation, and problem solving as tools of change.

I am the product of my mentoring relationships, peacemaking (and peacekeeping), and problem-solving ability.

My education began when I finished school.

After school, I enrolled in a lifelong curriculum that includes classes in ministry, entrepreneurship, stewardship, literacy, numeracy, language, self-identity, self-expression, and analysis / synthesis.

My projects execute a ministry that has evolved from wisdom earned through lessons learned.

I want to share this wisdom to build teams of "triple threat" fellows - mentors, mediators, and problem solvers.

We will collaborate in simple, powerful ways that allow us to help people who help people.

I now know that power is work done efficiently (with wise and skillful use of resources, interests, communication, and expertise).

Copyright © 2018 Derrick  Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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