Mediation Role Plays: A Valuable Tool in Dispute Resolution Training

Role plays are an invaluable tool in teaching and developing actual dispute resolution training skills.

After an assigned reading in the practice and theory of dispute resolution, role plays allow students to practice the techniques and skills they have learned in the safe environment of a training session.  Skills such as active listening, questioning, and identifying the interests each party brings to a dispute can be practised with no risk and with the helpful assistance of ADR coaches and instructors.

In a biparty mediation role play, there will be two participants taking on the role of the parties to the dispute and a third who is assigned the role of mediator.  The student ‘mediator’ gets to put into practice some of the skills he or she has been introduced to, and all of the students get to witness first-hand the dynamic of a dispute unfolding; and how a mediator might go about assisting the parties to explore options to help resolve a dispute in a manner acceptable to both parties. 

When a role play has ended, students can discuss their experience and how they saw dispute resolution skills put into action. With the assistance of an ADR coach or instructor, everyone discusses the skills employed by the student ‘mediator’; and feedback is provided on what worked and what could be improved. Each role play provides a hands-on experience showing how dispute resolution skills and techniques actually work. 

Simply put, role play is the most important part of dispute resolution skills training because this learning activity brings the student to another level – past theory to practice.  It is also a lot of fun and provides students an opportunity to engage in active learning with other students.

Role play brings students outside of their particular situation or demography (age, profession, gender, etc.). This is important because as a mediator, you encounter people of diverse ages, backgrounds and perspectives. Students immediately learn the importance of being able to put themselves in another’s place in order to recognize and consider interests, emotions and motivations that may underlie a dispute. Mediation is not about judging other people or their actions or motivations but understanding their interests and motivations in order to help them arrive at a resolution to a dispute that is acceptable to them. 

Role plays help students begin the process of developing into a dispute resolution practitioner by providing the opportunity to practice dispute resolution skills and use their inherent creativity as part of the learning process. As a good mediator or negotiator needs to be creative. He or she needs to identify the parties’ respective interests as well as potential options and solutions that may not be immediately obvious to the participants in any given dispute. 

Most importantly, role plays allow students to practise what they have learned in theory and put it into practice right away.

Author: William Cornet
William holds several academic degrees including a Master of Arts (Intercultural Mediation) from Sherbrooke University and a Master of Laws (Alternative Dispute Resolution) from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto. 

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