Ask the Mediator: Congress finds common ground

Being impartial, however, does not mean the mediator doesn’t have an opinion.  Photo: Millicent Carvalho-Grevious

WASHINGTON, October 31, 2013 — The current debacle over implementing the Affordable Care Act could benefit from a good mediator.

Common ground already exists: the president and every member of Congress took an oath to serve this country and to work together in the best interest of the American people. A skilled mediator would begin here, as common ground starts at the base level of being an elected official with responsibilities regardless of tenure or status. Each of them shares responsibility to their constituents - the American people.


SEE RELATED: Common ground: Congress pledges to work collaboratively


Mediators, however, must maintain their independence and not take sides while also motivating participants to want to negotiate collaboratively rather than use adversarial tactics. Some of my most successful mediations began with one or more participants exclaiming, “We don’t need a mediator!”  

Rather than be disheartened, successful mediators often consider this the first agreement.

Mediators guided by a cooperative orientation (“Can’t we just get along?”) often assume that cooperation should be expected. At the same time, focusing on “what is the best way to meet the needs of both parties?” places too much emphasis on compromising behavior at the risk of entering into an agreement that is unacceptable to either party or the American people.

In high-conflict situations, critical thinking ability is negatively affected.  Sometimes people simply stop making sense. A good mediator would help parties communicate in a positive and more effective manner without taking sides?


SEE RELATED: Rush Limbaugh: Shutdown 2013 mediation


Being impartial, however, does not mean the mediator doesn’t have an opinion. Rather, the mediator’s focus should be on helping the parties understand what happened and the intent and impact of their positions and actions. 

Despite claims to not “sugarcoat” problems in accessing insurance, the president has yet to apologize for saying that people would keep their current health insurance and doctors. 

We can disagree on the number of people who have actually registered or have been disaffected by Obamacare. However, it is somewhat disingenuous for the president to have ignored all the security problems with its website and not done more to protect participants’ medical records and private information.

There is no central depository of legitimate insurance brokers, so anybody could pose as a broker for Affordable Health Care. In a recent interview with Neil Cavuto, John McAfee, the anti-virus guru, said “somebody made a grave error, not in designing the program, but simply implementing the web aspect of it. Anybody can put up a web page and claim to be a broker.” The website is a computer hackers dream.


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Mandating health insurance for every person, including those with pre-existing conditions is a very noble cause, but perhaps the approach to achieve those ends did not justify the means. Nevertheless, most of the finger pointing and blame has been aimed at the Republican caucus. Notwithstanding not a single Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act.

The timing of mediation is also important, as mediation is generally not considered until there is an impasse.

A few weeks ago, the president and the Democratic caucus refused to negotiate with Republicans over Obamacare. Now the president is asking for our understanding as federal contractors work to fix the problems with the Affordable Care website. 

As problems with the roll out become more and more transparent, there may be a greater willingness to work things out with those Republicans.   

The President seems ready to listen.

Who would you ask to mediate?

Challenge the mediator or ask me a question.

Notwithstanding there have been a number of people who have misrepresented what mediation is, it works.


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Millicent Carvalho-Grevious

Dr. Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, is the founder and principal of Pennsylvania Conflict Resolution and Mediation Services, Inc. She has mediated conflicts for over 30 years, providing services in a variety of venues for private and public entities, including the United States Postal Service, the Office of Dispute Resolution of the Department of Education, and the office of Employer Support for the National Guard and Reserve. She was one of 14 conflict resolution experts from 11 nations invited to Chongqing, China in 2009 to participate in a forum titled, “Responding to the Challenges of Financial Crisis and Building Social Harmony.” Previously, she served as Director/Program Chair of Urban Studies and Community at LaSalle University, Associate Professor and Chair of Department of Social Work at Virginia Union University and Associate Professor and Social Work Department Chair at Delaware State University. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Social Work and Master of Law and Social Policy degrees at Bryn Mawr College and Master of Education (Counselor Education) at Boston University and Bachelor of Arts at LaSalle University.

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