I wrote this post in honor of Valentine's Day and Black History Month - while it's more about problem solving in the real world instead of the written world, think about your characters, and how they solve conflicts, whether they need to be heard before they can find a solution to their problems, and what power imbalances they face in their own lives. You might find it useful to create a power inventory for each character and map out the power in the relationships between characters.
Skills for Change Mediations address conflicts between people in relationships, whether those relationships are familial or romantic, organizational or community-based. While some folks hire a Skills for Change Coach because of our principles, most come back because mediations work.
We help people understand 100% of what they want and share their 100%, 100% of the time, with each other. Within a Cooperative Contract, parties then negotiate to agreement. The Cooperative Contract consists of four agreements: No Secrets, No Lies, No Rescues, and No Power Plays. Sound simple? I can hear you laughing through the bits and bytes.
There are lots of reasons why people struggle to cooperate, and most of them come back to power. Whoever has the most power can make others do what they want, and can use the information they have against those with less power. Problems get really snarly though, when people aren’t aware of what power they have and when they are using it. People usually feel their oppression acutely, their power (or privilege) not so much. So Skills for Change Coaches help make the power transparent.
In traditional conflict resolution and mediation practices, there has historically been an assumption of neutrality that maintains existing power structures and dynamics. Beth Roy, a member of the Radical Psychiatry Collective, and editor/author of many books, including Re-Centering, Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice, helped support and publish the work of a group of writers practicing conflict resolution in oppressed communities. In her article, “Power, Culture, Conflict,” she writes, “Questions of safety almost always reflect inequalities. To construct a forum in which honesty is truly possible is to explore the terrain of power. When people are afraid to speak, it is because they fear some consequence that they believe they cannot control. (189-190)”
In Skills for Change Mediation, we refuse to protect existing power with assumptions of fair play, equal time, or neutrality. Sometimes the oppressed party needs to scream and shout, express deep emotion, anger, and fear before they can listen to what the other party thinks, wants, or needs.
Check out Julia Kelliher’s “Preparation for a Mediation” document. If doing the prep work helps, it’s a good sign a Skills for Change Mediation will work for you.
Next time you are writing a scene, consider whether your characters are going to solve their problems right away. If you need obstacles for your characters, you might brainstorm ways their power differences make problem-solving more difficult.