Episode 4: Conflict As The Opportunity For Peace: The Art Of Mediation with Johnnie Scott
Conflict As The Opportunity For Peace: The Art Of Mediation
with Johnnie Scott
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Mark Lewis: Welcome to Money Mission and Meaning, passionate work, purpose of play. We explore how we can integrate our personal values and professional skills to create pleasure and profit in the business of life. I’m your host Mark Michael Lewis, CEO of Smart Energy Enterprises Incorporated or SEE Inc. A beautiful future now. Today’s show focuses on the power of mediation to resolve conflict in the workplace and create partnership in the face of differences. Our guest is Johnnie Scott, a professional mediator and corporate trainer with a Masters in Public Administration and a Doctor of Jurisprudence specializing in employment disputes, especially discrimination issues, involving race, sex, disability and age. Join us as we explore how to address the underlying issues involved in work-related conflict. The Art of Mediation is a social contribution and Johnnie’s over 25 year personal journey to fulfill his dream as a peacemaker in the world.
Johnnie Scott: It was during my lifetime, up until I was about 10 years old, there was still colored and white water fountains and entrances to buildings, so I experienced that and I’m probably the last generation to have experienced what I still call Apartheid in America. There’s a way out there to resolve these issues without having people resort to violence to do so. There’s going to be conflict, and the only issue becomes, ‘how do I use the conflict to grow?’ The key has always been to never loose sight of where you want to be at and to hold on to that dream, in respect to what anyone else may say to you as to the acquisition of what you are trying to achieve.
Mark Lewis: So welcome Johnnie thanks for agreeing to be on our show.
Johnnie Scott: Thank you, Mark.
Mark Lewis: Over the last 25 years, you’ve worked as an administrative judge, arbitrator and mediator at Federal and State levels, including work with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the USDA, and the US Postal Service. In the process, you’ve advocated on behalf of employees on the one hand and employers on the other but prefer to take on the role of mediator. Perhaps we can start by clarifying the difference between a litigator, an arbitrator and a mediator.
Johnnie Scott: A mediator is someone, an actual neutral, who does not have a stake in the outcome and that person will assist the parties who are in dispute and trying to resolve whatever differences that may have arisen between the parties and their relationship. Quite unlike what an attorney does, or a litigator does. A litigator is someone who advocates on behalf of one side or the other. They have a definite staked-out position and their role is to present the other side’s position course of a civil action, or even in mediation for that matter. Now, an arbitrator is someone who is also an outside neutral, but that person has the authority to decide the outcome of the actual dispute. An arbitrator is much like a judge; they have the decision-making authority, unlike that of the mediator who can only assist the parties using his or her power of persuasion. So the distinction between mediator and arbitrator is that the arbitrator has the ultimate decision-making authority while a mediator does not. And a litigator is someone who will make their arguments to either a mediator in mediation to help them convey their position or to an arbitrator to convince them that their client’s position is the correct one.
Mark Lewis: So where as litigator actually takes a side and presents to a third party, whether it’s a mediator, or an arbitrator or even a jury to convince them about how their side is right and the other side is wrong. And an arbitrator is someone who actually listens to multiple sides of the issue, has the authority and makes the final decision. As a mediator, your job is in a sense, far more complex, because you actually have two different parties who are at odds and your goal, and your job is to get them on the same page, such that they can find a mutually satistfieble agreement in the face of coming together in an argument. Is that?
Johnnie Scott: That is essentially it, Mark.
Mark Lewis: Excellent. In the process of doing that it’s, my guess, and from things you have told me before, it’s a special kind of psychological dance and interaction. Because when people are, typically by the time they come to mediation, they’ve already exhausted their own resources in being able to resolve the issue. And so they’re at odds with one another and typically very psychologically or emotionally invested in being right and having the other person be wrong. How is it that you go about actually building a context where they can speak to one another where they can resolve something rather than just fighting further?
Johnnie Scott: Well you are correct, in that it is a dance, it is movement, in terms of dialogue between the parties as to the issues that are outstanding. And the context which I create or I attempt to create is one that is based upon trust. The parties coming to the table with an intent to resolve their differences and those differences are resolved more readily when I can help them find reason to trust the other side’s position. And to do so in a context where my role as facilitator is to help them hear and understand each side’s position, the other person’s position. So in that regard, it’s a sense of empowerment, because you have been heard, you have spoken your word, and you have been heard. And the other side, and the other side, gets a chance to hear what you’ve stated and then to reflect upon the statements being made and decide whether based on the new information you have, you want to reach some kind of resolution respecting your differences. More often than not, people who feel that they have been heard, they are better able, on a better position to move beyond the conflict and resolve their issues.
Mark Lewis: It’s great. As I’m hearing you speak, it’s clear to me that you have a very precise command of language. You use words very intelligently, very intently, with intention and precision to really say what you mean and not what you don’t mean. Now at the same time, I know that in order to speak with human begins you really have to speak into their world, into their language. And sometimes I’m sure people are in such different places, you really have to stretch your own self in order to be able to meet them. I’m curious, what’s a particular conflict that you’ve worked with, where people were really on different sides of an issue, and then you helped bring them together such that they could find a solution where they had no idea they’d be able find it.
Johnnie Scott: Well, I do mediation primarily in employment and labor forums. And so therefore most of my complaints are regarding allegations that, particually in employment law, that someone has violated a Federal statuette that prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment complaint, for instance. So I’m sitting there with people who are attempting to resolve issues that may have some cultural basis, where the allegation is some cultural, racial, or ethnic bias and there are a myriad of complaints out there. And in terms of one that in particular I want to convey to you, to relate to you, the most recent complaint that I’ve dealt with involving allegations of the use of the ‘N-word’ to be PC, to be politically correct. An employee has alleged before the employer that they are experiencing a hostile work environment, harassment because their boss is constantly making reference to them by using the ‘N-word’. And let’s be honest, the ‘N-word’ we are speaking of is the work nigger and that’s not one that we like to use, given our historical relationships in this country. So here’s an African American employee who’s making the allegation that his boss is referring to very frequently by using the term, ‘nigger’, ‘Hey nigger,’ ‘What’s up nigger?’ and those kind of things.
Mark Lewis: Ouch.
Johnnie Scott: Well yes. And it turns out though; well that’s the position of the employee.
Mark Lewis: Yes.
Johnnie Scott: And it turns out, however that when you speak to the manager who’s involved the dispute, and you get his recitation of what the issue is he says, ‘Yes, I did use that term, nigger and however I didn’t use it with the intent of insulting the employee. As a matter of fact, the employee has encouraged me to refer to him as nigger because he says that’s a term of endearment. So I, the employer, not being from this country, I embraced that concept, unknowingly to the degree that I thought it was ok to use it, because the employee gave me the permission to use it. Now I’m facing the complaint.
Mark Lewis: Things get interesting here.
Johnnie Scott: Yes, those are the kinds of mediations that really, really have the kind of intensity that one would hope to find in re, well hope not to find in a conflict. And this is, this is a real conflict as to one side’s perceptions as to the insult, which the employee may have eventually started to feel at some point in time, however the employer says, ‘Well you told me to refer to you as nigger. So how do we resolve this difference? And I understand now, that is in fact insulting to you so I will cease and desist from using the term, but I really don’t understand why we have a complaint, because you encouraged me to use the term.’
Mark Lewis: And so you come into this very heated subject with a long history, the people who are in the debate obviously have lost their ability to talk about it when amongst themselves and they’ve resulted to a legal action you’ve been brought in as a mediation, I’m assuming as a last ditch effort to avoid a lawsuit. Is that…?
Johnnie Scott: Yes, correct Mark. What is happened, what happens is that there is a lawsuit already filed. And now the issue becomes, ‘how do I resolve this issue from the employer perspective, the employee perspective in a forum short of going to court. And so we have to sit down and approach this very sensitive issue and talk about the matters that are standing, and have each side present to the other side their feelings, for lack of a better word, feelings as to what has happened that has given rise to the conflict. Now, one other piece of information that’s very important is that these two individuals were good friends, in the sense that, the African American employee had invited the manager over to his own home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, at a time when he was new to the country. There had been other allegations of money being loaned from the employer to the employee and how there had been really built up a level of friendship. So the employer now, is, is really in a position where he’s like, ‘I didn’t know this had gone to this level, and I’m really surprised that we’re now sitting here in litigation on this matter.
Mark Lewis: And this sounds so classic, relationships are so complex, whenever you look deeper into a relationship, it’s always more complex than what’s going on. I’m guessing that it’s almost the rule, rather than exception that although it’s a specific conflict that gets brought into mediation, that there’s a deeper history that clouds the issues.
Johnnie Scott: Most definitely, Mark. So in, if you look at the complaint on its face, that’s filed in court, you would say, ‘Oh, how could someone be so insensitive to refer to someone by using a racially charged term like that?’ Much like the Imus debate right now, relating to the terms used against the Rutgers’s basketball players, female basketball players. So you start to have offense from both sides, and particularly when, if you look at the other side, the manager, the employer representative, he is saying in essence, ‘If you, my friend, had an issue with me using the term, which you invited, why didn’t you talk to me about the continued use of the term, with respect to how you felt about it?’ So, to some degree, he’s now feeling offended. Whenever we call even someone who might have some bias, something that suggest that they are culturally insensitive, or even quote unquote a racist, that person also feels a degree of offense because its not a popular thing to, to be in this culture, in America.
Mark Lewis: Absolutely fascinating. We’re about to take a break, when I come back, I’m going to ask you about how is it you get into the position of being a mediator, what drew you to it, what was your history that lead to it. This is Mark Michael Lewis, with Money, Mission, and Meaning; we’ll be back in just a moment with Johnnie Scott, talking about the power of communication to resolve difference.
Mark Lewis: And we’re back with Money Mission and Meaning, this is Mark Michael Lewis and we’re speaking with Johnnie Scott a mediator and corporate trainer specializing in employment issues about how to use the skills and attitudes of mediation to build thriving partnerships. So Johnnie, how is it that you came to be a mediator, what is it in your history, why did you choose it of all the things you could do?
Johnnie Scott: Well, it was something that happened and it wasn’t a matter of choice initially. I had worked initially as a administrative law judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington DC, and during the course of my work, what I would do, was to help the parties engage in dialogue during a settlement conference to help them figure out where they were in respect to litigation. And EEOCAJs that’s what we were called, in terms of the acronyms. They have responsibility of ejudicating complaints involving the Federal government, where a Federal employee has made an allegation of discrimination in violation of one of the Federal Anti-discrimination statuettes. So in ejudicating those claims, we have to have settlement conferences, and I really found myself in a position where I enjoyed that kind of involvement in a dispute, versus being the arbitrator or the judge, much more satisfying in terms of speaking to the parties about the issues and seeing if they had some ideas or some options they wanted to propose back and forth to resolve their differences. So I guess it’s kind of a migration, it’s an evolution as how I got to be a mediator, I started off by being an AJ, and ultimately I got to the point where I said, ‘Well, I don’t like the litigation part as much as I like the neutral part. And the part of being a neutral I like best is helping the parties figure out what it is they want to do to resolve their differences, because those kind of resolutions have a lot more impact, a lot more meaning, and they’re much more lasting than ones that are imposed by some outside party.
Mark Lewis: So, where you’re actually doing a type of problem solving, rather than fighting for a side where there’s a winner and a loser, you’re really looking for a win-win solution that both people can not only have this particular difference resolved, but perhaps, even maintain a relationship such that they can move forward.
Johnnie Scott: That’s put very well Mark and that’s what it comes down to, helping the parties figure out if they can find a win-win resolution in their complaints.
Mark Lewis: Excellent. This show’s called Money, Mission and Meaning, and it’s about integrating both our professional lives and our personal sense of what’s valuable and meaningful to make a difference in the world. So, how is that you chose to do mediation, in terms of an expression of what it is that’s important to you in life?
Johnnie Scott: Ok, well, in terms of my own spiritual outlook, being a mediator was more in line with the kind of person I wanted to be in my personal life. And I’m seeking to find peace in my life and to go through this life with the intent of being peaceful in every endeavor that I encounter. That’s a very difficult thing to do sometimes, because sometimes it’s just almost impossible to be peaceful in face of the oppositions or the conflicts we have to deal with in everyday life. So in seeking out a profession, I wanted to find something that was going to keep me aligned with my spiritual side, my peaceful side, and at the same time provide me examples for everyday living as to how I could myself, personally, resolve the conflicts, both inner and outer, within my life, through example to other people and by using the conflicts that I encountered as ways to remind me that the one approach to life that I wanted to emulate more than any other, was to exist peacefully and to practice peace in every aspect of my life.
Mark Lewis: That’s great. You know of the things you were saying that really spoke to me, is that in a sense, conflict is inevitable, unavoidable to some degree. And the great thing I love about what you are doing, is that it’s not an either or, it’s not no conflict and absolute peace or complete conflict and war, that there are degrees. And that in the face of not being able to have absolute, you know you can’t just choose absolute peace, you can choose to strive for it, and move for it as much as possible, you can keep that in mind. And I’m sure that when you get together in between parties, there might not be an ultimate resolution that both people are absolutely ecstatic about, but you can create a resolution in which they both get more of what they want. And that desire to make that happen seems to be very much what I know about you, a desire to make things more beautiful than they are, more peaceful than they are. Now, what is it, I’m curious, in your own personal history, what is it about your life that has led you to recognize that that’s so valuable, and to take action towards it in the face of challenges.
Johnnie Scott: Well, first of all, you’re correct; conflict is part of everyday life, and conflict is there for our own personal growth, for growth in general. So I have realized that there is going to be conflict, and the only issue becomes, how do I use the conflict to grow? And so, I, I figured out that in essence, I’ll, I’ll use what’s before me, each time and understand that’s it’s a lesson to be learned and learn that lesson and move on, or don’t learn that lesson and don’t move on, and then have that lesson repeated again and again and again. Now, as to an actual event, I don’t know if I can really point to one immediately, but I guess, it may have all began, when I was probably around 8 or 9 years of age and my father was shot 3 times.
Mark Lewis: Oh.
Johnnie Scott: And I guess at that point in time, I realized the violent nature of disputes, and so it became apparent to me, that we have to find a different way of resolving disputes. And my father, obviously he survived that ordeal, and it had an impact upon me. Ultimately, he went to work for a criminal court judge in New Orleans as a janitor, part-time, which was an addendum to his full-time job; he took me with him, as his, as his son. And that was when I first became exposed to the whole criminal justice system, and I would go in and there would be trials going on. I knew the judge personally, cause I cleaned out his chambers and he’d talk to me and a lot of the trials, some of the trials anyway, involved murders and crimes of violence. And I guess at some point I decided that there has to be a way to resolve differences, other than the use of force. And then after studying history, I realized that at the end of any world dispute, involving a war, pre se, we always came to the table and we figured out some way to resolve the issues verbally in discussion formats, and that was a lot more effective than actually having gone to war, and lost so many thousands of lives. So I guess it all kind of came to culmination, came to rest at some point, where I realized that there’s a way out there to resolve these issues without having people resort to violence to do so, to resolve their conflicts, their differences and disagreements.
Mark Lewis: Thank you. In your own journey, from place of being an administrative judge, and before that, you were in the mental health system. You’ve come quite a ways; you’ve gone through a whole range of experiences to get to the point where you are now, when I look at you, and look at the way you live your life, I consider you a success. And I mean a success, both personally in terms your ability to take care of yourself in the world, but more importantly as living your life as an expression of something that gives you value and meaning. Which I think is the most difficult thing that we can accomplish. So along the journey, from where you were, to where you are today, with the levels of success that you’ve achieved, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in terms of staying focused on where it is you want to go and what’s really important to you, in the face of the various challenges that come up, that could distract you down roads that lead to, where you could get lost, doing things that are less important. How have you stayed focused and what has that meant to you, what did you learn about that?
Johnnie Scott: Well, in very simple terms, I have stayed committed to my dreams. And I’ve never abandoned my dreams, and even in the face of what appeared to be no success or the possibility of success being impossible, I found some kind of way to remember my dreams and keep those at the forefront, knowing that if I did just that, I would accomplish what I set out to do. And I did have people in my family who encouraged me to do just that, and they told me pretty much to stay focused upon what I wanted to be at, because pursuing a career in the law was not something that persons in my ethnic, cultural or social background were doing in the mid 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’, or maybe in the 70’s but in the 60’s for sure. And it was a hard task or a hard road to pursue, because the doors were not always so open. So by staying committed to the idea and to my dreams I was able to fully realize them, by not abandoning what it is that I wanted to do.
Mark Lewis: Thank you. When we come back, I’m going to ask you a little bit about what it’s meant to be an African American pushing the boundaries of what’s possible when you graduated from school back in the mid-70’s. But also what it is you have to tell our listeners about what you would suggest to them in terms of pursuing their own dreams. My name is Mark Michael Lewis, this is Money, Mission, and Meaning, we’ll be back with Johnnie Scott in just a moment.
Mark Lewis: Johnnie, you were just talking about what it was like, how in the 60’s African Americans weren’t pursuing legal careers; it wasn’t really an option open to them. Yet, when you graduated in the mid-70’s there were new opportunities available for you, but as you said, doors weren’t quite as open, which of course, an understatement. But, so what has it been like for you, to actually push that particular boundary, to bring the ownership that is so appropriate into actual reality, in a time when people were really questioning whether or not that was appropriate.
Johnnie Scott: Well, I was born in 1956, in New Orleans, and that was on the tail end of what I would call, the end of Apartheid in America. Because it was during my lifetime, up until I was probably about 10 years old, there was still colored and white over water fountains and entrances to buildings, so I experienced that, and I’m probably the last generation to have experienced what I still call Apartheid in America.
Mark Lewis: So.
Johnnie Scott: Before the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans who had any inclination to pursue some kind of career that dealt with social issues, they mainly looked to the ministry as a way to deal with those concerns. And for instance, the Reverend Dr. King, that was the whole idea behind that, is that, what’s available to me as an African American is for me to establish myself as a minister and have a congregation and to deal with social matters from that perspective. In the 60’s however, we focused upon African Americans, we focused upon the importance of education in our lives, and that became the basis for us to pursue college educations and advanced degrees and those kinds of things. Ultimately in the 70’s I received my Bachelors of Arts from Loyola University in New Orleans, and went on then to go to graduate school and also law school. So it was already explained to me, or realized by me, that if I was going to empower myself, I had to do so, through using the educational system and pursuing an education and pursuing the best possible education, and acquiring one, and that at some point I would be able to excel and be successful. So success became tied to the pursuit of academics and that’s not the case today, but at least in the 60’s when I was coming of maturity, when I was becoming more mature, the way to be successful in America if you were African American was to pursue education, advance degree. There’s 7 kids in my family, and 6 of the 7 have at least a Masters degree in some area or another so it was always instilled in us by our parents who were probably, my Father an 8th grade education maybe and my mother a High School diploma that the way to success was through education. So that became the way to raise one’s self up from one’s condition and to be successful. However, education didn’t open up all of the doors, because even after you acquired such, some doors remained closed, particularly in the fields of law, the field of law. For example when I got out of law school in the early 90’s I went to Washington DC to pursue a career, and I already had a Masters degree in Public Administration, which is a Masters degree in Business in the Federal and the government sectors, and I had my jurist doctorate, my law degree and I was studying for the DC Bar. And you would think that while I was doing so, and seeking to be employed in the interim I’d be able to do more than just move boxes in storage areas for different companies, but that was the kind of part time employment available to me, even with a Masters degree and a law degree. I was crewed through temporary work, I was still be channeled in the 90’s to do things like move boxes and heavy lifting type stuff, versus taking an internship in some law firm. So the door was not fully open, and I would even go so far to say that even now it has not swung open that widely, so that’s just where it’s at, but the key has always been is to never loose sight of where you want to be at, and to hold on to that dream, in respect to what anyone else might say to you as to the acquisition of what you are trying to achieve.
Mark Lewis: Thank you. Again this show is Money, Mission and Meaning, and it’s really about the idea it’s not so much what you do in the world that determines whether or not you’re going to be happy, it’s a question of what you bring to it, and who you become in the process. And so, what is it like for you personally, to have chosen a dream, to have worked towards it in the face of obstacles, and to have found a way of working within the system to do something where you can really make a positive contribution and feel good about what you do? Who have you become, how do you feel about the self that you’ve developed through the challenges you’ve been facing, on the way to your dream?
Johnnie Scott: Well, those challenges that I’ve described, have made me a much more spiritual person, a much more relaxed person, a person who has realized that I am in control of my own destiny. And it has caused me to embrace the concept of love, ultimately as the intention for all that I do. And love which also entails peace is the basis for all my endeavors. So I have grown so much spiritually, from whence I came and all of my experiences, and they have brought me to the place that I’m at right now. It has given me the basis for being the spiritual person that I am. And I do believe that spirit, is the most important thing in my life, and being a spiritual person is also the most important thing in my life. It makes me understand the alleged differences that became the basis for so many social institutions, are not in fact real. So therefore, I have been able to grow and embrace concepts in my life that promote the whole ideal of oneness, and universality, and love and the basis for all that I do.
Mark Lewis: Such a pleasure to hear that from someone in the legal profession, where we’re so used to hearing Rambo lawyers talking about winning at all costs. Actually it brings up a whole series of questions I want to ask you, unfortunately we’re out of time; perhaps I can have you back for another show?
Johnnie Scott: Most definitely Mark.
Mark Lewis: Excellent. Well, for more information on Johnnie’s mediation practice or to have him train or work with your organization around diversity, discrimination, sexual harassment or alternative dispute resolution, please visit his site at dismedarb.com, that’s d-i-s-m-e-d-a-r-b dot com. For text and transcripts of this show and other shows on the Personal Life Media Network, please visit our website, at www.personallifemedia.com. I’m your host Mark Michael Lewis, CEO of Smart Energy Enterprises Incorporated, SEE Inc. A beautiful future, now. And that brings us to the end of our show, thanks for listening and join us next week on Money, Mission and Meaning; Passion at work, purpose at play, as we interview cutting edge business leaders who are committed to making a positive difference in the world, about the motivation and practical ideas that create pleasure and profit in the business of life.
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