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Handbook for Youth

November 2000

This booklet is regularly edited and we encourage individuals to send in any comments and suggestions.
It is difficult to go through life with no conflicts. You are likely to be involved in a dispute or witness a dispute with someone you know. Some people go so far as to use physical force to try to convince others to accept their view. There are less violent alternatives to resolving these disputes and this booklet provides you a few tools to use in mediating disputes. One objective of mediation is not only resolving the current dispute but to teach the people involved new ways to negotiate future disputes. The following questions and answers have been developed to give you some quick ideas to use when confronted with a dispute.

It is important to emphasize that you should not put yourself in a position where there is any chance of physical violence. Contact a person of authority when you feel this may happen.

What is the first thing I should do when confronted with a dispute?
The first thing you should do is to make sure that you get the other person or people to back off from being physical. One way is to remind them what could happen to them or all the participants. Use a positive attitude toward them. Don't be negative. Tell them that you believe that the dispute can be resolved in a way which they can accept if they are willing to talk. If you have been friends, you can tell them that there is no reason you can't continue to be friends. Ask if it is okay for them to try to talk about the problem with you.

You will need to work on finding the common interests of the people involved. What ideas will benefit each person.

What is the difference between what my interest is and what my position is?
If you are arguing with someone over who owns a book, your interest is finding out if the book is yours so that you can use it. Your position is that it is your book and the other person is wrong for thinking it is their book. You and the other person may have the same interest but opposite positions. Finding out what is each person's interest is part of the reason to ask questions. You may be able to share the book but disagree on who owns the book.

What can you say to persuade the other person to talk out their problem?
You can ask if they still want to continue to be friends. You can ask if they want to be able to be around you or the other parties (in school or peer groups) without always arguing about the dispute. If they remain angry, try to encourage them to wait until they feel they can talk with you without getting angry. Let them choose a time. The more decisions they get to make, the more they will feel like they are part of solving the problem

Are there any ground rules that you all should follow?
Each disputant should agree that:

  • Each person will not interrupt the other when it is your time to talk.
  • You won't call each other names.
  • You will work to tell the truth as you each see it.
  • You will keep the conversation just between those involved.

Is the idea to get the other person to like me?
People who are angry with each other can be friends again but that is not your immediate goal. What you want to do is settle the current argument. There is a good chance that once the other person is able to talk to you without getting emotional you may be able to be friends. The first step in that process is for them to talk to you and be able to hear what you are saying. This means that you have to be able to listen to them as well. Remember to respond without being negative. Start by saying something positive about the other person.

How do I get more information from the other person? Once you both have settled down enough to listen to each other, you should ask the other person to tell you how they see the dispute. Ask questions to clarify what they have said but don't interrupt. You can even restate what the other person has said to see if you understand their position. Some questions you can ask are:

  • What do you mean by that?
  • Help me understand why you feel that way?
  • That sounds important, tell me more?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • How long has this been going on?
  • You can always use the Journalist questions of who, what, why and when.

What if the other person uses a lot of angry words when they tell their side of the story?
You can restate what they said and take out the emotional words. "I hear you say that you feel...." If you are angry, you can tell the other person how you feel but try to be constructive and not use words you know will make the other person even more angry. "I am angry with you about this but I know that we are smart enough to work this out." It is important to remind the other person (and yourself) to be positive.

You can also begin asking questions about what they have said or about how they seem to feel. Sometimes a person will respond well when given an opportunity to say how they feel and know that the other person is trying to listen.

What if the other person still is angry?
You can tell a person who is angry you are glad that they can tell you how they feel and that it is important in understanding the dispute. You can continue to ask them questions such as:

  • Please help me understand how that felt.
  • Can you describe how you feel when that happened?
  • I'm not sure I understand-explain how it feels.
  • It must be very hard to talk about. I'll wait a minute.
  • I'd like to hear more about it.

After you have talked about the emotional issues and feelings, it is important to find out what the issues are in the dispute. The next stage is to find a solution.

How do I know what the important issues are?
Usually you will know what the important issues are as each person tells their side of the story. As mentioned earlier, you can restate their side of the story and take out the angry words. If you are unclear about what the issue is you can always ask the other person to tell you what he or she believes it is. You can restate the issue to make sure that you have it right.

Why is listening one of the more important tools?
When the other person sees that you are listening to them it shows that you are serious about trying to settle the dispute. Spend most of your time listening (80%) and less time talking (20%). It shows that you value what they have to say and that their feelings are important. It is important not to judge what the other person says to prevent them from becoming defensive and not willing to negotiate. Remember to not interrupt and don't let others interrupt.

How can I encourage the other person to listen?
The first thing to do is to face and speak directly to the other person. Avoid "you" statements, which can make the other person feel judged. Use "I" statements which take responsibility for your feelings. If they are too angry to listen or are otherwise distracted, you can suggest another time to meet and talk. You can ask them to tell you the best time for them. You can ask them to use some time to think of various ways they could see the dispute resolved. Sometimes just giving someone time to think is enough to cool them down.

You can also tell them how they seem to you (angry, frustrated, hurt, worried, left out, not listened to, confused). It might be useful to comment on their nonverbal behavior. They may seem quiet, their expression may reflect an emotion, or you might comment that their face reflects something. You might ask if it is difficult to talk with you.

How do I keep the discussion focused on the issues?
You can always continue to ask questions that are related to the main issues.

  • How do you react when_______ happens?
  • Can you describe what I do that bothers you?
  • Why does this bother you?
  • What do you want me to know about you?
  • What do you want to happen?

It is useful for you to give a summary of what you have heard and tell the other person how important their side of the story is and reward them for being clear and ready to negotiate. If it is a complicated matter, you can divide the issues into smaller pieces, put them in order and start with the first one and work up.

What things should I avoid doing?
You should avoid providing advice or suggestions until you hear their side of the story. The solutions should involve things that you both have to do and not just the other person. Don't lecture the other person. Listening is more important. Don't judge the other person. That is the quickest way to keep them angry. Any questions you ask should avoid lecturing or judging as well. And certainly don't threaten the other person with what you will do if they don't change.

What can I do to help develop some solutions?
You can always ask the other person what he or she feels would be the best outcome for each of the issues that need to be addressed. Make sure that the solutions are solvable and involve everyone in providing ideas. You might even suggest involving someone all parties know and respect. Come up with a number of solutions without judging the other people. You can try to find a solution where you both benefit or you both have to do something to achieve the best result. A solution should not involve just one of you - no matter how obvious it might seem that the other person is at fault. Don't defend your ideas, invite the other person to criticize and offer advice. They might do the same with you. It might be best if the agreement can be measured so that everyone can see the results.

Is there anything else I can do to make sure that the dispute is over?
It is good to put the agreement in writing and have each person sign (if possible). This may not be appropriate but you can always suggest it. You can ask each person to tell their friends about the agreement so that any rumors can be stopped. Praise the other person for their hard work and their willingness to reach a solution.

If you witness a dispute between friends and want to help, what if they ask why you are trying to get involved?
You can tell them that you are their friend and you want to help them. There may be a time in the future where they can do the same for you. You can tell them you are aware that there are ways to settle disputes by allowing both sides to have a say in how the dispute is resolved. It might be possible to find a solution that both of them feel is good and might not be the case if a teacher or parent were involved. You might suggest that by agreeing to try to resolve their dispute they are showing that they are mature enough to make good decisions. It is important to remember that adults can serve as an important resource and should be contacted if there is any change of a physical altercation.


This booklet was developed by the Office of Judicial Administration's Advisory Council on Dispute Resolution. If you have any comments or suggestions you can write to:
Dispute Resolution Coordinator
Office of Judicial Administration
301 W. 10th
Topeka, KS 66612-1507