Interview With a Mediator: Steve Breckheimer
When did you get started as a volunteer mediator and what were your motivations?
I went through mediation training in 1992 and have been mediating in Henderson and Polk counties since then. I was a school psychologist in Henderson County at the time and wanted to volunteer with a local organization. The training also seemed to complement my work in the schools.
What are some of the types of cases you’ve assisted in resolving?
Some of the cases we work on are referred from the court system, such as simple assaults, damage to property, shoplifting and communicating threats. Other cases involve school truancy, family disputes, barking dogs or landlord-tenant conflicts.
What is the average length of time it takes to reach an agreement?
We allow up to two hours for the initial mediation session. Most of the conflicts can be resolved within that time frame. We sometimes have to schedule a second mediation when the issues are complex or involve multiple parties.
Have you helped with any especially tough cases where an agreement satisfactory to both sides was reached?
Yes, but I can’t talk about them because all our mediations are confidential. I can say that helping parties find solutions to their disputes gives you a good feeling. We are lucky to have this resource in our community and I am proud to represent the many skilled mediators in our organization.
What have you learned about conflict resolution during your time volunteering with the center?
I have learned to trust the mediation process. It is effective and can help resolve almost any conflict if the parties are willing to listen to each other and reach a reasonable solution. Conflict is a normal part of daily life, but sometimes it is not handled well. Many of the disputes occur in the heat of the moment, when people overreact or don’t communicate clearly. Once things calm down and the parties are able to hear both sides of the story, they most often can resolve their disagreements.
What else do you want people to know about mediation?
Mediation is generally free for individuals, and anyone involved in a conflict can call the center to request mediation without going to the magistrate to file charges. Mediations are voluntary, so all parties have to agree to participate. The mediators don’t take sides or give advice. They are responsible for moving the parties through the mediation process, but it is up to the participants to develop a plan to resolve their conflicts and avoid future ones. Healing and forgiveness often occur during a session.
What encouragement would you offer someone interested in volunteering as a mediator?
The training for mediators is comprehensive, interesting and useful. The skills taught, such as reflective listening, summarizing and nonverbal communication, can be helpful in a wide range of situations. The Mediation Center offers training several times each year; the next training takes place in January in Asheville.
To learn more about the Mediation Center or to volunteer, call 828-697-7055 or visit mediatewnc.org