A training class for mediators sponsored by the National Conflict Resolution Center.

Since its founding in 1983, the National Conflict Resolution Center has emerged as a leading alternative to lengthy and costly court action. The center offers extensive mediation services for disputes ranging from small claims to divorce to complex legal cases. It’s also leading a national effort to encourage civil discourse, a project championed by actor Richard Dreyfuss. Times of San Diego spoke with Steven P. Dinkin, president of the center, about its wide-ranging efforts in the San Diego community.

What’s the mission of the National Conflict Resolution Center?

At National Conflict Resolution Center, we provide the resources, training and expertise to help people, organizations and communities manage and solve conflicts — with civility.

Built on the principle that every dispute has a solution, the center serves a variety of communities in both the public and private sectors — regionally, nationally and internationally. Our mission is to resolve issues with the highest possible degree of civility and equity to all parties involved.

Steven P. Dinkin

How does the center mediate and resolve conflicts?

The center offers mediation services for issues that are already in a conflict state and need resolving by an outside party. Mediation is a confidential meeting between disputing parties and a trained, neutral mediator who guides a discussion of issues toward a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediators do not take sides or decide how a dispute should be resolved.

Mediation services are offered through three different departments:

  • The West Coast Resolution Group, a division of the National Conflict Resolution Center, provides mediation services to the public and the legal community. To achieve that goal, we have assembled a core group of experienced neutrals with extensive experience mediating a variety of cases.
  • The Divorce Mediation Group offers an affordable alternative to litigating in court. This group helps resolve all family law issues before, during and after a divorce or legal separation. Both parties meet with a trained, impartial family law mediator to resolve issues in a confidential setting.
  • Community Mediation Services offers no-cost mediation services to cases that would typically go through small claims court. There is no charge for these mediations because funding for these services is provided by the County of San Diego Alternative Dispute Resolution Program.

Given the recent court closures and the difficulty of taking cases to trial nowadays, mediation is becoming a more reliable and affordable option than ever before.

We also offer a number of training services to help equip people with skills and resources to effectively communicate and resolve issues on their own, so that the number of full-blown conflicts is reduced. Through these services, the public is empowered to handle tense issues of disagreement at an earlier point, and we find that many disagreements are handled without the need to even go to mediation.

The center is also focusing on civil discourse. Why is that important?

More than ever, we are seeing a lack of civility exemplified by our nation’s leaders. Young people aren’t learning the art of civilized disagreement and we’re finding that Millennials are either afraid to engage in healthy dialogue with someone they disagree with, or they are so angry by the time they do engage in a debate that they have no idea how to have a conversation about differing ideas in a respectful way.

We are working with leadership here in San Diego, and eventually want to work with leaders from all over the United States, to establish a “Code of Civil Discourse.” This code has been developed as a guideline for public officials to use in their daily jobs. Before adopting the code, a leader must agree to adhere to certain principles, such as showing respect for ideas and views presented, even when I disagree, or avoiding personal attacks or other tactics that distract attention from the salient issues.

Many of our local officials have already adopted this code and are implementing it in their offices, cities and, some say, even at home.

What challenges does the center currently face?

Often times, people find it hard to understand how a conflict resolution center can have an impact on important issues like homelessness or education. We have to help people understand that “soft skills,” such as teaching homeless populations how to effectively communicate their basic needs, are as critical to their long-term health as finding a place to house themselves for the evening is to their short-term health. We certainly don’t believe we are a fix-all for every issue facing our city, but we also don’t believe that teaching effective communication and conflict management skills should be reserved for corporate leadership and public officials only.

How can interested San Diegans get involved?

The center has three major initiatives that need support. Interested San Diegans can contact us to become involved in one of these initiatives and help by serving on a planning committee and fundraising for these programs.

  • The Pipeline to Prison refers to the policies and practices that push the nation’s youth, especially ethnic and racial minorities, out of the classrooms through suspension and expulsion, and onto the streets, leading them all too often into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. It also includes those youth who enter the juvenile justice system as a result of a criminal act. The center’s efforts interrupt this pipeline, redirecting young people to productive and positive life paths. It helps them understand the impact of their actions and allows them to make appropriate restitution.
  • The Galinson Campus Civility Program is shaping the next generation’s leaders. Being part of an extraordinarily diverse student population represents a challenge and an opportunity. When students have misconceptions of those outside their group it can be difficult to communicate. Through communication and diversity training, the civility program bolsters the students’ ability and confidence to engage with others.
  • The Empowerment Program teaches the skills necessary for effective communication, conflict management and self-sufficiency to some of the most vulnerable members of the San Diego community, including refugees, the homeless, foster youth and veterans. Through customized communication and conflict management training, the center helps individuals from these groups become productive community members. We have a track record of success in this area, training over 3,000 at-risk individuals over the past four years.

To learn more, donate or volunteer, please visit www.NCRConline.com or call 619-238-2400.

Times of San Diego regularly writes about nonprofit organizations that are making a difference in San Diego. Organizations wishing to participate in this question-and-answer series may contact news@timesofsandiego.com for consideration.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.