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PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Army's top conflict resolution specialists descended upon the Presidio of Monterey Equal Opportunity Office to certify the post's newest batch of collateral duty mediators last month.

"We're doing a 40 hour course in basic mediation training," said Marc Van Nuys, the Army's director for alternative dispute resolution out of Arlington, Virginia and head instructor for the training team. "The focus is on workplace disputes."

The 24 newly certified mediators will be part of the Presidio's EEO strategic reserve, swooping in like cavalry to help settle disputes when called upon. Their goal: to solve problems at the lowest level before a complaint reaches the formal EEO stage. Luisa Gonzales, the Presidio's EEO director, said that without mediators the formal process for a complaint takes up to three to four years and wreaks havoc in the workplace.

"These individuals we're training now will be who we call in to mediate," said Gonzales. "If we can solve the conflict in a day, they can go then back to their job and do what they need to do."

Van Nuys said the training focused on interest-based negotiation and a mediation technique called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). That means, rather than having two adversaries at the table lock horns until one is declared a winner, the mediator creates an environment where the parties involved feel like two equal partners. The parties then sign an agreement to which both had input.

"You'll find less incidents of people saying they were cheated on their agreement, because they had a direct hand in creating it," Van Nuys said. "ADR builds commitment to agreements."

Along with academic discussion on active listening and communication, the class conducted five mock conflicts where the students acted as mediators. Van Nuys added that one of the unique challenges he discussed with the class, many who were language instructors at the Defense Language Institute, was how different cultures affect a workplace.

"Cultural influences in negotiation and mediation are significant and can make the difference in whether a conflict is easily resolved or whether it metastasizes and gets out of control," he said.

Van Nuys wants the class to use their new tools not just as official EEO collateral mediators but as unofficial mediators in the workplace stopping disagreements before they boil into conflict.

"We want people to leave the class thinking like a mediator," he said. "Instead of lashing out we look at ways to own the dispute and resolve it."

One of the mediation class' students, Gorge Bebawi, a faculty development specialist at DLI, said he was ready to take the week's training into the wild.

"What people want is to enjoy what they are doing," Bebawi said. "What's going to happen to someone who's waiting three or four years for a complaint to go through? -- nothing good."

He added that he's excited to bring his skills to his day-to-day job training teachers at Middle East School II. "They teach you how to be a good listener; how to mediate; how to ask the right question; and how to solve problems," he said. "I can add these skills to our team-building events and conflict resolution classes."

Van Nuys said he hopes the class will provide a valuable tool to the Presidio of Monterey, but stressed that active listening and language skills are the keystone to being an effective communicator.

"The only weapon the mediator has is his ability to communicate effectively and to use their questions smartly to get information," he said.