There is much to affirm about this book. First and most importantly, it reflects the life work and learning of one our most
respected colleagues. Trip Barthel has worked all over the country and the world with great success in mediation and facilitation,
with special attention to inter-religious cooperation and peace-building. Second, the “nine keys” model represents a very helpful
expansion of the classic four- or five stage mediation models
that predominate in our field, as well as the often slippery group
facilitation models employed by many practitioners.
I also would offer two critiques of the book. First, it assumes
a level of knowledge about core processes (like mediation and
facilitation) and specialized approaches (such as World Café,
Appreciative Inquiry, and the 6 Thinking Hats Model) that most
experienced practitioners, but not all potential readers, will
possess. Barthel’s suggestions and case studies are extremely
helpful to the experienced practitioner but would be inadequate for the beginner who is just entering the field. Second,
there are few tips on “what to do when you’re stuck” or when a
given process seems to break down. The “positive psychology”
approach seems to assume that all will be well if we just follow
the model . . . and most of us know better.
Again, however, the experienced practitioner will have developed a variety of tools (including the use of caucus and silence)
to address impasse or process breakdown, so a single book does
not need to cover all these bases. My concern would only be for
the inexperienced practitioner who might view this as a single
source document for successful mediation and facilitation.
Does this book truly answer the question that Barthel
poses at the onset: “How can we work together to overcome
suffering, solve conflict, and arrive at unity?” I would suggest that it does. If a group can come together with a shared
commitment to address their issues (and with a skilled facilitator), the “nine keys” offer a way forward that I believe will
prove consistently effective. They are predicated, however,
on shared values and ethics. Thus, it would be wise to test
those ethical assumptions with a group early on—perhaps
through developing a “group covenant” at the beginning of
Barthel himself summarizes his goal in writing this book in
his concluding words.
I hope this book has demonstrated how skills
and techniques from compatible group processes
can be used in a conflict resolution environment
to enhance group performance, and to show
how Affirmative Facilitation principles can be
put into practice.
He has, in my view, both answered a critically-important
question to the field and demonstrated how important principles can be put into effective practice. Thus, for practitioners
with medium to high levels of experience, this book will be a
tremendous asset to your practice. It’s the next best thing
to having Barthel’s calm and affirming presence at your side
through those challenging mediation and facilitation cases.
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