University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Gregory Encina Billikopf is offering his new book on conflict management to the public free on the Internet.

The 124-page publication, "Helping Others Resolve Differences: Empowering Stakeholders," presents a mediation method developed by Billikopf over 15 years of mediation experience and research.

"This is different than much of what I have done in the past, as it is directed not only to agriculture, but to the non-agricultural sector as well," Billikopf said.

The first section of the book outlines the theory and process behind the Billikopf mediation method. In brief, the system calls for a series of meetings with each of the contending parties before bringing the two together. The advance meetings give each individual the opportunity to be heard, release emotions and be counseled about how the concerns can most effectively be put into words.

These four chapters are titled "Fighting words: How did we get here?" "The mediation process," "Empathic listening and challenging perceptions," and "Coaching participants on negotiation skills."

The second half of the book contains transcripts of a series of mediation sessions with two co-workers who had been involved in a deep-seated interpersonal conflict for more than 20 years. The names and some specifics about the two individuals were changed to protect their privacy, however, the content of their advance meetings with the mediator and subsequent confrontation is real.

"I feel these two women are so brave because they were willing to expose themselves at their ugliest point," Billikopf said.

The novelty of the Billikopf approach is particularly evident in the joint meeting, where the women were allowed to hash out their problems without much mediator intervention.

"Some mediators claim to be impartial, but that's not possible," Billikopf said. "Through this approach, it doesn't matter if the mediator is partial because the mediator allows the two participants to speak to each other. At times, if the meeting begins spiraling out of control, the mediator steps in, but for the most part, the mediator's role is played out in advance with the individual participants."

The final chapters reveal a difficult and painful mediation process. After the book's publication, even the individuals involved were horrified to read their own comments, Billikopf said. Nevertheless, eventually, the two were able to resolve their differences and establish the foundation for not just peaceful coexistence, but friendship.

"The purpose of this mediation approach is to help with the next conflict, when the mediator is no longer available. They will have the ability to solve problems themselves," Billikopf said.

The system, he said, can help people resolve even the most serious interpersonal disputes as long as both people are willing to forgive, see the other as human and do the right thing. The book contains a litmus test mediators can use during advance sessions to determine whether the joint meeting will be productive. If one of the parties refuses these concessions, then a mediator cannot resolve the interpersonal conflict and other methods for stopping the conflict must be used, such as arbitration.

Individual chapters and the complete book may be viewed or printed in pdf format from Billikopf's Web site, http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor. Select "Conflict Management Book." A printed paperback version of the book is also available for about $13 (includes sales tax for California residents and shipping, depending on location to be shipped). To order a copy of the book, complete the order request form on the Web site.

Billikopf will present workshops on his mediation method in California at the request of employers, professional organizations or other groups. For more information on workshops, contact Billkiopf at (209) 525-6800 or gebillikopf@ucdavis.edu.

Jeannette Warnert is web content coordinator and senior public information Representative for the University of California Ag and Natural Resources unit in Fresno, Calif.

e-mail: jwarnert@uckac.edu