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Internship Spotlight: Sarah Klinikowski

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Conflict Resolution Institute

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Recent Conflict Resolution Alum Sarah Klinikowski (MA '15) has been working as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) intern with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Denver since July of 2015. She has previous experience working in domestic conflict resolution and divorce mediation. Although Klinikowski gained valuable experience in these roles, they ultimately guided her professional interests in a different direction and towards organizational conflict resolution. To gain experience that would help facilitate this transition to organizational conflict resolution, she applied to intern at the BBB's Mediation and Arbitration department and got the position.

The Better Business Bureau's mission is to promote strong and ethical relationships between businesses and the public. This often involves dispute resolution programs aimed at providing an alternative to litigation. As an ADR intern, Klinikowski's primary responsibility was to assist the lead ADR specialist in preparing disputing parties for mediations and arbitrations. This involved routine correspondence between businesses and dissatisfied consumers in order to accurately capture and document their grievances and clarify what they hoped to achieve in the subsequent mediation or arbitration sessions. Klinikowski would then use this information to draft Agreement to Mediate or Agreement to Arbitrate documents, follow up with the involved parties to ensure that their perspectives were accurately portrayed, and address any questions or concerns they may have before signing the agreement.
Klinikowski's scheduled the mediation or arbitration sessions. This often proved challenging, as all mediators and arbitrators at the BBB are volunteers with full-time day jobs. Once an acceptable time between the disputing parties and a mediator or arbitrator was established, Klinikowski would schedule a conference room and prepare background information regarding the mediator/arbitrator's experience and professional focus, along with a detailed explanation of guidelines and expectations for the upcoming meeting. Sending these documents to all involved parties was the final step before the mediation or arbitration process began.

Following arbitration, the arbitrator would draft and send a legally binding Decision and Reason for Decision to the BBB. Klinikowski was responsible for forwarding these documents to the disputing business and consumer parties. Following mediation, she would enter the agreement into the businesses' electronic file and document the case as resolved.
In addition to these duties, Klinikowski would often provide assistance to the Business Investigations Department. In this role, she conducted file reviews and prepared reports on businesses that were experiencing an increase in the volume of complaints lodged against them. She would analyze each consumer complaint to determine the issues at hand, identify collective patterns existing within the larger body of complaints, and briefly summarize the information in a report that included supporting evidence from the BBB's database. These reports were then mailed off to the businesses in question with the understanding that they would work with the BBB to make efforts to resolve the disputes.

After several months of working as an intern, the operations director informed Klinikowski that the current ADR specialist was retiring and encouraged her to apply for the position. Klinikowski was an ideal candidate for the position since she had gained a strong working knowledge of how the department operated and already had ample opportunities to demonstrate her capabilities within the organization. She was offered the job after two rounds of interviews, and began working as the Denver BBB's ADR specialist in December.

Klinikowski developed many of her professionally applicable skills during her time at CRI. She cites a course on Mediation Theory and Practice as being particularly helpful in demonstrating that there are at least two sides to every potential dispute. She also highlights the importance of active listening in order to formulate the appropriate questions which ensure that a session flows smoothly and productively. Klinikowski stresses that every process must be tailored to the dispute in question. Each business/consumer dispute is unique and there is no single model which will adequately address all of the complexities pertaining to a given issue. Instead, a successful mediator/arbitrator must be able to fluidly recall and selectively apply all of the skills at his or her disposal to the context.

Students with an interest in interning with the Better Business Bureau should note that while there are no required pre-requisites to apply, they are generally looking for individuals with a demonstrated interest and working knowledge of the mediation and/or arbitration process. Klinikowski emphasizes that the BBB is a multifaceted organization which serves many functions, so it is therefore best to have some idea what type of projects you would like to work on prior to applying. At the same time, she encourages prospective applicants to, "Be flexible and open to working on new projects." The BBB offers many opportunities to gain interesting and valuable experience.

--Alex Iverson. MA