The Conflict Resolution Symposium is an annual gathering at Georgia State, featuring professional speakers that provide strategies for handling issues amongst peers. This year, Georgia State decided to make artistry the theme of the symposium, inviting various artists and students to find creative ways to settle disputes with one another. One of these creative strategies included an innovative theater forum, known as Pinging Tea.
Pinging Tea is a cutting edge discussion forum, where several parties sit in groups of two before an audience. The people in these groups sit across from one another, discussing pressing relationship issues while drinking hot tea from glass cups. During the conversations, the groups “ping” their glasses, signifying progress being made towards conflict resolution. This unique method was created by Conchita Serri, a professional mediator from California.
Serri, born in Puerto Rico, originally came to the United States to earn a law degree. Plans quickly changed upon her arrival, and Serri ended up earning a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. Now a professor and Ombudsman at Pomona University in California, Serri explains her mission.
“I grew to the point that I realized that there is more to life than trying to solve people’s problems” Serri said. “I became interested in being a mediator for people to solve issues”
Serri explained the motivation behind the innovative strategy.
“I am trying to bring an institutionalized process where you can bring a person and improve a relationship through discussion” Serri said. “The group environment creates momentum for everyone involved. You hear one group making progress and ‘pinging’ their glasses, and you’ll want to make progress as well.”
To the average person, it may seem strange that tapping glasses with spoons could ever be associated with problem solving. Serri explained that the meaning behind the procedure is more about conversation, and identifies the source of inspiration for her organization.
“I was in college and my roommate and I had a disagreement over brownies we made” Serri said. “We were fighting over the last one, and it landed on the ground. Neither of us wanted to pick it up. Months later when we had to move out, we both had to pay for the damage done to the dorm floor by the old brownie. It really showed me that we never took the opportunity to talk about the problem and clear the air.”
Serri said that if she had had an environment to discuss the issue with her roommate, the problem would have never escalated. After realizing this, she earned her degree and became a verified Ombudsman for several universities in California. An Ombudsman is a neutral mediator hired to investigate and solve problems on behalf of individuals in a peaceful manner.
“There is an importance in having an Ombudsman” Serri said. “We explore helpful options and suggest strategies to help solve the problems of people who may not have the confidence or voice to tell anyone else. We are completely confidential peacemakers.”
Although Serri is an accomplished Ombudsman, Pinging Tea has only recently been created in 2008. Serri explains that Pinging Tea was created with the intent to blend live theater with healthy conversation for conflict resolution.
“Being in front of an audience puts a creative pressure on the groups interacting with each other” Serri said. “There is an art in the communication, a theater of sorts. The audience watching the communication and mannerisms coaxes the groups to participate in constructive dialogue. It truly is a communicative performance.”
Serri explained that valuing relationships is critical for human growth. Serri believes that not having an opportunity to discuss problems in relationships causes them to deteriorate. Although one may believe that discussing personal issues in front of an audience is the ultimate contradiction, Serri thinks otherwise.
“Being in a one on one situation surrounded by a group provides safety for the people communicating” Serri said. “They don’t have to worry about tempers flaring and violent altercations, because there is an audience keeping them in check. The fact that the audience isn’t directly listening to the conversations still keeps the interaction very intimate. Confidentiality is key.”
Serri also explained why she chose tea as the drink of choice.
“Tea has a milder stigma” Serri said. “It is associated with soothing and good vibes. It’s warm, smooth, and can be poured easily into glasses that are essential for ‘pinging’.”
After the groups talk amongst each other, the audience is allotted a question and answer period. Although the specific issues of group discussion are off-limits, the audience is allowed to delve into the psychology behind the process.
“The people watching ask questions
about the progression of the clinic” Serri said. “This includes what the parties were thinking about while they talked, why it took them however long it did to open up about the issue, and any specific mannerisms they may have observed during the interaction.”
Serri felt that Georgia State’s Conflict Resolution Symposium was the perfect place to break ground with this experimental technique.
“The fact that GSU is a state progressive university with a diverse student body makes it a great opportunity to try it out” Serri said. “The diversity of views here makes people more willing to try new strategies for conflict resolution. This experiment probably wouldn’t work the same way at a private university with fewer students and a more static demographic.”
Serri said the next step for the program is to compare and contrast how different groups work. The sessions will all be recorded and participants will take surveys to explain how the strategy worked for them.
Serri also explained why she thinks people let problems grow to the point where they have to use forums such as hers to hash them out.
“People often times don’t address problems for the sake of another person’s feelings” Serri said. “They want to be polite, so many times they may speak on an issue and it grows larger over time. Directly addressing an issue before it gets out of not control needs to get more emphasis.”
Serri is working on creating a website for Pinging Tea and can be reached for more