Mediation training comes in a multitude of flavors. To make sure you get really good training and an excellent return on your training investment, here’s a guide to help you choose the right flavor for you.
Questions to ask yourself
Start with your own clarity. Your answers to the following questions help you steer yourself to the kind of mediation trainer most likely to help you achieve your goals.
If you want mediation training because you think you want to become a professional or volunteer mediator, you must understand that the basic mediation course (usually 30-40 hours in the U.S.) will not sufficiently prepare you. It may give you a sense of whether or not you’d be any good at mediating and it may (depending how good the trainer is) set a foundation for future training.
Think of basic mediation training as way to test the waters of the field to see if you like it and might one day be good at it. Regardless of your profession of origin (and I’m talking to you, attorneys and counselors), basic is called “basic” for a reason.
If you’re thinking of becoming a professional mediator, this question is about having an honest talk with yourself. For the most part, there are not many mediator jobs out there just waiting for newly minted mediators to apply. To work full-time as a mediator in the U.S. (and many other countries) means that you will likely have to rely on building your own business. If that excites you, great. If it doesn’t, think very carefully about what could turn into a frustrating career choice.
If you’re looking for mediation training in order to improve your skills for handling conflict on the job (maybe you’re a supervisor or a human resources professional, for instance), look for a training that includes scenarios, roleplays, and case studies for the situations you’re likely to face at work. Some mediation trainers will focus heavily on litigated cases, for instance, or community mediation cases (e.g., landlord-tenant disputes), and those may not give you what you most need to learn.
Most mediators sign up for training in their own back yards because it’s less of a hassle and saves money. Some mediators specifically want mediation training online for the same reason. Be careful of these choices…you’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “penny wise and pound foolish.”
Please understand that I am not saying you should never choose a trainer in your back yard or never sign up for online mediation training. I am saying that investing in high quality training makes all the difference in your success as a mediator. The best mediation training may be a distance from you. Do your research. Ask successful mediators where they got their training. Ask others who’ve trained with that person what they think.
Online mediation training has its limits because mediation isn’t a “spectator sport”…any seasoned mediator will tell you there’s a huge difference between thinking about what you’d do (or writing what you’d do) and actually having something useful come out of your mouth in the midst of other people’s conflict. The technology is getting there but most mediation training online is still lectures and, with any luck, exercises you must do. That’s not good enough.
Questions to ask the mediation trainer
Take a minute and read this: You say you’re a certified mediator. Says who?
That’s why you want to ask the above question of any trainer promising mediator certification. Ask them what “certified” means in that instance (some will, it turns out, really mean that your butt sat in the seat and therefore you’ll get a certificate of attendance). Ask them who does the certifying (some will say they will, in which case you should then ask them who approved them as certifiers…and you’ll find out that a few just decided that for themselves).
And most of all, ask them what this certification will do for you. What will it make you eligible for? Who will care? How will it help you? In some instances the answers will be legitimate and useful to you. In others…it’s a sham to get your training dollars.
A few years ago, I began to get call after call from new mediators who had just completed training in my state, New Hampshire. They were calling as part of their desperate search for an “internship,” something my state had just begun to require for divorce mediator certification. Of course, I could not help any of these fine folks because I do no divorce mediation. And it turns out, all of the divorce mediators willing to take on an intern (and essentially train their competition) were full up. There were more would-be divorce mediators than there were opportunities for them to get the practice they needed and wanted.
One of the most common questions I’m still asked by new mediators is how to get experience mediating. I think this is a question you should ask your mediation trainer, too, before you take the training. It’s good to know the lay of the land before you have to step into it.
Reputable mediation trainers who are paying attention to the world of mediation in their area will be able to answer your question with specificity. Beware of general responses that just reassure you there are “lots of opportunities.” That’s often a euphemism for “you’ll have to create your own opportunities,” something you’ll want to know at the front end.
This is a follow-up to the question directly above. Make sure that, of the places the trainer lists you’ll be able to get experience mediating, you know which ones will allow you to mediate with the number of training hours under your belt.
I said further up the page that mediation is not a “spectator sport.” You cannot learn to mediate properly by watching someone else do it and then magically doing it yourself (good mediators can make it look effortless…it isn’t), anymore than you can learn to mediate properly by reading and thinking and writing about it. These may be useful activities in other ways, but they do not by themselves teach you how to have something worthwhile come out of your own mouth.
So even though it may strike fear in your heart even to utter this word aloud, look for trainings with…roleplays. Only when you’re in the mediator’s chair, faced with a difficult challenge, do you begin to stretch yourself into the mediator’s skin, a new skin for almost everyone. It’s worth the performance panic.
The list of mediation schools (aka “styles,” “orientations”) is rich and ever-growing: Evaluative, facilitative, narrative, transformative, insight, and so on. And the debate about which one is “best” is also rather long (and tedious to me, but I digress). You can google any of these terms to find out about them and why their practitioners feel so passionately about each.
When you sign up for a mediation training without understanding that trainers bring an orientation to their work, you may erroneously conclude that the way you were taught is the “right way” or the “best way,” and that anything else is somehow lesser. This is a tragic mistake because it’s born of ignorance and, therefore, avoidable.
Don’t fall into this trap. Understand what orientation or school your trainer aligns with and you will learn something about the trainer and what they value, probably the kind of arena they work in, and what kinds of mediation skills you will and won’t emerge with. Knowing where you want to use your mediation skills will help you find a trainer with an orientation useful to you, and you may wish to experiment with a variety of schools or styles. If, for instance, you are an attorney, you will doubtless find your colleagues steering you toward evaluative mediation training. Yet your toolbox will be ever more versatile if you also avail yourself of facilitative, narrative, and other approaches. You will be a better mediator for it.
And later, when you decide what style of mediation is the right match for your own orientation to the world and for the work you want to do, you will make a much more informed decision.
I once had a participant in a mediation training sit with her head down, writing constantly. She never looked up, she never asked a question, she tried to avoid the roleplays. My co-trainer and I finally got her aside at a break and asked her what was up. She replied serenely, “I’m writing down everything you both say. I own a training company and I’m going to start offering a basic mediation training.” Once I had picked my chin up off the floor, I asked her how she would reply to her students’ questions without any mediation experience. She smiled. “Oh, I can sound very authoritative when I need to.”
Call me a stickler, but I think your mediation trainer should have experience as a mediator. A lot of it. There’s a difference between someone who can regurgitate information and someone who can help you learn the mediation craft. If you agree, make sure to google your trainer and find out the breadth and depth of their actual mediation experience.
Do you have a mediation training question I haven’t answered here? Contact me and I’ll either update this guide with your question or reply to you privately.