Some, but not all, of my conflict resolution work is mediation, the act of helping others negotiate a solution to their conflict without having a stake in the outcome. I count among my other hats conflict management consulting, coaching, training and education.
Mediation was my “first love” in the conflict resolution field 15 years ago and over the years I’ve written many posts and articles on the subject, not to mention my book, Making Mediation Your Day Job. It seems only right that I highlight a few favorites about mediation, mediators and the mediation business as part of my 10-year blogiversary celebration. (If you’ve just become a reader of the Conflict Zen blog, be sure to read about the celebration and how to enter the prize drawing.)
The following is a varied lot, spanning such topics as becoming a good mediator, finding a good mediator, mediation training, and mediation practice building.
I sat in Alice’s office, weeping. Hard. And feeling embarrassed about weeping, even as I cried harder. I felt pathetic.
Alice, my teacher at the time and my colleague now, sat there quietly, in that graceful way she has. Her compassion was palpable, her attention fully on me. But there was something she was specifically not doing and I recall being a bit puzzled by it even while I was steeped in my own misery.
“I thought I was a bright person,” I said. “But I can’t mediate my way out of a cardboard box at the moment.” Sob, hiccup, sob.
The moment in Alice’s office had followed one of my more traumatic moments as a student. This was in the mid 1990s and I was in my last term of Woodbury’s year-long program in mediation and conflict management. I’d been mediating informally as part of my job as a college VP, was now in the culminating term at Woodbury, and I clearly should have been able to mediate in class… (read on)
I recently finished co-teaching a basic mediation workshop I deliver about four times a year to people from many different backgrounds. In this most recent workshop, we had a social worker, several attorneys, a nurse practitioner, a teacher, a builder, two human resources directors, a college student, a human development trainer, and a long-retired World War II vet, among others. All were there because they had an interest in either becoming mediators or integrating dispute resolution skills into their professional work in some way.
On the first evening of the training we tell participants we really have just one rule: No advice giving. We tell them they can’t give disputing parties any advice or suggestions for resolving their problems because that’s something they already know how to do, perhaps a bit too well. No sense in coming to a training and just doing what you already know. We tell them we want to develop and stretch some new brain muscles and that we’ll spend the coming days teaching them other ways to approach problem-solving.
That single rule creates some real havoc for many of our participants… (read on)
I am about to split hairs. But it’s for a good cause.
I’m going to split hairs because I want to create a quick reference guide to which I can point people who contact me about (1) hiring me as their mediator, (2) hiring a mediator in general, and (3) becoming a mediator. Since public and media use of the term “mediator” can mean anything from mediator to facilitator to arbitrator to negotiator, I want to propose a common language to share with people discussing this work with me.
And since professional mediators, a group to which I belong, also vary in how they use the term “mediator” and have sometimes biting (!) disagreements about who is a “real” mediator and who is not, I want to help would-be mediators have a broad understanding of the term.
When I’m teaching basic or advanced mediation to my graduate students or as a mediation trainer, I begin with the difference between “big M” and “little m” mediation… (read on)
Consider this mediation story reported by the Associated Press about a decade ago:
Northampton, Mass. – The city’s attempt at mediating complaints by merchants about ice cream loving motorcyclists gathering outside a Main Street shop had mixed results. About 40 bikers and 10 merchants, including the owner’s of Bart’s Homemade, sat in a circle and held hands as a mediation firm hired by the city opened the more than two-hour session Tuesday. They came to no resolution.
…”Let them go ahead and arrest me. They won’t convict me,” said Gary Arnold of Northampton, one of the riders who walked [out]. Arnold, a retired telephone lineman, said the last straw was when the group started passing around a feather to designate the speaker. “I’m not going to sit around like a grade-school kid,” Arnold told Northampton radio station WHMP.
I pass around my copy of the newspaper clipping with this story when I teach a mediation course or seminar, a warning about… (read on)
Your biggest mediation competition isn’t who you think it is.
It’s not the mediator down the street who’s been in business for a decade and whose name is synonymous with mediation in your region. It isn’t the legal firm one building over. It isn’t the newly minted mediator across town who’s known well from a prior career. And it isn’t the ADR star from out of town, called in on his white horse for high profile cases that make the news.
Long the traditional task of good business planning, analysis of the competition has inadvertently lead too many mediators astray. It’s focused you too much on what others are doing, on what you believe is working for them and should therefore emulate, and on trying to figure out how to be distinctive in a crowded market.
Like the marathon runner so focused on the runners near her that she fails to notice the runner steadily gaining ground from two blocks back, mediators who focus primarily on other professional competition waste time, energy, and opportunity… (read on)
One of the most treasured times in my professional ADR life were the months spent with my three core faculty colleagues, planning the curriculum for what would become Woodbury’s master’s degree in mediation. We’d all been teaching in the undergraduate mediation certificate program for some time, but since all of the faculty are full-time practitioners in our field and not full-time academics, our paths didn’t consistently cross in person. It was a treat, then, to work together for an extended period.
There we sat, in Alice’s stunningly beautiful and graceful rural home, coffee and tea cups in hand, musing and creating together. Laughing together. Arguing together. Problem-solving together. It’s a treasured thing to create a new program from scratch, from all that came before it and yet with the freedom to adopt or toss what we wished. It’s an even more treasured thing to have done it with people I cherish.
We were clear on one thing from the very start: Learning to be an effective mediator is improved upon by… (read on)