Mediation continues to struggle as a profession. In fact, many doubt that we are a profession, confident that all of the skills required for mediation are already held by experienced attorneys or could be easily taught in a weekend-long training to volunteers. And, if mediation is already fully developed as a process and profession, then those skeptics are correct. Mediation is underused and most practicing mediators do not have extensive mediation training.
The reason for this is that mediation has been stinted in its development and still has room to grow. When mediation was first introduced in America, it faced fierce opposition as a new and different process. As a result, mediation adopted the ideal of impartiality–using the impartiality of judges as a familiar analog. Impartiality can also leave mediators fearful of using influence in the process.
Mediators can be more than a crossing guard, making sure that disputants do not speak over each other. Mediators can be more than the people who remind parties about the risk and expense of going to court.
This is not to say that we should carry the power of attorneys to predict courtroom outcomes or the power of judges to decide these outcomes. We have no power. But a lack of power allows for freedom.
Unlike judges and attorneys, mediators have the freedom to disagree with disputants. Attorneys must appease their clients, and judges must maintain an air of impartiality prior to making a decision. Mediators, on the other hand, have the freedom to speak discomforting truths. But, because disputants can discontinue mediation the moment they feel offended, we must speak these discomforting truths with supreme levels of skill and persuasion.
This is why we must continue to expand and develop our mediation skills. Though the basics of mediation can be taught to anyone in a relatively short amount of time, it takes a large toolbox and nuanced skill to weld a lack of power in a powerful way. However, in order to develop our skills and tools, we must learn from each other and look to new and different sources of knowledge.
This is why our bi-monthly meetings are shifting to skill-building round-table discussions. We are the professionals who are searching for better ways to mediate. Though the flood of clients did not coalesce when the public learned about and accepted the basic mediation process, we now have the legitimacy to try new and different things. So, our aspiration with these skill-building sessions is that each participant shares his or her favorite mediation tool, and everyone walks away with a full toolbox.
This is also why we looked to present different, practical perspectives at our upcoming Annual Conference. For the first time, we are presenting different speakers in the morning and afternoon and giving you the choice of attending one or both sessions. Our morning speaker is a Harvard and Stanford-educated academic who is highly prolific in the social science research of negotiation behaviors. Her work includes new ideas and frameworks that have the potential to deepen your mediation practice. Our afternoon speaker is an accomplished mediation practitioner who has remained reflective of his practice, delivering 60 conference presentations and teaching mediation as an adjunct law professor. He has build a full career of practical experience at the mediation table and will be sharing his favorite tools with you.
We hope to see you at our next skill-building meeting and at the Annual Conference on May 19th.