‘How do I get started in mediation?’

On average, about once a fortnight, I receive a request for an appointment from someone who has been captivated by the potential of mediation and would like to become a mediator.

Often the question is

‘What did you do to become a mediator?’

My responses to that question may be of historical interest, belonging as they do in the last century.

A contemporary question that may be more pertinent is

‘What do you recommend I consider doing to become a mediator?’

My response is to suggest an iterative process of reading, qualifying, participating and promoting which is developed below.

I    Reading

  • Books
  • Online resources
  • University reading lists
  • Membership Organisations
  • Industry bodies

II    Qualifying

  • Mediator Standards Board
  • Resolution Institute Training
  • FDR P (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner) Training
  • CPD (Continuing Professional Development)

III  Participating 

  • Resolution Institute
  • SCRAM
  • Mentor

IV  Promoting

V   Preparing

Reading


There are numerous excellent books on the theory and practice of mediation. I am limiting myself to recommending two hard copy books and a small selection of online books.

Books

  • Charlton, R. & Dewdney, M. (2014) The Mediator’s Handbook

This is a book about ‘how’ which pairs well with the following book about ‘why’.

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The blurb of The Mediator’s Handbook describes it as follows:

The Mediator’s Handbook Third Edition is an established and highly respected work which assists both experienced and newly qualified mediators who wish to expand their range of skills in this ever-evolving field.

The mediation process is explained in simple steps applicable to all forms of dispute and clearly outlines the required skills, techniques and strategies, especially communication skills. Importantly, variations to the mediation process are explained as are the roles of advisers, support persons and interpreters.

In this Third Edition, there has been significant revision to reflect new developments in mediation since the previous edition published in 2004.

  •  Boulle, L. (2011) Mediation: Principles, Process and Practice

This is a book about ‘why,’ which pairs well with the previous book about ‘how’.

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The blurb of Mediation: Principles, Process and Practice describes it as follows:

Laurence Boulle brings to the book 20 years’ experience in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. This book has been written for teachers and students of mediation, for those who practice in the field, and for judges, lawyers and other law officials who are involved in considering the many legal facets of mediation practice.

The three parts of the book deal with: the historical foundations and the theories and values that underlie the modern application of mediation; the process of mediation and the roles of those involved in the process; the modern practice of mediation in Australia and internationally, and the laws that regulate aspects of the process. Attention is given to the important issues of quality, standards and accountability in mediation and to the empirical knowledge of its operation and effectiveness.

  • Fisher, R., Ury, W. & Patton, B. (2011) Getting to Yes: how to negotiate agreement without giving in (online)

This is the seminal introductory read.

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The blurb of Getting to Yes describes it as follows:

Getting to Yes is a straight forward, universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting taken — and without getting angry.
It offers a concise, step-by-step, proven strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict — whether it involves parents and children, neighbours, bosses and employees, customers or corporations, tenants or diplomats.

Online resources

Read everything you can by R J Rummel. Persevere. An encyclopedia lies behind each link.

Use the left-hand menu to select from publications A-Z and publications by date. Read about integrity in ADR and about the National Principles for Resolving Disputes.

  • Online platforms

Mediation, like almost every other endeavour, has joined the digital age. Mediation takes place on online video platforms like Zoom and Skype and many others can be used. MODRON it is a mediation platform that is a practice management tool as well as a mediation platform.

University reading lists

Search ADR Unit Outlines. Choose from among the recommended reading.

Membership organisations

  • Resolution Institute

Resolution Institute ‘Pulse’ lets you know each month what is going on in Dispute Resolution in Australasia and beyond. There are other RMABs (Recognised Mediator Accreditation Bodies) listed on the MSB (Mediator Standards Board) website below. I am the Chair of Resolution Institute (2007 – present) so you would expect to hear from me that Resolution Institute is where I suggest you start… and where I expect you are likely to land when you are looking for a membership organisation.

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  • IMI (International Mediation Institute)

You will find that IMI is a font of excellent reading. I am a Vice Chair of the IMI Independent Standards Commission.

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Industry publications

In the right-hand menu on the home page of this blog, under ‘Mediation Explained’ you will find Australian and international gems.  I recommend that you read each one.

Qualifying


Read the MSB website from top to toe, starting with the Approval Standards and the Practice Standards. They speak directly to you.

Remain qualified

Like all professions, there is a CPD (Continuing Professional Development) requirement of nationally accredited mediators. You will find it explained in the Standards on the MSB website.

Participating


  • Resolution Institute
    • Volunteer for Resolution Institute role-play for others’ accreditation assessment
    • Attend Resolution Institute networking meetings.
    • Enrol for Professional Development in the form of webinars and much more.
  • SCRAM (Schools Conflict Resolution and Mediation) Program
    • Volunteer for SCRAM
    • Introduce SCRAM into a High School where you are well known
    • SCRAM is an interactive role play competition for Western Australian Years 9 and 10 high school students.
    • It facilitates the development of peaceful dispute resolution awareness and skills in secondary school communities. Students mediate simulated disputes which relate to their everyday lives.
    • SCRAM is an initiative of the Western Australian Dispute Resolution Association (WADRA).

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  • Mentor

Approach experienced mediators. Invite them, one at a time, for coffee. Offer to do some clerical work for a mediator with whom you find some reciprocated affinity.

Promoting


  • Create your opportunities
    • Participate in all activities with the mindset of an mediator – you will be noticed
    • Identify highly competent mediators so that you can refer work to them – you will benefit by association
    • Tweet and selectively retweet on aspects of mediation
    • Develop your mediation profile for distribution to people who know you to be reliable, calm and diligent
    • Offer to present to groups of people who know you to be well informed, clear and considered
    • Volunteer at community mediation programs
    • Volunteer at mediation training sessions
    • Write a blog then convert it to a short article for a suitable audience
    • Seek feedback during and following participation and thank all who provide feedback

Preparing


  • Read ‘From scholar to dollar’ by Anna Harrison

From Scholar ro Dollar
By following the 15 simple steps outlined in this book,you can arm yourself with the auxiliary skills needed to
make your transition from scholar to dollar both seamless and successful.

  • Seek out support for your small business including from Small Business Development Corporations
  • Develop your draft business plan
  • Prepare your mediation correspondence templates then edit, edit edit… according to current conventions. Err on the side of formality.
  • Review all aspects of your (potential) practice as if through the eyes of a disgruntled client who has ‘gone public’ with your actions and/or your correspondence
  • Prepare your marketing plan
  • Identify panels of mediators – develop your application to each so that you know what you know and can do and what you’ve yet to learn

Good luck!

Mediating with Families by Linda Fisher & Mieke Brandon 3ed: a Review

 

Introduction

Review wMwFritten in 2014

The family mediation profession is fortunate  that Linda Fisher and Mieke Brandon decided to write the third edition (2012) of Mediating with Families.  The first two editions (2002, 2008) were very well received in Australasia and beyond, and the third edition is following suit.  Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners, mediators, academics and trusted advisors all have much to gain from engaging with this expanded and updated edition.

Spanning as they do, ten years of significant change, the three editions have recorded some of the history of mediating with families in Australia. In the years since the first edition of Mediating with Families, the most significant of the changes for families has perhaps been the advent of compulsory family dispute resolution from July 1, 2007.  For mediators, the development of clear qualification pathways for both Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners and for mediators has been similarly significant.

During the ten year period of the growth of mediation theory and practice, the concept of family has also undergone significant social change. Perhaps each in their own way, both mediation and families have transformed in the way that a child, born in 2002 has developed over the same time.   As with the child, a synergistic mix of nature (evolution) and nurture (largely policies and the legal system) has brought family mediation into the second decade of the century.

Signature attributes

Mieke Brandon and Linda Fisher have ensured that this third edition of Mediating with Families carries its signature style and content while being thoroughly up-to-date.

Welcoming

Review_3The style that permeates the book is welcoming, generous, understated and highly accessible. The text is approachable in a way that invites certain reciprocity. Linda and Mieke offer their insights for the consideration of the reader, rather than as immutable truths. They have written a text that understates its place in the world of family mediation and is all the more accessible and therefore influential for it. Some texts imply that theirs is the first and the last word on the topic. This one speaks with a confident voice, welcoming other confident voices.

The authors’ accessible, conversational writing and is complemented by easy-to-navigate organisation. The reader can engage in the style of conversation that they choose: a collegial conversation, a mentor-mentee conversation, a knowledge gathering conversation. I find that I hear the text as I am reading it.

Insightful

In this edition the authors are as generous as ever in sharing their collective wisdom and experience which go well beyond transmitting plain knowledge. Grounded in sound theory, the authors provide their insights in a way which is both engaging and motivating. This edition broadcasts the pivotal message of previous editions: at all times think about yourself as a mediator and the effect you and your interventions are likely to be having on participants. I read the message as ‘keep in mind that the mediator is there for the participants’. This message extends to two related insights: the importance of professionalism and of self-care foremost. Typical of the positive frame of this book is that these insights are delivered through a lens of affirmation of practitioners.

Content

The content of the book is considerably updated to account, in particular, for the changes to Family Dispute Resolution in Australia, and for a broadening of the concept of ‘family’. New Zealand FDRPs will welcome Mediating with Families, following their recent introduction of Family Dispute Resolution.

Due to the welcoming tone and the accessible approach, just as with the first two editions, the reader can be thought of as accepting any one of multiple invitations from the authors. I will consider the two most likely: one could be to read with a family focus and the other to read with a mediation focus. Others include a cultural focus, a skills approach and a parenting focus. Each of these themes is anchored in particular chapters and developed throughout the book.

Families focus

In the big picture, for readers with families in front of mind, there is a variety of invitations including, for example, to appreciate families and their place in society and to consider the society that forms and is formed by families. There are more for the looking.  The reader whose primary focus is families and whose secondary focus is mediation, might start with Chapter 1 ‘Setting the context: the family’ then take that framework with them to Chapter 4, ‘Issues for separating couples’, Chapter 5, ‘Issues for couples: established and new relationships’ and Chapter 7, ‘Issues for parents and children’, in particular, the section entitled ‘The Family’s Sense of Self’ and Chapter 9 ‘Practice considerations’.

From the micro perspective, in one among many examples of family dynamics, Chapter 1, at 1.130, introduces ‘power and control’; chapters 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 develop, analyse and exemplify the concepts that provide context for issues of power and control.

From a specialised perspective, Mediating with Families can be thought of as being oriented toward families whose degree of complexity is within approximately one standard deviation of the norm. The versatility of this book is such, however, that family complexity beyond that range is addressed in a number of ways. Every family is a complex family and some are more complex than others[i].  As Kaspiew et al (2014)[ii] have shown, complexity creates a need for holistic interdisciplinary approaches. Mediating with Families addresses complexity by taking a systems approach, that is, a holistic, interdisciplinary approach, summarised in figure 1.1 and in the two chapters on language and culture. The authors address many of the components of complexity including vulnerability, violence, safety, and abuse. Third, they identify a variety of family constellations including adoptive families, stepfamilies, families involved with surrogacy, single parent families, same-sex families and nuclear families. While the focus is as the title suggests, readers could choose to follow a pathway through Mediating with Families to add to their knowledge of families with complex needs, with respect to conflict and mediation.

Mediation focus

In the big picture, for readers focusing on mediation there is an invitation to consider mediation processes in all their permutations and another to develop and/or to review skills. To read as a mediator is to be invited to reflect both on mediation practice and on the self-as-a-mediator.

The reader who accepts the invitation to focus on the mediation process in the family context could start their pathway at Chapter 2 and follow on to Chapters 3, 6, 8, 9 and 10. Chapter 2 has been very usefully updated to consider four approaches to family mediation, a comment on diversity in approach, mediation frameworks, and philosophy, practice and process. I find the mediation frameworks especially helpful for reflecting on my own practice.

From a mediation practice micro skills perspective, one among many mediation skills that is developed throughout Mediating with Families is the use of agendas. Agendas and their vagaries are  considered in a variety of contexts across five of the chapters. Agendas can be tricky. Chapter 11 describes communication patterns to reach the phrasing of a robust agenda which in turn becomes the scaffolding for agreements.

From a specialised perspective, Chapter 6 includes mediation of wills and estates, Chapter 7, parent-adolescent mediation and Chapter 8, some aspects of elder mediation.

Mediation Participants

In 2008 when I reviewed second edition of Mediating with Families I was intrigued by what I read as the developing dialogue between the authors and the reader of the role of the mediator. developed throughout the book. This third edition deserves the same praise as the second, for this thread. On reading this edition I found myself also intrigued by the authors’ portrayal of the participants in mediation. For each main assertion of the authors, there is a practice application in the form of either a case study, followed by self-paced learning questions or a series of examples or a relevant Appendix. The authors are in touch with reality and ensure that the reader is too. Consistent throughout the case studies, the questions, the analysis and the examples, the empathy, compassion and respect of the authors for families in conflict, shines through.

Organisation

Finding your way around

The reader who is wondering how to investigate their choice of theme, will be pleased to know that the authors have identified the starting point, a descriptive contents pages and from there, each step of the way can be mapped in the comprehensive index. Think of the topic, decide the approach, start with the contents pages then shift to the index to find the topics and more. The advantage of being able to take this approach is that the constructs are in their setting. Everything you read raises awareness of the issues and your self-awareness as a mediator or trusted advisor.

For many of the authors’ assertions, there is a practical application in the form of either a case study, followed by self-paced learning questions or a series of examples or a relevant Appendix. The authors are in touch with reality and ensure that the reader is too. Consistent throughout the case studies, the questions, the analysis and the examples, the empathy, compassion and respect of the authors for families in conflict, shines through.

As well as the scope and detail of the book, the Additional Resources at the end of each chapter convey to the reader a reminder that there is much more to consider and much more that has been considered. To have identified and included the Classics in these sections acknowledges and affirms the foundations on which Mediating with Families and many contemporary texts are built. Footnotes provide another source for those wanting to excavate the archives. The inclusion of Booklets in the resources section is particularly family friendly.

Approach

Characterising the approach to each of these applications of models and theory are themes of inclusivity, consensus, relationship orientation, cooperation and self-determination.

Hub

From my perspective the hub of this book is introduced in Chapter 3, ‘What mediators bring to practice’. That is, this book assumes that improved practice is dependent on greater self-awareness. In each topic, the movement from unconscious unknowing to conscious unknowing to conscious knowing follows the pathways of mediator and mediation as it develops the role of the mediator.

Principles

Characterising the approach throughout the book are principles of inclusivity, consensus, relationship orientation, cooperation and self-determination; themes that recognise and acknowledge participants.

One of the techniques that integrates the subject matter is the way in which the authors exemplify the principles of mediation both in what they say and what they do. The book is an avatar of mediation. The practice of mediation is an inclusive one; it is the role of the mediator to be inclusive; Mediating with Families is inclusive. One among many of the indicators of inclusivity is the breadth of the list of excerpts used throughout the book.

Another of the fundamental principles of mediation is its focus on party participation. Mediating with Families provides ample opportunity for the reader to participate well beyond consolidating the concepts under discussion to internalising them in the practice setting. As a point of comparison, legal negotiation and litigation are premised on professional participation.

A mediator is tentative regarding content (facts) and assertive regarding process; as is Mediating with Families.

In the same way that mediation involves a peer-like relationship among mediator and parties, each with their different fields of expertise, the tone of Mediating with Families is one in which authors and reader are peers in a partnership, each with their different fields of expertise. The authors convey their expertise in an informal way which affirms the reader as expert in themselves and in their application of the authors’ expertise to their practice.

The authors ask the reader to look at the family situation as unique and to adapt the practice of mediation to suit the family circumstances. This is another of the fundamental principles of mediation: that it is situational and individualised.

A book entitled Litigating with Families could be expected to exhibit the principles of exclusivity of content, professional participation, hierarchical relationships, emphasis on precedent.

By absorbing the content in the way that it has been presented, the reader gains knowledge of the family and family disputes, self-development as a mediator and experience of the distinctive approach of mediation.

The content is provided from the general to the specific; from theory to practice concluding with language and culture, which is the underpinnings of all that has been before.

Over Coffee

Review_4In writing this review I have conducted my own dialogue with the authors, unbeknown to them! The welcoming and open style invites discussion. One of the comments by Mieke and Linda that I look forward to discussing comes from Chapter 2, on the topic of ‘Diversity in Approach’ in which they comment

Many mediators, however, do not maintain such distinctions in their practice and prefer an eclectic approach. These mediators approach the diverse situations that come to family mediation using interventions from a range of approaches that seem to meet the parties’ needs.

I read this as an endorsement of an eclectic approach. I have concerns about an eclectic approach from an integrity and internal consistency point of view both in terms of professionalism and in terms of cohesion of experience from participants’ point of view… to be explored over coffee.

Conclusion

Mediating with Families comes highly recommended. Its subject matter could be summarised as being concerned with access to justice for families. Its approach is one that resonates with the approach described by Hayes and Higgins[iii]: it advocates, albeit gently, for collective awareness, common narratives and coordinated approaches to promoting resilience, in this case through mediation for decision-making and dispute resolution.

Linda Fisher and Mieke Brandon are to be congratulated again. It is the families of Australasia who will benefit from their dedication, leadership and insights.

[i] Apologies to George Orwell

[ii] Kaspiew, R., De Maio, J., Deblaquiere, J & Horsfall, B.  (2014) Families with complex needs: Meeting the challenges of separation AIFS

[iii] Hayes, A. & Higgins, D. (2014) Complex family issues: collective awareness, common narratives and coordinated approaches to promoting resilience AIFS