Excellence and the importance of excellence in mediation

Romanian Mediation Excellence Gala 2016

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Dear Adi, Anca and all attendees of the Romanian Mediation Excellence Gala 2016

Thank you for including me in your request for messages regarding the importance of excellence in mediation. I endorse both the concept of aspiring to excellence and the holding of a Gala to give voice to it. Excellence is a notion that energises my passion for mediation. I am honoured to have been asked to contribute some thoughts. I look forward to reading/hearing others’ contributions.

Kind regards

Margaret Halsmith

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Introduction in which I distinguish ‘excellence’ from ‘exemplary’ and from ‘excellent’.

Excellence in mediation has many dimensions. I have chosen to focus on excellence in the practice of mediation, as distinct from excellence in the theory of mediation or excellence in the study of mediation or excellence in the evaluation of mediation among many examples.

I will take a moment to consider the noun ‘excellence’ and the adjective ‘exemplary’. ‘Excellence’ is a term that, to me, when applied to mediation practice, describes the perceived experiences of participants rather than the performance of mediators. In my opinion, while the observed and assessed performance of mediators can be exemplary in behavioural terms, it is for a participant to decide on excellence because it comes from the voices of the participants and exemplariness comes from the voice of the observer. It is when the principles, protocols, process and practices of mediation integrate in such a way as to maximize the benefits of the experience of mediation for each and for all participants, that I regard excellence as likely to be experienced.

I will take another moment to consider the noun ‘excellence’ and the adjective ‘excellent’. ‘Excellent’ can describe a moment of a participant’s mediation experience. The moment is likely to occur when a suite of mediator interventions functions to balance affiliation and acknowledgement and to balance acceptance and adaptation in a way that delivers a fleeting, cautiously optimistic harmony of purpose for participants. An excellent moment may open the possibility of excellence… it may, however, float into the ether.

‘Excellence’, on the other hand, describes sustained episodes of participants’ mediation experiences meeting their individual and collective procedural and personal interests. Sustained episodes include many simultaneous and consecutive excellent periods which together motivate participants’ coordinated, continuous striving and re-striving for the accomplishment of the goals of the mediation.

Consideration of distinct concepts in which I refer to ‘excellence’ separately from ‘the importance of excellence’

I have been asked to comment upon the importance of excellence in mediation. I shall first identify ten criteria of excellence in participants’ experiences of the practice of mediation then move on to the importance of excellence in mediation. Each is an interdependent part of the whole of excellence, which itself is both contemporaneous and retrospective.

Identification of excellence in practice in which I list criteria for intended to maximise the likelihood of each participant individually, and possibly collectively, being able to assess the extent to which a mediation is excellent.

Participants are likely to report excellence in mediation practice when each participant consistently individually and collectively experiences the mediation as

  • being conducted professionally
  • being overtly evenhanded
  • positively motivating
  • demonstrably epitomising the principles of mediation
  • transparently contributing procedural safety, facilitating substantive information gathering and clarification and conveying personal compassion
  • tentatively providing the opportunity for respectful restoring, possible maintaining, possible development of relationships among all or providing the opportunity for respectful concluding of relationships
  • clearly providing clarity regarding the purposes of each stage of mediation and, as requested, each intervention within the mediation
  • progressively accomplishing the distinct purposes of each stage of the mediation
  • overtly describing and displaying the criteria of excellence
  • welcoming formative and evaluative feedback and, when appropriate, refining practice accordingly
  • having an 11th criterion: the X factor

Exposition on the importance of excellence in which the  interconnectedness of acknowledgement and recognition of uniqueness is summarized

The importance of excellence in mediation practice is the contribution that the experience of excellence can make toward participants’ conceptualization of peaceful coexistence

The importance of peaceful coexistence on a local scale is the contribution can make toward the principled practice of peaceful coexistence on a global scale.

The importance of the principled[1] practice of peaceful coexistence on a global scale is the contribution it can make toward the valuing of the uniqueness of individuals, groups and cultures.

The importance of valuing the uniqueness of individuals, groups and cultures is the contribution it can make toward the experience of excellence in conflict resolution.

Application of excellence and its importance in mediation practice in which suggestions are offered

Mediation participants are more likely to experience excellence if they can recognise it. Essential components of the role of the mediator are

  • to provide information and to educate potential participants regarding exemplary practice and possible indicators of excellence in experience prior to mediation
  • to prime participants throughout the mediation to enhance their awareness and expectations of excellence

[1] There are various taxonomies of principles of dispute resolution. Rather than identify a particular taxonomy, I leave it to the reader to choose.

Power: about a Mouse and a Lion.

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Do mediators have an obligation to correct power imbalances between parties? No and for many reasons by Robert Angyal SC

I enjoyed this article because it raises core issues re conflict resolution. I’ll comment on one of them.

The article commences with two questions

Q1: ‘Where the parties to the mediation have unequal power, should the mediator exercise his or her power to affect the substantive outcome of the mediation?’

A1: Q1 is both unaskable and unanswerable first because mediators are not omnipotent and additionally because of the nature and the seat of interpersonal power.

The article goes on to

Q2: ‘In other words, should mediators use their power to attempt to correct imbalances of power between parties?’

A2: See A1 ie the ethical dimension has no anchor

Q3: Who does know that ‘parties to the mediation have unequal power?’

A3: The parties… each believes that ‘parties to the mediation have unequal power’ and furthermore that the other party has more power.

Q4: So what is power?

A4: Adam Curle says ‘power is anything that makes the other party think twice’.

Q5: So what is a concrete analogy for power?

A5: The slime that children play with mimics power: as soon as you grasp it it slip through your fingers; it changes shape by the moment; it has as many dimensions as it has moments.

Q6: So how does the mediator work with power?

A6: The mediator works with power by working with interests throughout the mediation. Parties work with power when the mediator conducts an interest-based reality testing session after a multitude of options has been generated

Q7: What happens if there is a settlement conference in which the transactions are premised in power?

A7: An orchestrated positional power struggle takes place along the line of capitulation or beneath it. A brittle compromise is reached at the weakest point.

eg 1 see ‘Mediation mindset: not tonight…’ series in which you and your friend get positional (a heady mix of power and rights) and then get interests-focused, summarised in ‘What mediation is…’

eg 2 see Aesop’s fable ‘The Lion and the Mouse’

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. “Pardon, O King,” cried the little Mouse: “forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?” The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. “Was I not right?” said the little Mouse.

pic above from the Write Sisters