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Mediator Self-Reflection

Posted By Sally Campbell, Thursday, March 1, 2018

I understand anecdotally that “self-reflection” can benefit almost anyone who wants to improve his or her work, from lawyer to golf pro to dog trainer. What specifically does it look like for the mediator? I’ll toss out the paragraphs below as a starting place. Is self-reflection a lot more complicated than this? Is it simpler? Is there one set of instructions for novice and master alike? Does the novice need a written list of theories and principles to assist in self-analysis? I would appreciate your thoughts.

  1. Become a mediator:
  2. Learn the mediation process: hear the theory, memorize the process and grapple with the skills. Mimic the experts. Practice with a mentor. Ask open-ended questions. Paraphrase, summarize, reframe.

  3. Pause there:
  4. Mediate in a routine fashion, making the same decisions and interventions that worked (or didn’t) last time. Do what you saw the experts do, even if you’re not sure why they did it. Be competent running the process, but not a master or artisan.

  5. Seek continual improvement (this is the self-reflection part):
  6. Practice deliberately, with an eye toward improvement. Be open to new ideas. Be curious. Be alert, sensitive and engaged in your practice, willing to try new things. Read. Talk to mediators you respect. Examine, challenge and evaluate your knowledge and skills.

    What happened in a mediation that made you intervene? Evaluate the results of your action. Examine the mediation theories and principles behind it. Does your investigation reveal options for change and improvement? What change will you make? Write down your thoughts. Keep a journal. Seek to understand why interventions worked or didn’t.

    For example:

    Why did I do “A”? How did the parties react? What would’ve happened if I had done “B” instead? Would that have worked better or worse? Why? What mediation theory or principle supports “A”? “B”? What do I need to do or learn to be prepared to replicate “A” or try “B” next time?

    To start the self-reflective journey, The Making of a Mediator (Michael Lang and Alison Taylor) is a great resource. I wished I’d had time to read more Ellen Langer (The Power of Mindful Learning, etc.) than just a review. Virginia mediator Jeannette Twomey, creator of the Mediator Peer Consultation program and founder of Mediate Virginia, is a rich resource and passionate advocate for mediator self-reflection.


Tags:  continual improvement  Jeannette Twomey  Mediate Virginia  mediator  Sally Campbell  self-reflection  The Making of a Mediator  The Power of Mindful Learning 

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Comments on this post...

Deborah Blevins says...
Posted Monday, March 5, 2018
I find talking with other mediators to be the best way to spur self-reflection and growth. Talking to mediators who practice in other states or in different subject matters often gives me new ideas to try out. Sometimes if I am stuck in the middle of a mediation I will ask the attorneys or parties if they have any ideas about how to break through impasse. They really think outside the box! But sometimes those ideas work.
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Jeanne F. Franklin says...
Posted Monday, April 16, 2018
I appreciate your raising this subject, Sally, and reading your further comment on it, Debbie. I sometimes feel a need to debrief with someone. However, timing or finding the right "ear" with whom to review technique and developments in a particular mediation can be elusive. The strict confidentiality we have contracted to observe can also slow us down from pursuing regular peer review of mediation practice.

Sally's points are especially useful in that regard - write your reflections down in some kind of journal that you can review from time to time. It is interesting to see from a greater distance what you thought soon after a process; there can be useful insight available.

One year at the ABA Annual Dispute Resolution Section conference, a session was held on the mediation you regret most. One very well-known speaker commented that it is not always the mediation that did not settle that troubles a mediator; it can also be the one that did settle. He then described such a story and how he has wondered whether that should have resolved the way it did and whether he handled it as well as he should have. Years later he still thought of it.
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