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Learning to be a mediator – a view from the starting line

Learning to be a mediator – a view from the starting line

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the mediators course run by the Resolution Institute. This is the first and most significant step on my journey to becoming an accredited mediator by the first half of next year. I thought I’d share my impressions of that experience as they may be useful to those considering becoming an accredited mediator themselves.

Truth be told, as I started the course, I wondered how much there was to learn: having participated in about 200 mediations over my career as a disputes lawyer, I thought I had seen and experienced it all. I was wrong! I learned far more than I expected to. The standard of teaching, mentoring and coaching during practical mediation sessions was extremely high. It helped that all of our tutors were accredited mediators which meant that we benefitted from their practical experience. Feedback was incisive and constructive (and I don’t mind sharing that I was pretty chuffed when one of them asked me, after a mock mediation, if I was already running mediations for a living!).

I took great deal away. Two areas in particular stand out for me:

  • First, I am reminded that as a lawyer, I’m trained to be a problem solver, so my tendency is to find what I consider to be the solution and articulate that for clients (and often to the other party) as soon as possible. I learned that I need to curb that tendency for mediation. Patience is really important and good mediators help the parties find their own solution, rather than imposing it on them.
  • Second, I learned how to facilitate and guide. I learned about the importance of asking open questions, allowing for periods of silence and being a good and considerate listener. This takes focus and energy and involves skills that can be taught and finessed through practise.

The 24 participants were an interesting and diverse group (from VCAT members and a Fairwork Commissioner, to HR professionals, and officers in different quasi-government dispute resolution services). We learned from each other as well as from our tutors and I found this collegiality very useful. Everyone got stuck-in and all of us developed and improved over the week. Of course, it came more naturally to some than to others and years of experience were not necessarily an advantage: the most promising participant was one of the youngest in the group.

Overall, I’d recommend anyone considering becoming a mediator to give it a go. You’ll learn so much more than you expect to, not least about yourself. It’s an interesting journey!

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