A Lawyer's Perspective on Mediation Training

I have thoroughly enjoyed mediation training; I have found it to be beneficial both personally and professionally. I had no idea when I started the course how challenging it would be, nor did I realise how much I would gain from it. I had assumed that my training as a lawyer would get me through it – how very wrong I was.  The course was by no means easy, but if it was then it probably wouldn’t be worth doing.

I have now developed a level of self-awareness that I didn’t have before. I try to make a conscious effort to listen to the answer after I have asked a question, whereas before the training I would be busy formulating my next question rather than focussing on what the other person was saying. I now realise that it is not necessary to be preparing your next question because if you are genuinely interested and listening, follow-up questions will naturally occur to you. Before I took the course I was probably guilty of using questions to demonstrate my own knowledge rather than using them to gain knowledge.  I am noticing how much more information I gain from listening at the margins rather than focussing on what I want to say next. 

During the course, I had to deconstruct a lot of my legal training (contrary to my aforementioned belief that it would assist me). As lawyers, we are forewarned from our formative years at university that emotional clients are likely to descend upon us with their “matters of principle” and carrier bags of irrelevant documentation. We are advised that our job is to weed through these irrelevancies and focus on solving the legal problem. However, after undertaking mediation training, I now understand that it is almost impossible to find a sustainable solution to a perceived legal problem without addressing the underlying emotions and needs (i.e. the human aspect).  In fact, in many cases, the legal problem is simply a symptom caused by these underlying factors. Accordingly, these underlying factors need to be addressed first in order to create a lasting and sustainable solution. 

A habit I found particularly difficult to overcome was my need to focus on a solution and find the answer. Again, I think this stems from my legal training. It is my job to find solutions to problems and I wanted to do that in a mediation setting too. I soon learned that there are a number of dangers for a mediator in adopting this approach. For example, narrowing in on a solution too early probably means you have made certain assumptions. If you are making assumptions, then you are less likely to be asking the questions which will uncover the underlying issues which are really driving the dispute.  When I eventually came to the realisation that it was not my job as a mediator to find the solution (it was my job to enable the parties to find one) I actually found it extremely liberating. Once I had absolved myself of the responsibility for finding the answer, I was free to ask questions instead. By asking questions rather than suggesting answers, I learned that it forces the parties to properly scrutinise their own position and the true reasons behind it. This encourages them to formulate their own solutions;  and people are generally far more attracted to solutions that they have come up with themselves than ones suggested by a third party! 

Overall the course was a great experience and one that I would highly recommend.

This blog post is written by a recent participant of Core's Flagship Mediation, Negotiation and Conflict Management Skills training course.