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What is mediation?
October 12, 2008 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Please help me to understand and maybe learn mediation/alternative dispute resolution.

My interest in this started because of scholarly work I do on deliberative forums, where ADR professionals called 'trainers' are often used to lead small group discussion of politically contentious topics. I was surprised to learn that there is a whole network of mediators and conflict resolvers out there, with off-shoots in finance and law.

1. Most ADR/mediation training seems either extremely commercialized (aimed at professionals looking to mediate divorces or bankruptcy) or is offered to students and young people pegged as potential 'leaders.' What skills and knowledge do courses in alternative dispute resolution, conflict resolution, and mediation supply? Are there ways for adults to learn these skills and knowledge outside of formal accreditation programs?

2. ADR seems ideal for resolving conflicts among faculty or within an activist organization, for instance, but maybe I'm blowing it out of proportion. I've found the top google searches already: acrnet.org, mediate.com, and campus-adr.org, and yes, I've done the rounds at the various wikipedia entries related to ADR and mediation. The lack of substance at these sites partially contributes to my skepticism. Is there a there there? Is there anything more to ADR than a set of therapeutic and diplomatic best practices, along with training in drafting contracts to protect oneself from liability? That is, is this something you can learn by reading the right book?

3. I'd love to hear anecdotal evidence from anyone who has had experience with ADR/mediation/conflict resolution, either as a participant or trainer.
posted by anotherpanacea to Human Relations (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I looked into mediation as a career a little bit in college, but gave up because I didn't want to go to law school and because it seemed that it was difficult to make a career just doing mediation, for some of the same reasons you mention. It seemed like there was beginning to be a "there" there, but it wasn't quite there yet. Also I was bad at it.

You've probably come across this already, but the bible seemed to be Getting to Yes, which was a useful read.

My college undergrad pre-law program had a mediation course, maybe a local college near you has one you can audit, to get you started. We did a lot of role-playing and practice dispute resolutions, though not much discussion of theories and skills that I remember.

Another thing you've probably already found: a couple of law schools have mediation-slanted law programs. Even if you didn't want to spend three years in law school, you could contact the faculty at those schools to get their takes on the whole scene. Maybe it's my academic elitism, but I would probably put more stock in the law-school-based mediation world than the business-workshop-based world.

These were the impressions of a frustrated undergrad. Hopefully someone else will be able to answer more of your questions...
posted by doift at 8:30 AM on October 12, 2008


You might want to look into the National Issues Forums. I have a friend who works with them and speaks very highly of the process.
posted by MsMolly at 10:03 AM on October 12, 2008


I'm a trained family law mediator. My experience of this is that the types of divorce clients who were amenable to mediation are probably the ones that, even without a mediator, would be able to reach an amicable settlement.

I now work in the field of dispute resolution in the financial services industry, where we provide a paper-based dispute resolution service. That takes a lot of the conflict out of it, but there are limitations to it, because we can only reach our findings on the basis of available documents.
posted by essexjan at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2008


I represent employees in discrimination cases. We often use professional mediators to settle our cases -- in fact, mediators are a pretty essential part of our business. These mediators are all lawyers, all highly respected already before they started mediating (e.g., former judges and law partners). Their qualifications are not really based on any sort of formal program having to do with mediation in particular, but rather their reputations as lawyers, and later, their record of success in mediating cases. And they are also very expensive -- an all day mediation can cost around $10,000. We use them because they are the most efficient way to reach a settlement when everyone has decided that they want to settle.

Every mediator I've worked with has a different approach. Some get really involved in the facts of the case in order to assess each side's strengths and weaknesses, and pressure them to settle accordingly. Others don't, and are more interested in just getting each sides' numbers to match up and make a deal.
posted by footnote at 11:22 AM on October 12, 2008


Mediation as a legal service is the part of ADR with which I'm most familiar. Since such services are usually either legally binding or backed by the threat of an immanent lawsuit, they generally require a law degree and don't necessarily entail any particular skills beyond that. That kind of mediation is just cheaper litigation, and its mandated either by a statute or a court or the bottom line.

Here's the kind of thing I have in mind: like many academics, I've noticed that my colleagues often seem to fill their hours with bullying and petty disputes. As sides form and power clashes are won and lost, these disputes can be highly disruptive. Not often, but too frequently, departmental business will grind to a halt. Surely I don't need a law degree to sit the parties down and get them to talk about reconciliation, but I need more than a philosophy PhD and a smile. I just don't know exactly what to do to get them to make nice.

Similarly, I've seen this kind of personality dispute destroy nascent projects at the community level. A group of people get together, start working on something they believe in, and then the whole thing devolves into a tangled heap of jealousies and rivalries and people stop showing up. I've watched a couple non-profits squander funding and lose all their best people because of this unresolved grievance problem, and in the one case I'm still watching, the organization hasn't dug itself out of the hole it fell into three years ago. I just get this sense that there's got to be a set of skills and practices that might have made a difference, and might make a difference in the future.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:51 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


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