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ADR And Mindflness

Arnold W. Zeman’s blog

Barry Goldman is sad about the state of ADR.  He quotes with disapproval from Bowling and Hoffman, Bringing Peace into the Room: The Personal Qualities of the Mediator and Their Impact on the Mediation:

[T]here is a dimension to the practice of mediation that has received insufficient attention: the combination of psychological, intellectual, and spiritual qualities that make a person who he or she is. We believe that those personal qualities have a direct impact on the mediation process and the outcome of the mediation. Indeed this impact may be one of the most potent sources of the effectiveness of mediation… As mediators, we have noticed that, when we are feeling at peace with ourselves and the world around us, we are better able to bring peace into the room. Moreover, doing so, in our experience, has a significant impact on the mediation process.

He finds a comparable line of ‘deluded’ thinking in the early history of medicine.

For the first several thousand years of medical history doctors had no idea what they were doing. Sometimes they tried a poultice, sometimes a pessary, and sometimes a purgative. It didn’t matter. Sometimes the patients got better and sometimes they died. No intervention was any more or less effective than any other. What was to be made of this?

What some people made of it is that the effectiveness of an intervention has to do not with the intervention itself, but with the spiritual purity of the intervener. If the doctor was ritually purified the intervention would work. If not, not.

This belief – precisely this belief in the necessity of ritual purity – delayed for centuries the discovery of antisepsis.

And it is precisely this mistake that we are making in ADR today. All the vast literature on “mindfulness” and “presence” and inner peace, the advice that mediators need to meditate and center themselves before and during their mediations, is deluded in just the way that the physician is deluded who fasts and prays instead of washing his hands.

A very forceful critique indeed.  From my transformative perspective, paying attention to the personal qualities of the mediator could very well be at the expense of paying full attention to the clients and their conversation in the here-and-now of the mediation room.

The mediation process as I practise it is about following the clients in how they want to have their conversation and what they want to talk about in it.  In order to follow, one must be vigilant about what one as the mediator personally, psychologically, emotionally experiences in the process that might get in the way of the parties and their conversation.  This vigilance is not an end in itself but is very much in the service of the parties and their process as they shift back and forth from confusion to clarity, from self-absorption to openness to the other; we exercise this vigilance so that we can support their shifts to clarity and strength that we call ‘empowerment’ and their shifts away from self-absorption that we call ‘recognition’.  When we become aware of an intention or an impulse to get in the way, we strive to let it go, i.e. not act on it.  In other words, this monitoring is a tool, not a neutral tool in some toolbox for anyone who comes along to use.  It is a tool with a very explicit purpose articulated in transformative theory and practice.

It is not ‘mindfulness’ as such, in and of itself, that brings peace to the medi[t]ator and thence into the room.  Rather, in my view, what is critical for the mediation is the intentional awareness and subsequent letting go of what may get in the way of the parties’ conversation so that they themselves can freely decide on an outcome for their differences whether settlement or something else.


Arnold W. Zeman

After over 33 years in the public service of Canada, the last 20 of which as an executive, I retired from government in 2006 to pursue my passion to help people resolve their differences non-adversarially. I have been trained by the best in the field in both the public and… MORE >

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