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Challenge to Mediators: Describe Your Mediation System

Charlie Irvine is the Course Leader on the University of Strathclyde’s (Scotland) MSc/LLM in Mediation and Conflict Resolution and the Director of the Strathclyde Mediation Clinic.  The Clinic provides a free mediation service in which experienced practitioners work alongside trainee mediators to help people resolve disputes without going to court or tribunal. The following is Charlie’s Director’s Column published in Mediation Matters!, the Clinic’s quarterly newsletter.  As he describes below, he wrote an account of his own mediation system that was one of ten real mediation systems I analyzed in Real Mediation Systems to Help Parties and Mediators Achieve Their Goals. The newsletter has a lot of interesting articles, so check them out.

As the summer trundles along so does the Mediation Clinic, with new cases coming in all the time.  Reading people’s reflections on their work I’m struck by the range of situations we deal with: building problems, disputed bills, purchases gone wrong.  But I’m also struck by the range of mediators.  We all have different styles; not formal models but individual moves and responses built up by trial and error over dozens, eventually hundreds, of cases.

These “real mediation systems” (see below) are noticeably distinct from each other.  Mediators naturally vary and there seems to be room for all sorts: chatty, quiet, thoughtful, enthusiastic, cautious, even bossy.  One simple takeaway is that successful mediators eventually land on an approach that goes with the grain of their personality.  We know that clients value authenticity so it’s no surprise that this confirms the old adage: be yourself.

My friend John Lande recently asked me to think about my own real mediation system.  He challenged a few of us involved in running mediation clinics to describe what actually happens when we mediate.  My practice is quite broad so I decided to focus on a single setting, complaints against lawyers.  These mediations bear some resemblance to the cases we receive under Simple Procedure, being relatively brief, for fairly modest sums and often involving parties with different levels of power and authority.  The result is called What Usually Happens in My Mediations.  John has written a longer piece with links to the other nine mediation systems.

And here’s a challenge.  During the long summer days, why not have a go at writing out your own real mediation system?  You’ll find the original template in this blog.  It would be great to start gathering a collection of them.  They would illustrate the diversity of practice with the Clinic and act as a tonic to the assumption that there is one “right” way of mediating.  I’m sure anyone who writes one will also benefit from the exercise, as it forces us to name what we do and think about why we do it.

A funny thing happened while I was writing mine.  The more I drilled down into what actually happens, the more there was to say.  It turns out mediation is a highly detailed, context-driven activity, varying from case to case and moment to moment.  On a different day, with different people, I might do something different, and that too might succeed or fail.  Yet, at the same time, the act of attempting to pin it down flagged up patterns across cases, helping me to stand back and see the bigger picture.

So, to those taking up the challenge, please send your real mediation system to me.  Please don’t worry about length – brief is good.  And before I do anything with them I’ll come back and ask.  I look forward to some summer reading!

Originally published by John Lande in Indisputably


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE

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