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How Books Can Help Mediators Do a Better Job – at Work, and at Home

After I retired from mediation practice, I had more time to read books. Some books were about mediation, others about human nature and behavior. Reading them has been a real eye-opener for me. They taught me (belatedly) three important lessons, which I’d like to share with other mediators.

First lesson. They helped me understand better the parties’ (and my own) behavior in mediation. For more than 20 years, while I was a mediator, I thought I understood that behavior well enough. In retrospect, now I know that I didn’t. I could tell, feel it when a particular mediation was going well.  But when that wasn’t the case, I was at a loss. I couldn’t answer these two simple questions: Why does this mediation seem so difficult? And, more specifically, why do I seem unable to connect with these two parties?

Now that I’ve read a few books on human behavior, I think I know the answer to those two questions. If the parties in front of me (or on my computer screen) were so belligerent, upset, frustrated, angry at each other (and sometimes at me), of course there was a reason. It was also because I was unable to recognize and acknowledge their unmet basic, universal needs, which we all have: i.e. the need to be listened to, understood, respected, accepted as we are without being judged, treated kindly, fairly, impartially.

Had I understood all that, I would have spent more time in mediation discovering and discussing those unmet needs, rather than keep thinking that mediation was just an “assisted negotiation”, and trying too fast to let the parties’ negotiation begin.

Second lesson learned. Reading books made me also realize that when I mediated I, like anybody else, was just doing the best I could with the skills and knowledge I had. Now I know that my skills and knowledge were in fact more limited than I thought. And, to make things worse, at the beginning and during my mediation practice I had fallen respectively into two traps – the lack of curiosity trap, and the complacency trap.

THE LACK OF CURIOSITY TRAP

When in the 1990s I attended a typical 40-hour basic mediation training, followed by a number of advanced training, I was in love with the idea of being able to help people resolve their conflict. So much so, that I didn’t bother to ask my instructors some key, simple questions. For example: Is this mediation method that we are learning from you the only way of helping people resolve their conflict? Or are there other methods as well? If so, how do they differ from each other? And what makes this particular method so special, unique?

THE COMPLACENCY TRAP

Armed with the techniques that I had practiced during my training and learned by reading some good books – like Cristopher Moore’s “The Mediation Process” and John Haynes’ “The Fundamentals of Family Mediation” –  I thought to myself: I’m ready. Now I know what to do, and how to do it.

The good news was that, from that point on, whatever I did in mediation did seem to work reasonably well – more than fifty percent of the time. However, exactly because it did seem to work reasonably well, I gradually became complacent.

Sure, I was still eager to figure out why sometimes the mediator’s and the parties’ perspective of their mediation can be quite different. And I was still interested to test with other mediators something new – e.g. a new approach, some new techniques – that I hadn’t dared to try out in real mediation cases. But how could I? Back then, before Zoom became a household name, it wasn’t technically easy to run online mediation simulations with other mediators (now it is, as explained on my website). As a result, I ended up applying the same mediation approach and techniques to each mediation – over and over again.

Third and final lesson learned. Reading books after my retirement made me also realize something important I’d never thought about before. That is, I realized that between the way that for years I had helped other people resolve their conflict, and the way that I resolved conflict in my personal life, there had been a big, inexplicable disconnect. It is as if you own and run a steakhouse, but at home you are strictly vegan – or the other way around. All of a sudden, the idea of my applying two different conflict resolution approaches – one at work with clients, and the other at home with family members – seemed odd, didn’t make much sense.

In any event, given the huge impact that reading books have had on me after my retirement, a few weeks ago I decided to do something practical and, hopefully, useful to other mediators. I posted on my website the list of the 22 books I have read. Now, thanks to the contribution of many other mediators and ADR practitioners, that list has become much longer and broader. In short:

– It contains more than 100 books

– And it covers many topics related to mediation and conflict resolution in general.

That list, which is called “Good Books” for mediators, is available on my website – https://www.mediationskills.online/good-books – and, if you want, you can print it or download it for future reference.

If you have read other books that you found particularly insightful and useful for your mediation practice, and that you would like to recommend to fellow mediators, please let me know, so I can add them to that list.

author

Giuseppe Leone

Giuseppe Leone, a retired mediator in Hawaii, has been practicing mediation since 1997. He leveraged online video conferencing apps like Skype and later Zoom to conduct extensive mediation simulations with mediators worldwide. Recently, Giuseppe has uncovered a method for mediators to independently practice and enhance their mediation skills at any… MORE

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