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It’s the Mediators Who are Connected and Have Authority in Their Niche who will Live Long and Prosper

The news that retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will mediate a decade-old dispute between the U.S. government and over 1,000 heirs of former landowners of 36,000 acres in western Kentucky continues the global trend of former judges serving as mediators (via Keith Seat’s Mediation News).

It also brings to the surface an issue that all jobbing mediators face.

Search CNN for the word ‘mediator’ and you will see what I’m getting at. You will find a couple of pages full of reports of mediators on the world stage.

But they won’t be the rock stars of the mediation community as we know it. You know, the mediators who write books and speak at conferences – our champions.

Instead, they will be mediators who, as the authors below so politely put it, ‘are not classically trained’. They will be retired jurists, diplomats, bureaucrats and other assorted insiders – who for the most part are in the role of a mediator by virtue of their office not mediation skills – and will have a mix of transferable skills that may or may not include consensus building.

That all brings to mind one of the most insightful articles written in our field in the last five years instrumental in evolving my own definitions of mediator neutrality and independence;

Skill Is Not Enough: Seeking Connectedness and Authority in Mediation (abstract only)* by Chris Honeyman of Convenor, Bee Chen Goh and Loretta Kelly of Southern Cross University.

This article was born out of Honeyman’s observation that more and more parties were choosing retired judges and others who were not classically trained mediators to help them resolve their disputes, especially at the top end. In the article he examines the flagging “marketability” of mainstream professionally trained mediators in the U.S.

Searching for an explanation of this phenomenon, Honeyman found a possible answer in Melbourne, Australia, where in 2003 he listened with a Western ear to the presentations of Loretta Kelly and Bee Chen Goh about the importance of connectedness and individual perceptions of authority to the parties in the mediation of indigenous disputes.

The article presents case histories from Australia and Malaysia to illustrate these concepts and says the same concepts are behind the shifting of the market for mediation in the United States.

Connectedness and authority, connectedness and authority, connectedness and authority… I’d say they’re right.

You could connect the dots at my previous posts Great on paper, crap at the table and Mediators Free of the Baggage that Former Judges Carry – but all that’s just sour grapes.

… because it’s the mediators who are connected and have authority or mana in their niche who will live long and prosper.

The rest will always be wanna be’s.

*Negotiation Journal Vol. 20 Issue 4 Page 489 October 2004 No online full text but you can purchase access here – Chris if you are reading this is it tucked away on the free net somewhere?


Geoff Sharp

Geoff Sharp is a Commercial Mediator from Wellington, New Zealand. Geoff works in the Asia Pacific region, including New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Pacific Islands. He is a mediator resolving business problems. He is a fellow of the International Academy of Mediators and mediates complex and hotly debated litigation covering… MORE >

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