Building any business is daunting. Those of us tackling the business of multidisciplinary mediation encounter additional obstacles. Apart from the rigors of setting up a practice, multidisciplinary mediators face the challenges of educating the general public about the benefits of mediation and promoting themselves within ADR-related fields.
Generally, the public does not understand mediation. More often than not, mediation is confused with arbitration. In addition, disputants commonly perceive they are not ready for mediation or do not feel it is a strong enough tool to resolve their conflict. At times, especially in the corporate sector, it is thought that disputes are best handled from within or that mediation might undermine management power and authority. Thus, a great deal of our time is devoted to enlightening others about the positive aspects of mediation.
In our practice, we volunteer as speakers and offer presentations to organizations, community groups and institutions to educate the public about mediation. We tout the process to friends, family and contacts and write articles about mediation for publication. In our talks and written materials, we concentrate on the benefits and strengths of the process, including individual empowerment.
Mediators often contend with the concept that a limited segment of practitioners is best qualified to mediate or that mediators should be experts on the subject of dispute. Restricting mediation to only one category of practitioner excludes a wealth of talent from applying unique skills to the process. Stewart Levine, Esq., in a Department of Energy teleconference, succinctly rejects such exclusion: “The more people we can engage in the tools and skills of conflict resolution, the better for all.” 
We have expanded our practice by collaborating with other professionals in mediation and training services. We co-mediate with practitioners from various backgrounds, including attorneys, therapists, government workers, educators, HR specialists and businessmen. We mediate pro bono for courts during settlement week and at community DR centers. We invite specialists to be placed on a list that we maintain for clients who require expert assistance in decision-making. We assist other mediators in marketing efforts or training sessions. By opening our doors to others in ADR-related fields, we encourage collaboration in the practice of mediation as a whole and broaden our opportunities to obtain clients.
It is our belief that a multidisciplinary approach to mediation strengthens the position of neutrals. We support Levine’s opinion and focus on the people, “not the widgets:”
“If you are a subject expert, then how can you be totally neutral? Conflict is about the people, not the widgets…You should probably have a general idea of what the dispute is about but have an open mind as to what will show up during the mediation as the real issue.” 
In disputes requiring a greater understanding of the subject matter, mediators may consult experts in that area or decline the mediation. Our credence is to place disputants first. In sessions, we follow the recommendation of Dr. Ron Stone and encourage disputants to put their faith in themselves, not in us, the mediators.  The result is that we have a reputation as ethical professionals, who focus on the interests and feelings involved in a dispute and help clients to see the conflict from the other side’s perspective.
It is undeniable that mediators need training to properly apply skills and knowledge in resolving conflict. In addition to extensive training, mediators must remember to take advantage of their rich backgrounds. Each of us comes to the table with previous experiences, both professional and personal, that can enhance the overall process. Utilizing these components enables mediators to better understand the conflict and the disputants, which allows greater opportunity for successful resolution.
Our practice specializes in co-mediation combining our separate, complimentary and multidisciplinary backgrounds. One of us, the “Cultural Insider,” grew up abroad and is experienced in the legal arena as a former paralegal in corporate, family and criminal law. The culmination is a sense of balance between the legal complexities of a case and the emotional atmosphere and/or cultural clashes of parties in a dispute. The other partner is the “Ambassador.” As a licensed realtor, educator, former business owner and consultant to CEOs, she has extensive expertise in real estate, construction and large corporate conglomerates. She provides a comfortable balance between financial intricacies and contrasting personalities in negotiations. The combination of our multidisciplinary backgrounds allows us to create a strong foundation for disputants to use in building a bridge to mutual understanding and agreement.
We advise fellow practitioners to remember their unique backgrounds and experiences and then bring those values to the mediation table. The multidisciplinary practice of mediation recognizes that there is a need for individuals with various backgrounds to assist clients in resolving conflict.
1 Stewart Levine, Esq., “Managing by Agreement: The New MBA” (presentation for the Interagency ADR Working Group Workplace Section lunch time series in a teleconference on January 26, 2006), Office of Dispute Resolution, U.S. Department of Energy.
3 Ronald C. Stone, PhD, LPC, DABPS-ACFE CART, “The Pros and Cons of being Type Cast as a Mediator and Dealing with Emotional Clients” (presentation to Southwest Conflict Resolution Network on May 15, 2006), Southern Methodist University, Plano Campus, Plano, Texas.
"This article originally appeared in the July 1998 issue of Consensus, a newspaper published jointly by the Consensus Building Institute and the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program."Most mediators agree that inclusion...By Jennifer Thomas-Larmer