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Preparing Mediators For Practice: Mediation Training Or Mediation Education?

Recently the alert I set up to monitor appearances of the keyword “mediation” in Twitter posts pointed me to the following message: “Just got back from Civil Mediation Training (30 hrs) to be a Qualified Neutral”. The message took me aback.

30 hours? To be a “qualified neutral”? Qualified? For what?

The persistence of the notion that 30 or 40 hours is sufficient time to train neutrals has long troubled me, a trainer of mediators. It is one advanced by court-connected mediation programs, some private training companies, and mediators themselves. It is even codified in law and court rule. But to be confronted in this way by someone’s certainty that 30 hours prepared them adequately to mediate civil disputes was jolting.

In the trainings I am involved with, we make it clear to participants that a basic mediation training provides an orientation to the field of mediation but that hard work and further learning lie ahead. The best students are those who come away with the humble understanding that they do indeed have a long way to go toward mastery. The ones who keep me awake at night are those who already have their business cards printed on the last day of the training.

My colleague to the north, Tammy Lenski, is clearly troubled, too. She writes:

Is there a qualitative difference between training mediators and educating mediators? I think so and I’m going to put myself far out on the limb here. No doubt one of you will want to shake me right off.

While training will likely always have its place in the ADR world, I’d like to see greater embrace of educating and less commitment to short-term, “let-me-call-myself-certified” training.

Training is traditionally concerned with the development of skills and preparation for specific jobs or roles.

Education is traditionally concerned with the development of the intellect, stretching and learning to use one’s mind.

Like Tammy, I have to wonder out loud whether it’s time for our field to look closely and critically at what it takes to prepare people to become effective mediators. I know that 30 hours or 40 won’t do it. But what kind, degree, and amount of training or education or practical experience under supervision – or some combination of those – will produce a competent mediator?

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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