Find Mediators Near You:

Sculpting a New Dispute Resolution Field

When I was going into grade 9, I worked for a summer with my grandfather and uncle in the carpentry trade.  My grandfather had been doing this work for the majority of his life.  He was a master in his trade.  My uncle, his son, followed in my grandfather’s footsteps, learning the trade in his younger years, eventually getting paid and then taking over the family business.  My grandfather is a craftsman.  When I worked that summer with them, I too, was taking under their wings, and learned part of the trade.  The importance of measuring, knowing your materials, knowing your tools, keeping the bigger picture in mind while working on the smallest detail.  This trade isn’t just a source of income for them; it is their livelihood.  Still to this day my grandfather will take a lifeless piece of wood, pour his heart and soul into each detail, and create a living, breathing piece of art that tells a beautiful story.   My grandfather is a craftsman.  He taught me the value of doing quality work for the sake of doing quality work. 

Why am I telling you all of this? How does this relate to the Dispute Resolution field? We’ve lost our craftsmanship.  We’ve lost our focus on doing quality work for the sake of quality work.  We lost our motivation to continually improve ourselves so that we can do this work better.  We’ve lost our passion to create a change within our world.  In the past three years, I’ve had the honour of being able to travel across North America to talk to folks in the Dispute Resolution field about how to grow a business.  What I have discovered is that our field is currently in the ‘tween’ stage of life.  No matter where I am, I have encountered an angry tween who is upset that her boss won’t give her a paycheque, even though she hasn’t put in any hours.  I have encountered the angry tween that is upset that he didn’t make the football team, even though he’s only watched the games on the sidelines.  I have encountered the angry tween that feels her parents are standing between her and eternal freedom.  We’ve lost our passion to do quality work for the sake of quality work.

Thinking back to my grandfather’s craft, there is a heavy relation to the early guilds.  Guilds are essentially an association of artisans working together to learn the craft, work on specializations, support each other and protect each other.  The essentially had three different levels within the guilds; the apprentice, journeyman, and master.  The apprentice would work under a master for years to learn the craft, study it, and practice it for no pay.  Once an apprentice proved his or herself worthy, they would enter into the journeyman stage, where they would be paid for their work.  Finally, after years of continued study and practice, they could potentially become a master and take on their own apprentices.  One of the reasons that some guilds started to crumble was when the masters began to focus less on the good of the craft, but rather for the good of themselves.  In other words, they lost their passion for doing quality work and their teaching and mentorship reflected said shift.  Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that our Dispute Resolution ‘masters’ have failed us and have lost focus on the quality of our craft.  I am suggesting however that we are starting to sound like those tweens, rebelling against our parent’s wishes because we feel we know better, even though we’re only 12.  We’re not trying to develop Dispute Resolution into a thriving craft or field; we’re only focussed on the good of ourselves.  I’ve had the opportunity to talk with lots of mediators, coaches and consultants that have lost their passion.  That twinkle that existed in their eyes has been beaten out – the spring in their step, flattened.  They have gone from, “Yes! I believe in the beauty of conflict transforming people’s lives!” to “Yeah, I guess I could provide you with this service.”  We’ve gone from looking at our craft as an opportunity to create a better world, to looking at our job to find a resolution and a pay cheque.   

What would happen if we looked at the Dispute Resolution like a craftsperson looks at their trade? My grandfather would look at a block of wood and see endless amount of possibilities.  Sure, he knew that there would be difficult times in sculpting his vision, but he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty.  That was all part of the fun! Similarly, if Dispute Resolution professionals started to look at their work like the craftsperson looked at their craft, how might our field be changed? A craftsperson was constantly driving to improve on the work that they did.  They worked hard on themselves, improving their strengths, working on the areas they found challenging.  They worked towards mastery of their craft, pouring their hearts and souls into training their hands to do what they were made for.  What if we worked even harder at improving ourselves? The craftsperson also deeply knew what each of her tools were capable of; she knew exactly what chisel would give her their desired result.  Furthermore, she intimately knew the materials she was working with.  She knew when to use a maple wood over a pine in order to fulfil her vision.  Similarly, the Dispute Resolution’s tools are their questions, processes and tactics that they use.  Their materials are their clients.  The more that we are connected to our inner craftsperson, the more intimately we know the tools that are available to us.  The more we work towards understanding the materials we are working with, the better we understand how we can apply our tools to assist them in their desired outcome.  We’ll know when to push further to define the problem, we’ll know when we’re pushing towards resolution too soon, we’ll know when to ask the right question that will empower and propel our clients further towards their goals.

Richard Sennet, author of The Craftsman sums it up nicely when he says, “All craftsmanship is quality-driven work; Plato formulated this aim as the arête, the stand of excellence, implicit in any act: the aspiration for quality will drive a craftsman to improve, to get better rather than get by.”  It’s time for us to be re-ignited. It’s time for us to start doing quality work for the sake of quality work. It’s time for our passion to rise to the surface and our love for this work to shine through.  When we do work that we love, we can’t wait to do more.  For when we are passionate about something, we can’t help but tell others, for passion is contagious.  It is through that drive for excellence and craftspersonship that our field will be taken to a new level.  With each professional developing their craft, not only will our businesses improve, but our field.  So work towards mastery, developing your craft, contributing to your guild, and building a better brighter future for Dispute Resolution.   


Jason Dykstra

Jason is a Conflict Management Specialist who is helping organizations and congregations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He specializes in relational and communication issues and uses his experience and training in mediation, group facilitation, conflict management coaching, speaking and teaching to aid you and your surroundings to better… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


A Teacher’s First Mediation Experience Over One Semester

INTRODUCTION Hands-on experience with the stages of mediation is an important component in the training of mediators. This story unveils my initial exposure to the mediation process through the intakes...

By Joanne Kilgour Dowdy

The 8 Keys to Resolving Family Conflict

Making Divorce Work:  8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) excerpts The 8 Keys to Resolving Family Conflict: 1. Be hard on the problem, not...

By Diana Mercer

The Art and Science of Mediation: How the Principles of Commitment/Consistency and Expectation May be Applied to Mediation to Help Break Party Impasse – Part Two

Review Part One here. Mediation: Generating Great Expectations In William Ury’s sequel to “Getting to Yes”, “Getting Past No,” 1 the co-innovator of the principled (interest-based) negotiation method considers the...

By Jennifer Winestone