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Shifting the Focus from Mediating the Problem to Mediating the Moment

It is our ability to think that makes us a mediator, lawyer or social scientist not our acquired knowledge of the subject or field. Although knowledge acquisition is an important first step for the novice professional it does not make a practitioner.

Professional practice involves engaging in a real encounter with other human beings in the here and now of the professional setting. How you think moment to moment is the driver of that engagement. The application of abstract knowledge is just a by-product.

The professional encounter has to be real and fresh and unique to each moment. In essence mediation, the law and the social sciences have to be continually created afresh by the practitioner and remain fresh during each moment of the professional encounter.

The technical knowledge of a particular profession or field is static knowledge isolated from the here and now of the personal experience. Therefore one has to continually overcome that knowledge so as to be able to engage in the here and now of the moment.

Part of the driving force behind the acquisition of knowledge is the desire to want to understand what is happening and why. This, at first glance, appears a natural consequence of study and inquiry into a profession or field. However developing an attachment to the need to understand can inhibit the professional being attentive and totally present in the here and now of the moment.

We need to experience something before we can develop a knowing. Experience precedes thought. Because the experience is permeated with uncertainty the need to understand what is going on and the urge to try and clear up that uncertainty only impedes the connection to the unfolding experience. What is required is a quality of the mind that is openly receptive to the unknown

Overcoming our knowledge is only the first step. We also have to overcome our thinking drawn from our own personal biases. These biases are a by-product of our rational mind’s attempt to make sense of our world based on our life experiences to date. They include our emotional responses drawn from our memories and desires

The problem with our memories and desires is that they can block our receptivity to what is coming and what is at present not known These biases need to be isolated from our mental processes in order for the professional truly to ‘experience the experience’ of the encounter.

It is experiencing an experience that is at the heart of the mediation process. The structured mediation encounter is designed to offer a safe place for parties to experience something that hopefully will lead to a movement forward.

For the mediator who is totally in the moment and detaches from their own memory and desire the intuitive thought coming into their mind from this shared relationship experience can inform him or her as to what is coming up in the mediation.

This challenges the assumption that mediators can be in any way neutral or impartial. Neutrality and impartiality are really theoretical constructs that do not exist in reality. At best they are an aspiration. It should be noted that the science of physics has given up on this concept long ago. In physics there is no alternative but to include the observer.

For the mediation profession or field to progress it needs to recalibrate its thinking and start from the proposition that mediators are not neutral and not impartial. It requires an acceptance that the mediator is a significant player with the parties with whom they are mediating. This means that mediators have to start examining themselves and their own thoughts. How mediators think matters.

See the full paper here.


Greg Rooney

Greg Rooney has been a mediator in private practice in Australia for 30 years. He has facilitated over 200 face-to-face meetings between victims of sexual and physical abuse within religious institutions and religious leaders over the last 14 years. He has also facilitated meetings between victims of abuse within the… MORE >


Margaret Ross

Margaret Ross has practiced for more than 20 years as mediators in Australia. She is a lawyer and has taught and trained mediators for a number of public and private institutions over the last three decades.  She has conducted annual residential mediation workshops in Tuscany, Italy. MORE >

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