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The Ideal for Mediation Training

The Ideal for Mediation Training

If we had an all you-can-eat buffet for mediation training, what would be in it?



Full Transcript

That’s a wonderful question. In the United States, when mediation began, so many of the mediators did a standard 40 hour course, often over a weekend. They had the basics. How to do an introductory statement, how to frame questions, how to gather information. Then the old issue of whether to caucus separately with the parties or keep them together. That was the standard fare.


We learned early on, I actually did some court training in California for our federal court, and ironically 25 years later, I’m doing another one in three weeks, an advanced training. In the court programmes in the early days, people thought 40 hours, that’s all we could do, but it wasn’t enough. We needed some way to evaluate mediators.


In one of the best programmes, the Northern District of California, in San Francisco – lots of good food there – myself and other major American mediator, Margaret Shaw, we did two weekends, so two 40 hour sessions. The mediators had to do role-plays and simulations which were observed by us and the court personnel.


At the end of those 80 hours, we had to give everyone a grade from one to five, five being the best. Only the people at the very top were put on the court’s panel.


Now, the reason I’m telling you this story is that we had a very interesting, almost natural experiment, in the group because this would have been in the late ’80s, I think, or maybe early ’90s. We had a lot of mediators that had done very, very extensive training with one of the pioneers in the United States, Gary Friedman, who was a divorce lawyer and has a no-caucus model. I worked with Gary for many years. We had a lot of people who came to the court programme to get certified and said they had lots and lots of training.


It turned out at the end of the day, when we did the grading, it wasn’t necessarily the people that had had so much training that did the best. The people that got the high fives, as it were – “high five” is what we say in the United States in sports, high five – the people who got the highest grades were just very smart, good lawyers. Who were otherwise talented litigators but were able to absorb that mediation was a totally different process. They just had to learn to turn off that talky-talky and turn on their ears to listen and the smart ones got it. They actually did better than some of the people who had done a lot of training.


The question of “how much training?” is very complicated for me because we have these set – for certificate programmes, 40 hours. I think it’s a combination of very good training, intensive practice, simulations, role-plays, observations. There’s a wonderful Native American phrase: “see one, do one, teach one”. That form of experiential learning teaches you.


I believe in good training, but unfortunately I also think there’s a real personality aspect to mediation. Sometimes it’s very hard to teach some people how to listen if they’ve been talking a lot. I had that issue. I did a lot of training of our federal judges in the United States. Again, some of them were just wonderful. Others of them, all the training in the world wasn’t going to help because they were used to being in command of their courts. They had a hard time facilitating the parties.


I would say the full buffet is absolutely some basic training, no less than 40 hours, the skills aspect, but more importantly the theories of conflict resolution. When I teach an intensive mediation course in a law school, which is 60 hours in a course, where we meet over a whole semester, the students would read a lot of conflict theory. We would break down mediation into all the stages, and do each one separately.


In the years that I was supervising students we would have videotape, now we can do it by Skype. We would have videotape mediations. I got people from the community to play the client. It wasn’t student to student but real people. Then the students and the professor would review and give a lot of intensive feedback.


I’ll just add one other thing and then you can follow on with me.


In a full buffet, there will also be a lot of what I love to do best, and that is short, advanced sessions, for very experienced mediators, to come together in an informal group and talk about their problems, their issues, and brainstorm with other mediators.


I’d say full buffet, start with a basic introductory course. Watch some, observe, apprentice a little bit. Be exposed to a variety of case types. Constantly get feedback. Do a lot of mediation. Then come back for some advanced work.


I always say, “one more thing”, and then I say another thing.


One model for us is what skilled psychologists and psychotherapists do, and that is, they always come back for more training and do masterclasses. You get some experienced psychologists and they come together and they present a very difficult case. Then they watch different psychologists use different interventions, just as we would as mediators, and see how those different interventions work. I’ve done a couple of those masterclasses at law firms and other mediation settings and those are really terrific.

About the mediator

Carrie Menkel-Meadow Profile Pic

Carrie Menkel-Meadow is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California Irvine Law School, and A.B. Chettle Jr. Professor of Law, Dispute Resolution and Civil Procedure at Georgetown University Law Center, where she teaches a variety of international and domestic dispute resolution courses, including Negotiation, Mediation, International Dispute Resolution, International Legal Analysis, Comparative Constitutionalis... View Mediator