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Teaching Flexibility in Mediation

Teaching Flexibility in Mediation

How do you teach such a flexible type of mediation?



Full Transcript

It’s very hard. As I said, the psychotherapists and the psychologists and anyone who works with people would say the same thing. It is a mix of training, really good training, lots of practice, judgment. That’s the hard thing – how do we teach judgment? As I said, the part that’s hard is the personality. I believe there are some people that with thousands of hours of training could never really be good mediators.


Other people, I had a student many years ago, a Native American student. You think my hair is long? Hers was all the way down her back, who just came into the beginning mediation class with a presence in which every time she opened her mouth, everyone just listened to her. She’s now a law professor. When I watched her first videotape mediation, she had already mastered everything. I had some little things to teach her, but not much. That’s rare, but it happens.


Some people are just temperamentally suited. They need some training to learn the techniques and the levers that we push and the interventions – look at my hands – the interventions that we make. She was a natural. On the other hand, sadly, I’ve had people who so much want to resolve conflict in the world. The truth is, their motivation to resolve conflict in the world is that they’ve suffered through a lot of conflict. It actually terrifies them.


They’re the people we were talking about earlier who are very uncomfortable in a room with emotion. I actually think for some of them, they’re better off in a court room where the rules are clear and they’re not in the middle of it. They are talking to the judge, not to the parties.


Training, practice, review, being observed, I still feel I learn something from every case. I wish somebody would observe every one of my cases. So, when I’m done, I often send an email to the lawyers and say, “Any feedback? Is there anything that I did that you had trouble with? Is there anything you think I could have done better? What did you like that I did?” I’m constantly getting feedback.


I would add co-mediation, when you can do it. It’s very hard work, but to have somebody else watch you, that can help a lot too. The basic point for both of us is that some of this is unteachable, absolutely. Judgment, discretion, knowing when to be quiet, knowing when to say some little subtle thing that’ll move the parties, it’s very hard to teach that.

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