Mediation is an ever-evolving field, making the journey for mediators a never-ending learning process. Practising mediators with advanced knowledge, skills and experience need to support the next generations of mediators to ensure a positive and vibrant future of mediation.
Each year, people of all ages undergo mediation training in different countries and for different reasons. Most complete the course riding a wave of excitement and enthusiasm, anxious to practice their skills. But there are very few structured career paths or development programs that students can opt into when mediation training ends. It is difficult for newly-trained mediators to step on the first rungs of the mediation ladder.
Consequently, newly-trained mediators often struggle to find opportunities to advance themselves in the field without connections. Many feel intimidated, reluctant, to approach experienced mediators for guidance. When the Young Mediators’ Initiative (YMI)[iii] surveyed members, 87% confirmed the need for mentoring programs incorporated in mediation training. Just 35% had been fortunate enough to gain any field experience whatsoever. Some practising mediators are members of service providers that offer formal post-training schemes, but these situations are rare.
It is so notoriously difficult for new mediators to gain field experience that Bill Marsh, one of the world’s most experienced international mediators has observed: “Opportunities are slim, and only the most committed will ever stand a chance. You need to be willing to take risks, travel, experiment and not get paid”[iv].
While new mediators are usually aware of this problem and are willing to invest personal resources, it still seems to be very difficult to enter the profession. There are few internships and scholarships, and those that do exist[v] are over-subscribed.
This very often results in the next generation of mediators being unable to practice what they have learned, and talented professionals drift to other fields.
Addressing the problem
To ensure a vibrant future for mediation, mentoring schemes are needed. Each program could attract a pool of highly qualified and experienced mediators willing to act pro bono as mentors. Each program could be online, connecting mentors with mentees so that mentors can provide guidance to mentees and help them generate field opportunities. And the programs could be led by a dedicated group of professionals. All mediation provider institutions could establish such a program or subscribe to existing mentoring programs such as the YMI, publish it on their websites and promote it to their online communities. While expert participation in these programs should remain voluntary, mediation providers could strongly and publicly (online and offline) encourage their members to engage actively, either as mentors, or as experience generators, and preferably as both. Where a mediation service provider does not offer such a mentoring program, their panel mediators might challenge them, and take steps to create one, becoming the first mentors.
Empowerment through experience generation
Field experience is vital to develop the successful skill sets mediators need. Mentorships facilitate access to field experience. A mentee can support the mediator at all stages of the mediation process, from preparation, through administering and note taking, to shadowing the mediator and following up. Many mediators who enable inexperienced mediators to accompany them report that “shadows” are genuinely valuable to them in many ways[vi]. While parties need to be asked if they agree to having a “trainee” or “assistant” present during their mediation, mentees must comply with the same rules and confidentiality obligations as the mediator. YMI members adopt the IMI Code of Professional Conduct[vii]. Consistent feedback from mediators supporting the YMI and offering shadowing opportunities to YMI members indicates that when requests were made to parties or their advisers to bring along a YMI member, few objections were recorded.
Not all mediators make suitable mentors, but every mediator has what it takes to become one. Mentoring closely resembles mediator skills, such as the ability to listen actively without judgement; to perceive solutions and opportunities; to provide insight and counsel; and empathy, respect, flexibility and patience. Mediators are encouraged to apply their existing skills, networks and time to empower, inspire and guide new mediators whenever they can towards a successful mediation career.
Mentoring can occur in many forms and it is not bound by national borders. There are many newly trained mediators in parts of the world where mediation is not yet used sufficiently to enable them to gain experience. Experienced mediators can make a huge difference and help develop mediation in those countries by connecting with a mentee online. With technologies such as video conferencing, bridging countries and cultures, mentorships can have a cross-cultural dimension, valuable to the experienced mediator mentor as well as their mentee.
Lead the way!
Ten years ago, the International Mediation Institute established the YMI and a mentorship scheme to develop new mediators. A structured and well-organized online framework allows YMI members to connect with experienced mediators and ultimately gain field experience. Unfortunately, mentee demand quickly outgrew the supply of willing, experienced mentors. This scarcity of mentors remains the core challenge that needs to be addressed.
In order to increase the pool of experienced mediators, YMI teamed up with organizations either already running their own mentorship scheme or eager to develop one. Rather than each organization working independently, a collaborative effort was launched. The Worldwide Mediation Mentoring Program[viii] is currently being developed jointly by the YMI, the International Academy of Mediators (IAM), the Institut Français de Certification des Médiateurs (IFCM), the Instituto de Certificaçao e Formaçao de Mediadores Lusofonos (ICFML), and the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI), with the support of the International Centre for ADR of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
Collaborative leadership can ensure global access to New Mediator programs and allow the next generation to emerge, develop and progress[ix].
Mediation trainers can actively support their alumni and offer field experience as part of their programs.
Mentoring schemes can share best practice examples and allow other organizations to learn from them.
Above all, experienced mediators can step forward as mentors and help lead the future development of quality mediation based on experience as well as training.
[i] Angela Herberholz is a professional in the exhibition and events industry with a passion for dispute resolution. She is a trained and accredited mediator and volunteers her free time to support newly trained professionals and promote mediation globally. Angela worked at the ICC International Centre for ADR from 2010-2014 and co-founded the IMI’s Young Mediators’ Initiative (YMI) in 2010 which she still manages today. Angela is a citizen of Germany and France and is based in Paris.
[ii] Emma Ewart Keir was Operations Manager of the International Mediation Institute (IMI) from 2009-2017 and is a co-founding member of the YMI. She supports the YMI on a voluntary basis by assisting young mediators relate their mediation experiences and challenges as blog posts and by continuing to contribute to the growth and development of the YMI, while raising two young children. Emma is based in Christchurch, New Zealand.
[ix] Please see, for example: The Values of Shadowing by Constantin-Adi Gavrila and Greg Wood, The Path to Mediation Excellence – Not a Sprint but a Marathon! by Angela Herberholz, So You Need a Mentor? by Dominique Panko
Originally published via Mediate.com on June 19 2020. Republished with permission.