Could politicians benefit from mediation?

Last week’s post explored whether mediation could play a direct role in democratic deliberation. This would involve bypassing politicians to create consensus on social issues. This week’s post explores a more modest proposal. Could mediation help resolve policy impasses among lawmakers?

Tim Kaine, a former Governor of Virginia and Hillary Clinton’s Vice Presidential running mate, proposed this idea in a panel discussion in 2018. Kaine learned the power of mediation as a lawyer and, as Governor, would often bring in trained mediators to resolve policy disputes within government.

Kaine suggests that federal lawmakers could also benefit from mediation. Facilitative mediation aims to avoid positional bargaining and rights-based language in favour of articulating interests. This makes it more likely parties will compromise on their initial positions and reach a mutual agreement.

Mediation among lawmakers could help overcome stalemates in the legislative process. It could also reduce partisanship. Mediation involves listening to the other parties articulate their concerns in a non-adversarial way. This could help foster understanding and common ground across political divides.

However, Kaine also reflects upon why politicians may resist mediation. ‘In policy,’ he explains, ‘there is often a political motive to keep a dispute going than resolve it.’ Politicians benefit from concealing or denying common ground. They use disagreements to raise funds, energise their base and assign blame.

These factors give politicians disincentives to listen to people they don’t agree with. Kaine observes that ‘listening is the lost art in life right now’ and ‘people don’t feel like anybody listens to them.’ Mediators, by contrast, ‘are trained listeners.’ They ‘are trained to find commonalities that people can’t see.’

A further benefit of mediation in politics, as Robert Benjamin notes, could be to encourage a more constructive approach to conflict among the general public. Benjamin argues that ‘[l]eadership style … directly influences the willingness or hesitancy of people to consider negotiation or mediation … in daily life.’

If political leadership values deliberation, inclusion and consensus, then we might expect to see these values throughout the community. On the other hand, if politicians prioritise power over compromise and depict all disputes as zero-sum games, then mediation may be devalued across society as a whole.


Could mediation transform democracy?

Mediation is commonly conceived as a mechanism for resolving disputes that would otherwise be settled through the courts. However, could mediation potentially be used for reaching agreement on other social issues—including those that would be decided by the executive or parliament? A recent interesting article by Richard Schmitt in the Journal of Social Philosophy explores this possibility.

Democratic decision-making is generally associated with the electoral process. Recent discussions have also explored the prospects of deliberative democracy, where elections are supplemented or even replaced by joint deliberation among citizens. Schmitt argues that mediation represents a third possible type of decision-making mechanism that has been neglected in the literature on democratic theory and practice.

Schmitt discusses some examples of groups that rely on mediation to make collective decisions. His main example is the Society of Friends (or Quakers). The Quakers, Schmitt notes, ‘have developed techniques over several centuries which allow groups to deliberate together without the conversation degenerating into bitterness and shouting, instead reaching agreements that meet no opposition’ (233).

At a Quaker business meeting, as Schmitt describes it, members sit quietly until moved to speak. They say their piece, but do not seek to defend their perspective against others. They merely offer it for consideration by the group. Members also do not criticise the viewpoints offered by others. ‘The focus’, Schmitt observes, ‘is not on “giving reasons”’ as is so often the case in deliberative democracy (234).

Members do not raise their voices, interrupt or try to win an argument. Instead, they silently consider what they have heard. At some point, an attempt is made to articulate the consensus of the meeting. Members may suggest amendments to this formulation. At the end, if nobody objects, the consensus will be adopted, not because everyone necessarily agrees, but because ‘no one is deeply troubled by it’ (234).

It is often assumed that unanimity is not possible in democratic decisions. Majority rule is always needed. However, Schmitt argues that the example of the Quakers shows this to be false. It is possible to achieve unanimity, even if not everyone agrees on everything, if the right kind of decision-making process is followed. This also requires, of course, that participants follow shared ground rules in good faith.

The process followed by the Quakers, as Schmitt observes, has much in common with mediation. It avoids rights-based discussions or positional bargaining. Instead, it allows participants to articulate their viewpoints without interruption, then encourages them to reach an outcome everybody can live with. The aim is not for someone to win, like in  court, but for everyone to walk away with something they can accept.

One shortcoming of Schmitt’s article is that his discussion of mediation is a bit out of date. For example, he describes the mediator as a ‘professional neutral’ without acknowledging the current lively debates about whether mediator neutrality is desirable or possible (237). Nonetheless, he captures some of the key features of mediation, such as the role of ground rules and the focus on exploration and option generation, showing their potential application to group decisions.

Mediation generally involves a relatively small number of parties. However, Schmitt argues that it can be applied to larger social groups. He discusses some examples of this, such as an effort by the Centers for Disease Control to reach consensus among 110 stakeholders from organisations with different views on HIV/AIDS. The mediators divided the stakeholders into teams and guided them through a facilitative process. This was successful in producing areas of consensus across the whole group.

Schmitt raises and responds to a possible objection to mediation as a democratic process. The worry is that mediation may be undemocratic, because it involves small groups making decisions on behalf of the whole community (243). Schmitt argues this is not necessarily a problem, provided that the small groups are representative, well informed and transparent. The general public can give feedback and views to the stakeholders directly involved in the mediation.

Schmitt’s response to this challenge, in my view, overlooks another, more radical possibility. What if we think of society not as one big group, but as a collection of many, overlapping smaller groups? If these smaller groups adopted mediation as a way of seeking consensus on specific issues, then one might expect areas of consensus to emerge organically in the community as a whole. (I explore this kind of possibility in my own current work on small justice.)

Could mediation transform democracy? Does it offer a genuine alternative to the electoral process and existing forms of political deliberation? The prospect of mediated outcomes taking over political discourse may seem far fetched in the current political environment with its partisanship, bargaining and rancour. However, mediators have always been innovators and risk-takers. It seems fitting that they could also be the ones to reshape democracy as we know it.

The Empty Idea of Mediator Impartiality

Jonathan Crowe and Rachael Field

RF and JC ImageMediation ethics has traditionally given a central role to the notion of mediator neutrality. The idea that mediators are ethically obliged to be neutral, however, has come under increasing attack in recent decades. Numerous scholars have argued that traditional views of mediator neutrality are unrealistic and unhelpful for mediation practice.[1] This is because they overlook the humanity of the mediator and ignore the reality of power imbalances in the mediation process. It is unrealistic for mediators to be wholly neutral, because they are human beings with their own perspectives and biases. Mediator neutrality is also unhelpful to the parties, because it robs the mediator of the ability to intervene actively in the process where needed and ensure that all parties achieve meaningful self-determination.

Some authors, such as Laurence Boulle,[2] have suggested that these criticisms can be avoided by shifting the focus from mediator neutrality to mediator impartiality. It may not be realistic, the argument goes, for mediators to be entirely neutral, but they can and should aspire to be impartial between the parties. This shift from neutrality to impartiality was taken up in the work of the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC) and subsequently incorporated into the National Mediator Accreditation System (NMAS) of 2015.

We argue in a recent article, however, that this shift from neutrality to impartiality is unconvincing and lacks practical efficacy.[3] There are two main reasons, in our view, why focusing on mediator impartiality does not solve the problems confronting the traditional paradigm of mediator ethics. The first is that the distinction is too technical to make a real difference in how the mediation process is understood in practice. The distinction speaks perhaps to people who are steeped in the details of mediation terminology, but not to the ordinary party who comes to mediation for assistance with managing or resolving their dispute, seeking a transparent, fair and ethical process. Indeed, for most people, neutrality and impartiality mean the same thing, with the terms often used interchangeably.

The second problem with the distinction between neutrality and impartiality is that the notion of impartiality, as defined by authors such as Boulle, still encounters many (if not all) of the challenges that beset the traditional concept of neutrality. Boulle’s identification of impartiality with fairness, we would argue, is too simplistic. Treating parties with different and complex power dynamics between them in a way that prioritises ‘even-handedness [and] objectivity’,[4] as those terms are usually understood, will favour the more powerful party, in a way that would not be allowed by a genuinely fair process. This is because such an approach will generally entail giving the parties identical or similar treatment, even where they are differently situated or face distinct challenges. The notion of impartiality, in this respect, invites a similar critique to the more traditional idea of neutrality.

It would be possible to avoid this objection to mediator impartiality by interpreting the ideas of even-handedness and objectivity in a more creative and non-traditional way. This would involve saying that mediators can be even-handed and objective even if they treat the parties differently, provided that they do this in an ethically appropriate manner. However, this way of understanding mediator impartiality is of little assistance to mediators and parties in grasping the ethical framework, unless it is supplemented with a more detailed account of when mediator interventions are ethically appropriate. The basis for such an account, we suggest, has to come from some more fundamental ethical notion, rather than from impartiality itself. The idea of mediator impartiality is therefore empty: it either reproduces the traditional problems of mediator neutrality or offers little guidance on the mediator’s ethical role.

Merely shifting the emphasis to mediator impartiality fails to solve the dilemmas posed by the concept of neutrality. A more fundamental rethinking of mediation ethics is needed if we are to avoid the shortcomings of the traditional paradigm.  We suggest in our forthcoming book, Mediation Ethics: From Theory to Practice, that the better approach is to cease to treat mediator neutrality or impartiality as a guiding value of mediation practice, instead emphasising party self-determination. This framework recognises and legitimises the ethical choices mediators routinely make in response to information deficits or power imbalances, rather than seeking to shoehorn them into a modified version of the traditional paradigm.

[1] See, for example, Rachael Field, ‘Mediation and the Art of Power (Im)balancing’ (1996) 12 Queensland University of Technology Law Journal 26; Hilary Astor, ‘Rethinking Neutrality: A Theory to Inform Practice – Part I’ (2000) 11 Australian Dispute Resolution Journal 73; Rachael Field, ‘The Theory and Practice of Neutrality in Mediation’ (2003) 22(1) Arbitrator and Mediator 79; Bernard Mayer, Beyond Neutrality: Confronting the Crisis in Conflict Resolution (Jossey-Bass, 2004).

[2] Laurence Boulle, Mediation: Principles, Process, Practice (Butterworths, 1996) 19-21; Laurence Boulle, Mediation: Principles, Process, Practice (LexisNexis, 2nd ed, 2005) 30-36; Laurence Boulle, Mediation: Principles, Process, Practice (LexisNexis, 3rd ed, 2011) 71-80.

[3] Jonathan Crowe and Rachael Field, ‘The Empty Idea of Mediator Impartiality’ (2019) 29 Australasian Dispute Resolution Journal 273.

[4] Boulle, Mediation: Principles, Process, Practice (1st ed) 19.

Creating the leaders of the future – we need to broaden our focus on soft skill development in order to achieve organisational success

As we enter what is being referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, characterised by its rapidly changing, technology focused and competitive environment, organisational leaders are faced with new challenges when striving to achieve organisational success. According to recent research undertaken by McKinsey & Co across the USA and Europe, we are facing a significant shift in the skills employees and leaders will need to achieve success. Not surprisingly, it is expected that between 2016 and 2030, the hours spent using technological skills (advanced IT skills, programming and basic digital skills) will increase by 55%. This is only part of the picture however as the research also indicates that the use of ‘social and emotional’ skills will increase by 25% in the same period. The types of skills classified as ‘social and emotional skills’ include advanced communication and negotiation skills, empathy, leadership skills, adaptability and coaching, skills that are often referred to as ‘soft skills’.

Whilst some organisations and educators at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary), have invested a great deal of time and effort in preparing for the technological skill shift, there has been arguably much less focus on preparing for the increased need in ‘soft skills’.

Current research being undertaken at James Cook University (JCU) is focused on gaining a deeper understanding of the skills and behaviours required by organisational leaders to deliver organisational success now and into the future within the Australian context. Furthermore, the research is seeking to identify where there are perceived significant gaps between skills required in future leaders and those being observed in prospective organisational leaders (graduates and junior managers). Early results highlight the importance of ‘soft skills’ and recognise a significant gap in these skills within the current work environment.

Skills required by our future leaders

As part of the research project at JCU, organisational leaders in Australia operating across public, private and not-for-profit sectors were invited to participate in semi-structured interviews and complete a questionnaire. The research participants are working across a range of industries including health, human services, banking, mining, sustainability, higher education and insurance. When asked what skills and capabilities are required in order to lead an engaged and productive workforce, the research participants identified authentic engagement, connection and communication with staff as the most important skills. These were immediately followed by the ability to self-reflect, empathise, remove barriers and support autonomy across the workforce, motivate and stretch staff, create and clearly articulate a vision and purpose and to be able to connect staff contributions to the organisations vision and purpose.

Other important skills and abilities identified included the ability to engage in courageous conversations, deal with ambiguity and create clarity out of chaos, establish great networks to gain broader insights, be adaptable and transparent. Participants also highlighted the importance of creating a culture of ‘team’ where you felt safe, supported and felt your leader had ‘your back’ and believed in you.

Specifically, interviewees stated:

‘I think we know that where people feel safe, valued and empowered and asked to be their real genuine authentic self they come forward with new ideas’

[General Manager, one of Australia’s top four banks]

‘(a leaders) intelligence can be up and down …… I don’t think any of that matters because great leaders get the right people around them and that support enables them to deliver the best outcome.’

[Senior Manager, Organisational Development, State Government]

When asked to identify what skills and behaviours will be most important for the leaders of the future, the top 20 skills and behaviours identified were all ‘soft skills’ relating to either self-management or people management. Interestingly, these outcomes correlate with those identified through a research study conducted by Google that looked at the hiring, firing and promotion data accumulated since 1998, to identify the eight (8) most important qualities of their top employees. The project was titled ‘Project Oxygen’ and it found that out of the top eight skills, seven (7) were skills that would be considered ‘soft’ or ‘higher cognitive’ skills.  The top seven characteristics at Google, according to this research, are:

  • Being a good coach;
  • Communicating and listening well;
  • Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  • Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  • Being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
  • Being able to make connections across complex ideas.

The eighth and final characteristic is subject matter expertise, namely STEM expertise.

Where is the gap?

A recent study by Deloitees involving 4000 Gen Z participants found that 37% experience concern that technology is weakening their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills. Deloittes insights paper on “Generation Z enters the workforce” states:

whilst these digital natives may bring an unprecedented level of technology skills to the workforce, there are some apprehensions about their ability to communicate and form strong interpersonal relationships.

Specific concerns include,

Technology has impacted the development of cognitive skills, including intellectual curiosity, amongst the next generation, creating the risk of skill gaps when they enter the workforce en masse. A shortfall in highly cognitive social skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and communication, could be particularly evident.

The ability to skillfully interact and communicate with others not only contributes to successful relationships but also drives accumulation of tacit knowledge, which is usually passed down through decades of communication and collaboration in a work place. This may include specific information relating to processes, customers and other things, like culture. This type of knowledge is difficult to transfer through the digital realm as it is ‘rooted in context, observation and socialisation’. The Deloitte paper discusses how the communication skill gap in Gen Z may potentially hinder the transfer of tacit knowledge.

The JCU research results also highlight the critical gaps that are perceived to currently exist within Australian workplaces between critical skills required of a good leader and observed competency of emerging leaders in these skills. Research participants were asked to rank the ‘level of importance’, and then rank the ‘observed general competency’, of skills demonstrated by potential leaders within their organisations. The highest level of discrepancy between ranked level of importance and observed competence of prospective leaders was ‘the ability to manage conflict’. This was followed by six other people management skills, namely the ability to; influence others, delegate, motivate others, negotiate, inspire others, give positive and negative feedback, empower others and develop others.

Research participants observed that the areas where the skill gaps appear minimal include: setting specific goals and targets, self-confidence, passion, optimism, making analytical decisions, innovation and assertiveness.

Why is this relevant for Conflict Management and Resolution Practitioners

Through literature reviews, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires, the JCU research has found a significant overlap between the skills required to be a good leader and the skills required to be an effective CMR practitioner. These skills include:

  • Honesty
  • Self-awareness
  • Comfortable with uncertainty
  • Able to hold multiple perspectives
  • Identify options
  • Behavioural observation
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Understand broader views
  • Empathy
  • Active listening

As such CMR Practitioners will have the opportunity to play a critical role in addressing the gap in ‘soft skills’ and supporting organisations to build, develop and improve on their soft skills within their leadership (current and future) cohorts. This may be achieved in a number of ways including:

  • Practitioner – helping organisations to manage an increasingly high volume of workplace conflicts as a result of leaders not having the capability to manage or resolve conflict themselves.
  • Capability builders– educating and supporting organisations to build the capacity of their workforce, including bespoke training on important skills such as resilience communication, feedback, and other ‘social and emotional’ skills.
  • Taking on leadership positions – as many of the skills are transferable some CMR practitioners may choose to utilise their skills by taking on operational leadership roles.

All research participants were clear on the importance of investing in skill development for their workforce’s. One participant stated:

[Need to invest in the soft skills….] ‘without those skills you are not going to have a very good workplace, you are not going to have engaged staff, it leads to all sorts of issues, so it’s well worth investing in.’

[Senior Leader, Tertiary Education]

Therefore, as CMR practitioners, we may find increasing demand for our services and an expansion in the types of roles that exist for individuals who are competent practitioners and trainers in social and emotional skills.

Claire Holland and Amaya Mo presented on their research at the National Mediation Conference in April 2019, and a publication of the results is forthcoming.

Amaya is the Principal of Zing & Co, a management consultancy specialising in creating, developing and supporting high performing, engaged, happy and resilient workforces. Amaya is also a lecturer and researcher in the JCU Conflict Management and Resolution Program.



Can Mediation transform complaints between pet owners and veterinarians?

Jane Rose, a Veterinarian and JCU Master of Conflict Management and Resolution student shares her views on the opportunity to use facilitative mediation as part of a regulatory and complaints processes prescribed in the legislation governing veterinary practice in New South Wales (NSW). Jane’s blog post focuses on the NSW Veterinary Practice Act 2003 and has been co-authored with JCU Conflict Management and Resolution Lecturer, Rikki Mawad.

Conflict and Complaints in Veterinary Practice

It is not uncommon for mistakes to be made, costs to escalate and communications to break down between Veterinarians and Pet Owners. As with complaints in relation to human health care, disputes in relation to veterinary practice are invariably related to client dissatisfaction with a veterinary practitioner or the treatment outcome. Veterinarians practice in busy, emotionally charged small clinical businesses and have to make decisions in quick succession with little time for effective communication between team members and at times, impacted families. Each practice is a small business, standards can vary, and an external body does not audit the daily delivery of veterinary medicine.

A common example of conflict between veterinarians and pet owners is in relation to costs. While care costs are discussed at the beginning of treatment with pet owners, these can change unexpectantly. It is not uncommon that a patient may respond adversely to a procedure or for a new problem to be discovered and for the owner to not be contactable, leaving the care team to make critical decisions in the moment. The result of this is often a larger bill, and at times, unexpected euthanasia. The human impact can result in an angry and or grieving client, a stressed veterinarian and a possible hearing before the Veterinary Practitioner’s Board.

Prescribed Dispute Resolution Processes

 The Veterinary Practice Act (VPA) 2003 regulates the provision of veterinary services NSW.  The Act requires the establishment of a State Board as the regulatory authority, with one function of the authority being the investigation of complaints against veterinary practitioners. The Board recommends that concerns about veterinary practice are first raised with the veterinarian or clinic superintendent. If complaints are not able to be resolved directly between the veterinarian or the clinic superintendent and relate to animal healthcare, the complainant can raise their matter with the VPA State Board.

When the Board receives a complaint, the matter is investigated, experts may be called to give evidence and then a determination is made as to whether the practitioner has breached the Act and what sanctions may apply.

For matters that do not involve a breach or finding of misconduct, there are is no further recourse other than a separate legal action. Often however, the complaints process has further damaged both parties’. Not only does the complainant still feel aggrieved, the practitioner also still feels attacked and untrusted and there is a lingering fear of litigation.

(Un)Resolved Matters

For those involved in a dispute, the journey to resolution of a complaint is often long and arduous for all parties. For veterinarians, complaints can be mentally and emotionally demanding, and take them out of delivering clinical care and out of their businesses. Like medical practitioners, the fear of litigation has impacted the delivery of animal healthcare, with veterinarians increasingly forced to practice defensive medicine and with pet owners increasingly pursuing legal action beyond the regulatory body. Defensive medicine refers to departing from normal medical practice as a safeguard to litigation. It can involve unnecessary tests being performed, or treatments prescribed to be safe, and on the converse risky procedures, that could benefit patients, are avoided, serving the function to protect the physician.

Through the investigation and determination process, there is little to no scope for either party to present on and discuss their interests or needs, therefore preventing an opportunity for the conflict to be transformed. While serious misconduct must be addressed, the dispute resolution framework used by the Board doesn’t offer any opportunity to restore a complainant’s faith and trust in the veterinary profession or allow for any understanding of a practitioner’s perspective. The lack of communication (directly or facilitated by a third party) between the disputants thwarts any opportunity for understanding, forgiveness, apology and or reconciliation regardless of whether there has been a finding of a breach. When no breach has been found, the process has still further damaged both parties’ relationships and little has been done to address the fact the complainant is still aggrieved and the practitioner still attacked and untrusted.

In the author’s experience, the majority of complaints arise due to miscommunications between client and practitioner, accidental mishaps, communication breakdown with the practice team or sometimes acts of nature where an animal has a grave reaction that could not be foreseen. Given the root causes of these complaints tends to be miscommunication rather than misconduct, the author suggests there is much to be gained by introducing mediation into the VPA dispute resolution process.

 Better Resolution, Regulation and Relationships through Mediation

With mediation often used in human medicine to resolve clinical, bioethical and medical malpractice disputes to save time, money, emotional energy and lost opportunities, why not introduce facilitative mediation into animal medicine? Using a facilitative mediation process as a precursor to or part of a formal process under the Act arguably gives the parties the opportunity to better address the substance of a complaint, create shared understanding of the issues and potentially party-generated more effective options for resolution.

Other jurisdictions have already moved to include facilitative mediation as part of their regulatory regimes. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in the UK for example found that facilitative mediation should be employed early in veterinary disputes. It was their recommendation that facilitative mediation form part of the dispute resolution framework as a way to improve client interactions, the delivery of care and to better support veterinarians overall in their work/as a profession.

The majority of complaints raised by pet owners in the United Kingdom, like in Australia, fall outside of the professional misconduct remit of the governing body. In these situations, the RCVS has embraced mediation as a way to resolve complaints and allows concerns, that fall outside of the professional standards remit, to be resolved to both parties’ satisfaction. The scheme has reported success with 78% of cases resolved after being sent to mediation (BVA 2017).  While the UK approach is only in the early stages, it is already showing huge promise as a better, less adversarial, confidential environment for constructive communication between disputing parties that can only add value to the profession (and the clients). In cases of gross professional misconduct, litigation is likely to remain the most appropriate remedy, however facilitative mediation can still assist to work through the parties’ emotional needs and interests.

Reducing the Impact of Complaints through Mediation

In 2016, thirty-three complaints were submitted to the Veterinary Practitioners Board of New South Wales (VPBNSW).  Eight were upheld and the veterinarians were found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.  The remaining 75% of complaints were dismissed. Moreover, since 2010, new complaints raised against veterinary surgeons has risen from 42 to 57 and since 2007 they have more than doubled ( 25 increased to 57) (VPBNSW Annual Report 2018) Though not all complaints resulted in arbitration, they would still have created anxiety to the veterinarian involved and distress to the pet owner. Whether these complaints were seen as legitimate or not by the board, they were to the complainant and remain real threats to practitioners.

As outlined in the previous section, engaging in facilitative mediation would enable each party to see the dispute from each other’s perspective, potentially reducing anxiety and dis-ease, re-establishment of client-doctor relationship and professional self-confidence and acknowledge the emotional impact of complaints.  The development of solutions to address why a complaint arose could also lead to improvement in clinical and customer standards.


With the suicide rate for veterinarians in Australia reported as four times higher than the general population and double that of other healthcare professionals, the industry is facing both a mental health crisis and skill shortages. With increased dissatisfaction with the current complaints processes and such serious stress on the profession, it is critical that the authorities review the dispute resolution and regulatory processes. Introducing facilitative mediation as part of the process is a clear and low risk opportunity to improve complaints handling, client satisfaction, practitioner wellbeing and the delivering of quality veterinary care in NSW and across Australia.

Mediators Beyond Borders International: Peacebuilders in a world of conflict

This post has been contributed by Rosie Carpenter, a student in the JCU Master of Conflict Management and Resolution, supervised by Claire Holland. Rosie is currently completing an internship as part of her studies with Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) in the “Innovation and Impact” team. She is passionate about helping people to improve their lives, supporting others to accomplish personal goals, manage conflict effectively, and working towards achieving peaceful societies. Rosie has written this post as part of her role in supporting the organisation of the 2019 MBBI Peace Congress.

Are you a Disruptor?  Become a Peacebuilder in a World of Conflict.

Conflict exists worldwide. War-torn countries have communities in which they may not have access to any form of justice system. Within these communities there may be no, or limited access to police enforcement for protection, prison security system, legal representation, structured court system or judges to settle their case. How do these groups form peaceful resolutions to conflicts which arise within their lives?

Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) are a not-for-profit organisation which over the past 10 years have successfully formed a network of conflict-transformation practitioners, mediators and community leaders. MBBI goes into the heart of these communities to educate local leaders with the knowledge and skills used to promote peacebuilding and conflict-transformation, which encourages sustainable positive change into the future.

Disruptors: Being Peacebuilders in a World of conflict is the vision statement for the 2019 International Peace Congress to be held in Bail from 6th to 8th November 2019 at the Bali Intercontinental Hotel and Resort where accommodation packages are currently available.  Registrations for the congress are invited by MBBI for mediators, Rotary peacebuilders, conflict transformation practitioners, organisational leaders, government diplomats, public officials, advocates and academics to join them as trailblazers, changemakers and risk-takers. This year’s event will have a transformative emphasis on LeadershipVision, Innovation, and Implementation.  To become involved within this ground-breaking opportunity to share in the unique experiences and teachings from like-minded people who share the passion for empowering others to strive for peace through conflict resolution.

“We all have different inspirations, but one goal: a better world.” -Ernesto Arguello

The Global Vision for MBBI is “The 2020 Decade of Peace” development initiative which includes innovative projects such as:

  • Women’s Role in Building Peace
  • Innovating Social Change
  • The Asian Perspective on Mediation
  • Youth and Conflict Resolution
  • Equipping our Leaders

“The 2020 Decade of Peace” will be launched at the 2019 International Peace Congress in Bali to progressively introduce global peace through these projects backed by an increase in regional partnerships with worldwide community-minded groups such as Rotary International, the Bali International Arbitration & Mediation Centre and the United Nations. Congress will serve as a catalyst for the 2020 Decade of Peace Initiative, which invites individuals and organizations from around the world to advance mediation, dialogue, and conflict transformation practices as a mechanism for socio-economic change. You will be recognized as a Founding Member of the 2020 Decade of Peace Initiative, and you will have the ongoing opportunity to share your work and be showcased on our international platforms for years to come.

MBBI in partnership with The Bali International Arbitration & Mediation Centre (BIAMC) has fostered transnational relationships within this important region which has experienced surges in conflict as the region rapidly expands into becoming one of the fastest growing global economies. BIAMC is a non-profit service centre which provides elite alternative conflict management and resolution using arbitration and mediation internationally. Using its professional staff with creative and dynamic solutions, BIAMC succeeds with alternative dispute resolution where conventional forms are not effective.  The BIAMC’s core values are YOUFIRST, Young at heart innovation, Out performance through leadership, Unwavering accountability, First class and fast-track service, Integrity without fail, Reverence in diversity, Safeguard community and Transparency.

The MBBI Rotary Partnership Working Group (MBBI-RWG) is a collaborative partnership which combines resources from both organisations to strive towards the prevention and reduction of worldwide conflicts, encouraging peace while progressively healing communities. MBBI will lead this change to facilitate the exchange of innovative peacebuilding practices into the next decade and beyond by collaborating with leaders of communities and providing transformative education to those who are in desperate need of these alternative conflict resolution skills, to build peaceful resolutions.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a moulder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Play an Active Role in Advancing the UN Development Goal 16:

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Inclusive Societies will be actioned at the 2019 Bali Congress.  We need your voice, vision, and experience to represented in this event, so that you can be a part of a collaborative effort to advance a global mission towards peace, prosperity, and positive social change. By attending the 2019 Congress you will develop a collective vision of what 2030 might look like, and what steps we will take to advance this goal of the United Nations.

Partnerships and sponsorships are available for individuals, corporations and governments to expand their business opportunities onto the global stage, building upon the growing economy within and enable this important peacebuilding to continue over future decades. For MBBI gaining future financial funding is imperative to achieve their significant global vision.

To find out more about MBBI and their many global initiatives, visit their website

Join us at the 2019 Peace Congress! To register visit,



A case for coaching: Influencing cultural change at the ATO *

Tina Hoyer** and Claire Holland***

*The views expressed in this payer are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Taxation Officer (ATO) or James Cook University (JCU).

** Tina Hoyer is currently on a 12 month secondment to the JCU Conflict Management and Resolution Program from the ATO. Tina leads the ATO In-House Mediation Service.

*** Claire Holland is the Course Coordinator of the JCU Conflict Management and Resolution Program. She is a lecturer and researcher in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and conflict resolution processes.

Dispute Resolution and the ATO

The Australian Taxation Office (the ATO) is one of the leading government agencies utilising Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and has achieved a substantial reduction in disputes proceeding to litigation over the last five years. This is largely due to the ATO’s sophisticated Dispute System Design (DSD) and the ATO’s internal use of ADR methods, including the implementation of initiatives such as in-house facilitation (mediation), the dispute assist program, and independent review. Hoyer and Holland are proposing to trial a coaching model specifically designed for ATO operatives (auditors and objections officers) to build their dispute resolution capacity and improve the way in which they deal with tax disputes. It is envisaged this coaching model will complement the ATO’s toolkit for resolving tax disputes, and influence positive cultural change within the ATO.

Resolving tax disputes earlier saves time and costs for taxpayers and the ATO, and provides certainty for taxpayers. More importantly, if the taxpayers perception of the dispute resolution process is fair, then they are more likely to have a positive attitude toward the ATO and are more likely to meet their taxation obligations voluntarily.

Since 2013, the ATO has been undergoing a comprehensive program of reinvention a central theme of which has been fair, efficient and timely dispute resolution approaches in its interactions with taxpayers. The ATO disputes policy has comprehensive key principles of dispute management to promote a resolution culture based on effective communication, genuine engagement, collaboration, and strategies that are fair and proportionate to the matters in dispute, as well as leading to early resolution at minimal cost. The ATO has been recognised as having an effective DSD and possessing many best practice principles. However, some deficiencies have been identified; one such deficiency being inadequate staff training on conflict management. In addition, the ATO has been subjected to much adverse public attention in regard to its handling of disputes particularly in relation individual and small business taxpayers.

Conflict coaching has the potential to support ATO operatives to develop greater competency, confidence and understanding of choices that they can make that will meet the key principles of the ATO disputes policy.

Can conflict coaching assist?

Coaching is a term used to define a wide variety of activities. In the literature, coaching has been described as a conversation one person has with another to help them move forward or create change. Coaches work with individuals and groups to achieve their desired outcomes and it unlocks a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. Jones and Brinket define conflict coaching as a process for the purpose of developing the disputants (the clients) conflict-related understanding, intervention strategies and interaction skills.[1] Hardy and Alexander, principals of Conflict Coaching International, state that conflict coaching is provided by a conflict specialist whose role it is to assist the client to develop

1)         clarity about the conflict situation;

2)         greater understanding of their own and other people’s needs and goals;

3)         identify and evaluate their choices for moving forward;

4)         develop confidence about managing conflict and achieving their goals; and

5)         increase their conflict management skills so that they can constructively engage in conflict.[2]

The focus of the conflict coaching process is on assisting the individual to become clearer and more confident about their conflict situation. In the ATO context, this includes supporting ATO operatives to analyse their own behaviour and develop a greater understanding about what choices they can make in the situation that could result in a positive outcome for the taxpayer and the ATO in line with the key principles of the ATO disputes policy.

Freedman suggests that when working in complex adaptive systems, such as the healthcare sector, conflict coaching can be used to support conflict transformation or management, rather than focusing on resolution. Orientating the purpose of the coaching is important to ensure the coaching model, and style are best ‘fit for purpose’.  An adapted coaching model drawing on the REAL Conflict Coaching process and incorporating Ury’s 7 step negotiation preparation[3] will be developed and trialed with ATO operatives to determine if coaching is an effective process to support a conflict transformation mindset that results in greater positive tax dispute outcomes for the taxpayer and the ATO.

Orientating Conflict Coaching for the ATO context

To research the effectiveness of this coaching model, a research project will be conducted that employs a holistic approach to examine the model from all stakeholders’ perspectives. This research project seeks to understand whether:

  • the coaching model is effective in ensuring the ATO operative coachees are applying interest-based negotiation skills (considering the taxpayers interests, alternatives, all options for resolution, ATO policy and effectively communicating) when negotiating with a taxpayer;
  • the coaching model is effective in improving the ATO operative coachees’ dispute resolution capacity and if the they will self-assess any changes in attitudes, beliefs or values as a result of the coaching; and,
  • the coaching model can be implemented in other large government and non-government organisations.

This research will:

  • contribute to the growing body of knowledge on one-on-one dispute resolution methods;
  • evaluate the coaching model’s effectiveness in improving the coachees dispute resolution capacity and achieving genuine cultural change; and,
  • provide a basis for discussion for the implementation of this type of coaching model in other large government and non-government organisations.

Holland and Hoyer have recently presented at the National Mediation Conference in Canberra in April and will soon publish a paper outlining their research, Holland, C. & Hoyer, T (2019 – under review) A case for coaching: Influencing cultural change at the ATO. 

[1] Jones T.S. & Brinkert R. Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies and Skills for the Individual, (2008) Sage, Los Angeles, CA.

[2] Samantha Hardy and Nadja Alexander (2014) Beyond Mediation: How conflict coaching can enhance your practice, Journal on 3rd Asian Mediation Association Confernce.

[3] Roger Fisher and William Ury, (1991) Getting to Yes – Negotiation agreement without giving in, Second Edition, Penguin books.