Those of us who did our mediation training in the late 80’s were required to adopt ‘Trust the Process’ as our mantra. I think there were T-shirts too (or maybe I am just revealing myself as an aging hippie). While I can smile about the T-shirt I have adopted the message. As a teacher, researcher and practitioner of ADR I recognise the value of choosing not to focus on the ‘solution’ and trusting that the process will give the parties an opportunity to discover a good outcome for them.
But recently I had the unusual opportunity of watching 12 quite experienced mediators at work in 12 different mediations. Whilst watching some very elegant work I also observed many moments that were far from elegant. To my surprise, what I watched was the process getting in the way of the mediation rather than enhancing it.
It was disconcerting to observe and to be fair the observer presence may have contributed to some awkwardness. To my eyes the mediators were quite heavy handed in driving the process to where they obviously thought the parties should be going. Some went as far as saying ‘Well – I’m in charge of the process and what we need to do now is …’. Others simply intervened to require parties deeply engaged in recounting their experiences to stop and create an issues list. It looked like an exercise of power or perhaps a need to demonstrate usefulness rather than skilful use of the dynamics of the moment. I came away feeling that what I had seen was more about the mediators than about the parties and their dispute. It was less about ‘trust’ and all about thrust’.
I have been reflecting on this in the context of the professional identity theme to which members of this Research Network are contributing. It reinforced my view that in most professions, the path from training to practice is a series of connected steps. The lessons from formal training are interpreted and enhanced via supervision and ‘on the job’ learning from more experienced professionals.
As a calling largely practised confidentially and alone, ADR lacks the supervision and guidance which enhances and distinguishes established professions. It is another consideration on the road to establishing a professional identity.