Mediation, Mediator, Mediation – PART II

Greg Rooney

(Part II of Greg’s blog following from last week’s Part I)

In response to the challenge of trying to provide value to the new collaborative economy the legal profession has sought to rebrand itself to try to recover commercial relevance. It has looked to the trusted mediation movement as its path to restoring that lost trust. The legal profession has sought to rebadge itself by dumping the designation “litigators” and replacing it with “Dispute Resolvers” (DR) now with lofty ideals:

“Through a fidelity to the good of DR, lawyers not only contribute constructively to society but they can also achieve positive interpersonal and individual change for their clients. This positive impact has the potential to extend to healing, wholeness, harmony and optimal human functioning.” (Boulle and Field) (1)

It is ironic that the long-term criticism of traditional mediation by the legal profession has been that it is too ‘touchy-feely’ and into “healing, wholeness, harmony and optimal human functioning” the very thing that it is now trying to champion DR as.

The proponents of the DR push have gone much further than a simple rebranding exercise. They have chosen to question and diminish the intent and identity of the traditional mediation movement.

Firstly, Boulle and Field (1) suggest that despite mediation’s versatility and diversity of applications it is not clear how mediation will respond to the challenges ahead. Secondly, they suggest it follows that this uncertainty for the future somehow renders mediation vulnerable to being subverted, rejected and replaced or modified beyond recognition.  They then conclude that because of this uncertainty for the future we should not pine for or have nostalgic sentiment for mediation’s (presumably lost or invalid) original intent and identity.

The real intent of the Dispute Resolution movement is revealed by the assertion that:

“It will be necessary to use research to ensure that if evaluative mediation becomes the normative approach, as well it might, that quality-control and ethical frameworks exist to prevent rogue mediators making de facto determinations.”  (Highlights inserted) Boulle and Field (1)

The recent Global Pound conferences were essentially a public relations exercise to pursue this end. It is the promotion of evaluative mediation and allied semi-determinative processes as the pre-eminent conflict resolution process by, in part, commandeering the high value of mediation in the eyes of the community. I am not sure the commercial world is buying this makeover, particularly when it still built on an adversarial solution focused culture that is not in harmony with modern economic drivers.

I would argue that the traditional non-evaluative ‘process’ approach to mediation is far more in tune with the modern collaborative economy. It is an experiential approach which gives the parties the time and space to step back and allow patterns to emerge. The mediator can sense and respond to these patterns.  This creates the potential for new opportunities to emerge out of the interaction that can lead to innovation and creativity. It can help repair disrupted trust which is the central foundation of the modern economy. It is mediating for the emergence of the new rather than providing an evaluation of the parties’ respective positions in order to close the gap.

The core facilitative skills that mediators acquire through the practice of sensing and responding to the immediacy of the moment equip them with the exact soft skills that the commercial world needs to manage in this complex environment. This is reflected in the fact that most MBA courses run throughout Australia have now been redesigned to incorporate soft skills as a core component of their coursework. Further, the big four accounting firms have created legal departments based on a collaborative non-litigious approach to providing legal expertise.

  1. Future mediation: A flexible bundle of knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethical attributes  Posted on 24/08/2018 by Dr Rachael Field.  Excerpts from Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field, from Mediation in Australia (LexisNexis, 2018)

(This is Part II of Greg’s three part series.)

Greg Rooney has been a mediator in private practice in Australia for 27 years and has since 1995 taught mediation and allied ADR subjects in a number of universities and private institutions in Australia and internationally. Greg has over the last 14 years mediated over 200 face-to-face meetings between religious leaders and individual victims of sexual abuse within a number of Christian religious institutions in Australia as well as abuse within the Australian Defence Force and the South Australian Police Force. Greg, together with colleagues Margaret Ross and Barbara Wilson, have since 2012 run an annual Mediation Retreat in Tuscany, Italy.  www.gregrooney.com.au

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