Virginia's Judicial System

The Path To Artistry In Mediation

Who doesn't want to practice mediation that is "effortless, graceful, agile, and flowing" - staying in the zone of high competency and providing clients an excellent dispute resolution process? The authors of The Making of a Mediator - Developing Artistry In Practice (242 p., Jossey Bass, 2000) tell us that this kind of mediation doesn't happen by accident - that it can be learned. This is an optimistic book. It outlines a promising path for professional development that every mediator can take. Michael Lang and Alison Taylor boil it all down to this: mediators need to squeeze out much more learning from their mediation experiences. They can't assume that logging in more mediation sessions, without disciplined case analysis, will lead to higher levels of expertise.

In a nutshell, Taylor's and Lang's methodology is this:

  1. Notice critical moments of interaction between the mediator and the parties to the dispute and between the parties themselves,
  2. Reflect on critical moments, while they're happening and afterwards,
  3. Connect our mediator behavior in critical moments with our own theories of conflict resolution,
  4. Explore alternatives to our patterned behavior by keeping an open mind, and
  5. Be deliberate - consciously choosing our next steps.

The watchwords for this cycle of learning are "conscious reflection" and "conscious decision-making". The authors urge us to use pre- and post- session worksheets for our cases - to write down our initial hypothesis, our rationales, our subsequent hypotheses, our interventions, how effective they were, other approaches we might have taken, etc. All of these worksheet entries give the mediator a much more unified view of what he's doing, why he's doing it, whether it is working, and what he could do differently. Couple this deliberate examination with a mind open to alternatives, a steady supply of new theories and methods, and regular peer consultation, say Taylor and Lang, and you will see your skills and confidence take off!

One stand-out technique in the book is "maximizing the critical moment". In an example, the parties' tempers rise sharply when the discussion takes a new turn. The mediator says, "I sense there's more tension in the room than there was before. Are you getting to topics of the conflict that are making both of you angry? I wonder how each of you is dealing with that." The authors urge mediators to notice these small, pivotal events and embrace their possibilities, rather than ignore, dismiss, or give them a patterned response. The recommended approach is to explore them directly with the parties. Here, according to Taylor and Lang, are the ripe opportunities for creativity and movement toward resolution. To help readers recognize "critical moments", the authors offer a few clues:

  1. Mediator feels internal pressure to take some action, or make some decision
  2. Mediators hear an inner voice saying "Here's a great opportunity", "Danger!", or "Oh, no! I've blown it!"
  3. Mediator's face is flushed, body is tense, breathing is fast
  4. Mediator is acutely aware of his/her own interaction

Plain and simple, The Making of a Mediator has an answer for mediators who sense they have "reached a plateau" in their skills - who have higher competency as a goal, but don't know how to get there. Taylor and Lang put a detailed roadmap in the reader's hands. The real challenge is not to understand this accessible book, but to have the self- discipline and determination to use it.

Book Review submitted by Diane Weaver and Jeannette Twomey. Diane is a Virginia Certified Mediator and EEO Director at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice. Jeannette is a principal with MediationWorks, Inc. , a conflict prevention and resolution firm in Vienna, Virginia.

This page last modified: March 26, 2003