Jay Clarke – the farewell interview

FairWay is saying a fond farewell to one of our most experienced mediators, Jay Clarke. Jay joined FairWay initially as an ACC Reviewer, then became our first full time mediator and conciliator in March 2009. Over this time, Jay has helped countless individuals, business and organisations to resolve disputes. With 40 years of experience in the industry, we had to capture some pearls of wisdom from Jay before he begins his retirement, or as he prefers to say ‘permanent holiday.’

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you start working within dispute resolution and why?

Believe it or not, I began my career as a mediator by taking papers in ‘Personnel Management’ at the U of A in 1978 (40 years ago -wow). Working as the Business Manager for the University 1975 – 1984 gave me the opportunity to study one paper per term / semester - so I advanced my Business Degree studies from the University of Leeds 1966 -1970 by doing the nearest topic to mediation at that time. From there, I completed various other courses (while working full time) including the Graduate Diploma Business Studies (Dispute Resolution) from Massey and joining AMINZ in 1996. Formally, I first used mediation in dispute resolution at the Disputes Tribunal 2004 – 2007 working as a Tribunal Referee.

How have workplaces changed since you began your career?

I’ve seen enormous change in the ‘workplace’ since I took my first office job in 1966. It used to be so formal, hierarchical, stuffy and unhappy / unhealthy. I love the current workplace environments – particularly those at FairWay (and in particular our former top floor office at Penrose, Auckland - it was the best working environment in so many ways).

What’s been the highlight of your career?

Working for FairWay, or DRSL as we were known back when I started here. I have loved the people, the management and the autonomy that I have enjoyed over almost 10 years. I would have retired 5 years earlier if I hadn’t been so content. My best manager of all time has been Mike Dunn. His style of management brings the best out in people. Thank you Mike.

From your experience, how has mediation and dispute resolution evolved over the past 40 years?

Mediation has gone from nothing to everything in 40 years. Once unknown and today virtually ‘the must go to’ process for any dispute. It’s all about communication – allowing and assisting people to express their concerns in a safe and supportive environment.

When you tell people that you are a mediator, what questions do you usually get asked?

It used to be – ‘do you close your eyes when meditating’.

They didn’t know the difference between meditating and mediating.

Now they want to know every detail and are very interested and would like to know so much more. It’s really exciting that problem solving on all levels (national and international) comes down to working with the disputants in a positive, respectful and safe environment. I usually explain that the mediator ensures the process is set up properly and when it is, then the skills of the individuals working together with the common purpose of resolving their differences works almost by itself. Of course, a well-trained, gifted and experienced mediator is the magic ingredient.

Do you think people are more open or closed to mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) today?

Without a doubt people are much more open to mediation and ADR. If they’re not sure of the process, they are curious to find out more. Once they understand (the safeguards offered and explicitly trust the mediator) even those who believe that they have nothing to give or gain will still join a mediated meeting with their ‘worst enemy’ - just to experience the process.

Since you joined FairWay in 2009, what are some the biggest changes that you’ve seen in the organisation? Do you think things have changed much?

Yes, DRSL / FairWay has changed enormously since I first attended a Review hearing (as an advocate for a friend who had suffered stomach cancer in 2001).

Some of those DRSL people are however still here and they are as wonderful as they were when I first started working full time with them later in 2009 (as a contract Reviewer). The culture has changed. The variety of work has changed. The pressures are greater. The management structures are more rigid / defined. The goodwill towards each other hasn’t changed. I miss the fact that we don’t all come together as a company at least every 24 months. That would help regain the family friendly atmosphere that permeated the whole country. The ‘family feel’ has changed a little but that goes with our growth. The role of the CEO has always been pivotal and I’m pleased to say all three that I have experienced have been, in the main very approachable. That makes a huge difference. The personal touch (just as in mediation itself) is just so important to everything in life. It’s what makes us human. It’s why we can be so great for each other and the planet.

Obviously, we have grown the business from 100% adjudication to what it is today - and most of that growth is in the ADR services we offer. Obviously, again, I would say that all those wonderful people engaged in ADR have lifted the excitement, verve and enjoyment in the offices :-)

Can you share with us some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way?

Being human and being a mediator goes hand in hand. Therefore, patience and tolerance towards each other; kindness and knowing that we’re all different and valuing those differences. FairWay is all about human interactions. Our work is fundamental and contributes to the overall goodness in the world. Every day we aim to make life more certain, better for each other and with those with whom we come in contact. It’s such a joy to be part of that. It’s what gets me out of bed (at 4.30am) every morning. (I won’t miss the early morning rise although the ferry ride at 6.00am is mostly a great pleasure.)

Being humble enough to recognise and acknowledge a mistake and being good hearted enough to properly apologise for that mistake when you make it (and we all make them).

These cracks allow the light to shine in and the empathy to grow.

Take time to get to know each other, be genuine, be grateful for their time too.

(To read some more lessons from Jay, see Julia Broughtons article An Interview with FairWay's Gandalf)

Have you any advice to share with aspiring dispute resolution practitioners?

All the above and make sure that you prepare well for all your parties in advance -it’s their meeting and you need to have the skills and preparation to serve them well. A seamless process of service from beginning to end is what they require as they have enough troubles without you adding to them. They need to trust the mediator absolutely, so that they can focus on resolving their dispute. Give time for uninterrupted storytelling and then shift the focus to resolution.

Do your study, read widely, attend lots of training sessions, take part in mock mediations, join the AMIINZ, complete all their requirement and most of all - read anything written Kenneth Cloke!!

What are looking forward to most about retiring?

Being on fulltime holiday in our own home (Waiheke) with my wonderful partner Tricia, not too far away from other family and gardening, wood milling, swimming and walking every day.

A massive thank you to Jay for sharing his wisdom and experience with us in this interview. However, we couldn’t let Jay leave without letting someone say a few kinds words about Jay. Mike Dunn, Client Director has little something to add to this interview: 

Jay’s interview discussed what makes a good dispute resolver. One of the attributes he mentioned is trust, Ken Cloke’s following quote sums up Jay perfectly. 

“Trust is rebuilt by focusing not on what the other person did or did not do but on critiquing one's own behaviour, improving one's trustworthiness, and focusing attention not on words and promises but on actions, attitudes, and ways of being.”

The nature of our work is that we are constantly trying to make sense of imperfect situations. I had the privilege of co- mediating/conciliating with Jay on several matters. He brought a calm objectivity to the most complex of disputes. I agree with his statement that being human and being a mediator goes hand in hand, (this is true for adjudicators as well). 

In a mediation Jay is how we see him in the office, wise, respectful and a great listener. He has a special skill in navigating parties through the emotion of the dispute to the middle ground on which the solution ultimately lies. I expect that Jay has reached his elevated level of practice by ongoing self-reflection and the consistency between his values and his actions which is the essence of trust. 

I hope that Jay and Tricia have a long and contented retirement on their island paradise.

I want to conclude with another quote which can be directly applied to Jay. This time from Shakespeare concerning Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes as he was about to leave for France.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”