Making of a mediator – April 2020

Denise Evans monthly ‘making of a mediator’ blog series is aimed at dispute resolution professionals. Each month, she will explore different topics and share her own reflections as a mediator.

Anyone can do a course and learn the skills required to become an accredited mediator however it takes much more than that to really become a mediator.  One of the most fundamental ingredients of becoming and being a mediator is that you have to truly know yourself.

Knowing yourself takes huge courage because you have to know what you don’t know in order to know yourself - and often discover what you would rather not know.

A catch cry of modern day mediation practice is all about self-reflection and developing your practice through focusing on what happened in the mediation - what went well, what could have been done better and noticing the moments when what you did as a mediator impacted on the process.

My experience has taught me that you need to first understand your whakapapa - who you are and where you come from.  Over the last week, I have had cause to reflect on the impact our childhood experiences have on our lives as well as the genes we inherit from former generations.

I am a fourth generation New Zealander. My ancestors arrived in New Zealand from difficult circumstances in England and Ireland. They came with a strong will to create a better life. They brought their trauma histories with them, and used the power and resilience which comes from having these experiences to develop farms, businesses and raise successive generations - each benefitting from the hard work of the one before.

The generations who followed them and preceded me were influenced by historical events - the New Zealand wars, two world wars, depression, times of abundance and prosperity. They were also influenced by changing social constructs such as the changing economic activity altering roles of women and men, fathers and mothers, as well as the changing face of parenting.  Each generation added something to the makeup of who I am today - that is the raw material which was available to me at the beginning of my journey of becoming a mediator.

To put this in context, when we are asked for a medical history, doctors will want to know the diseases and medical conditions of your parents. They use this information to build a risk profile and to forward plan your care and take steps to prevent and protect you from things such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes etc. Doctors will give advice about lifestyle changes that will assist you to live longer or in a better state of health.

All this “history” and genetic material is the raw material which is available when you want to become a mediator.  Then, just like the advice given a by a doctor, it is the responsibility of the individual to identify the “work” that needs to be done to deal with the genetic issues.   For anyone wanting to become a mediator that means doing work on themselves to understand the impact that their individual values, norms and beliefs have or could have on them as a mediator.

Back to childhood experiences. I have identified that one of the greatest skills available to me as a mediator is my ability to “feel how people are”. Like yin and yang, deficit and ability go hand in hand but only if you have developed the ability to see it in that way.

Abundance can be a deficit for a mediator in that if a person has not experienced a lack of something then it can be difficult for them to understand the experience of others where deficit or lack of something is the reality.

I watched on Netflix a series called The English Game which was based on the historical event where working-class club football Blackburn Olympic won the 1883 FA Cup. Two things impressed me - first that some members of the “Old Etonians” who had previously won the FA cup for many years and were on the Board that decided the rules had no ability to understand anything that was outside of their experience and secondly how hard life was for working class people in England at the time. 

Had it not been for one member of that group who had experienced emotional neglect from his father and as a consequence was interested in finding ways to “connect”, there may have been no change among that group and no chance for the working class to participate.  His desire to find out about the lives of the working class led to him forming a friendship with a footballer from the working class, an appreciation of what fairness meant and most importantly an understanding of the massive challenges the working class team faced.

His journey was all about empathy and the fact that you cannot have or use empathy unless you have the ability to see outside of your “bubble”.  

The lesson from all of this for becoming a mediator is find out who you are, understand the “deficits” you have in your development and use the deficits to build your skill, ability to connect and most of all use your knowledge of yourself to develop empathy for another person’s situation, the skills they have and the deficits they need to overcome.

About the author

Denise Evans is a leading dispute resolution professional and Principal, Dispute Resolution at Fair Way.

With over 30 years’ experience, Denise has committed her career to advancing the dispute resolution profession and developing New Zealand’s unique approach to resolving disputes. Her innovative and skilled method of resolving commercial and private disputes is renowned, placing her at the pinnacle of the dispute resolution profession.

Want more?

Click here to subscribe to The Independent, Fair Way’s free quarterly dispute resolution newsletter.  Each edition features personal and professional insights from our talented team of mediators, adjudicators and arbitrators.