ADR professionals, our future, in my opinion, depends on how proficient we are in clearly defining and precisely getting the word out as to who, what, and where we are, and how valuable we are to the community.
While out and about networking, when introducing my profession, the word mediate is often confused with the word meditate. Meditate- to muse over, contemplate, ponder or intend to plan. Mediate- to act as an intermediary, influence, to bring about. The two words sound alike, but those of us who mediate, know they are very different.
Within the community the mediation/arbitration profession is becoming more and more recognized as a necessary and beneficial technique of ADR in resolving conflicts and disputes. We see mediation used widely in State & Federal sectors, and the Superior, Justice and Municipal courts. My belief is mediation/arbitration will continue to be increasingly utilized, as this form of dispute resolution has proven to be not only cost effective, faster and a pre-emptive to the number and types of cases that are bogging down the courts; but invaluable as noted in the additional examples of the communities use of mediation that follow:
In attempt to free their police departments of the role of peacemakers and diminish the need for lengthy & expensive legal resolutions; various cities have existing/potential programs in place to serve it’s citizens that focus on neighbor disputes, i.e. barking dogs, property lines, overhanging trees, parking, etc. As you are aware the Better Business Bureau successfully utilizes arbitrators for issues between business’ and consumers and “Lemon Law” disputes.
Educational systems such as Special School Districts, whose disputes generally concern evaluation, placement, or the provision of a free appropriate public education, utilizes mediation to resolve those controversies. Many traditional school districts are attempting to reduce violence on their campuses by implementing conflict resolution programs such as “Peer Mediation”.
The Attorney Generals Office’ Conflict Resolution Program receives request for mediators to resolve such civil rights issues as discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, truancy, victim offenders, voting and retaliation. These types of disputes could arise between state agencies, counselor v clients & citizens with other non- monetary issues.
The need for mediators/arbitrators is expanding in a variety of fields inside the business & social community. Insurance companies, churches, the internet, health care professions, service industries, commercial banks, environmental companies & predictably small businesses will take advantage of the service and put into practice the use of mediators. Real estate, construction, credit card companies & a myriad of industries are importing the language of mediation/arbitration in their contracts as a deterrent to getting entrenched in the legal system.
In describing the many uses of mediation/arbitration the value of considering Alternative Dispute Resolution becomes increasingly clear. The successful future of mediation must also involve an increasing desire for those mediators/arbitrators who are especially culturally sensitive. In this global climate, choosing mediators who understand that people’s backgrounds influence the way they understand and evaluate facts and approach negotiation, makes not only good business sense, but promotes successful mediation.
Having just a good grasp of the facts is not sufficient for Mediators representing the Parties; Mediators/Arbitrators must know who the client is and what there is about the client’s culture, gender or ethnicity that will positively or negatively impact the process and promote or prevent a fair and impartial settlement. (Malcolm Sher, Mediate.com). In an attempt to identify the impact of such matters as Native American rights & burial sights; religion; social & economic backgrounds, and other diverse groups, we may find those differences can cause unexpected breakdowns in communication. As an example:
- In America, for example, persons are not considered trustworthy if they will not look you in the eye.
- In Hispanic countries, it is often considered disrespectful to look others in the eye and it is a strong show of respect to divert your eyes down when meeting or talking to someone.
- In Japan the color white symbolizes death. Bringing a wedding gift wrapped in white paper and tied with a white bow (an American Tradition), would communicate a negative message.
- Jews, Muslim and Christians observe different customs which have special religious significance.
We can clearly see cultural and diversity skills are important in assessing the appropriate moves to make that relate to the individual cultural framework and their unique perceptions, behavior, communication, processing of ideas and information, views of and responses to conflict, views of and responses to different mediator orientations, and views of and responses to methods and practices of conflict resolution. (Herrman, Hollett, Gale & Foster - Defining Mediator knowledge and skills).
As I have pointed out, opportunities are expanding; however, demands for mediation services, coincide with growing concerns about quality assurance and professional accountability. The competition if you are not an attorney is challenging. Professional mediators, it is incumbent on us getting as much advanced training through formal academic courses, educational materials and attending ACR and other professional conferences, so that we become mediators who are characterized as sophisticated, skilled and armed with the ability to be flexible and responsive in our profession.
AAA, JAMS, CDRS, Mediate.com, LERA are some of the organizations that assist in training, advertising, and marketing as well as serve as a resource for giving voice to professional mediators/arbitrators.
In conclusion it is up to all ADR professionals, our future depends on it, to be proactive in getting the word out. Whether we are saying Meditate or Mediate, the process works.