Reading a good mediation or conflict resolution book I often say should not be a spectator sport. Rather, it should 1) captivate you by the story being told with you as the reader wanting to know what will happen next; 2) motivates you to reflect on how the story unfolding applies to your mediation practice; and I think what is also critically important is 3) not always agreeing with what is said.
Jan Frankel Schau’s View From The Middle Of The Road: A Mediator’s Perspective On Life, Conflict and Human Interaction clearly passes the above three litmus tests. Her book, motivated by Galton and Love’s Stories Mediators Tell (read the review here), adapts a similar style of presenting stories of actual mediation sessions Schau has conducted yet it is not just her recollection the stories are told. She presents each mediation case from multi-perspectives of all of those involved. This process of presenting each mediation session identifies the different skills she uses, lessons for both the mediator and lawyers, provides a reflection, and then often shares valuable tips that she utilized.
The stories are vivid descriptions that will have many mediators and lawyers reflecting on similar situations they have been involved in. Schau further develops this connection between her experiences and those of the reader by complimenting them with “tools” that range from the obvious to those requiring a moment to stop and discern. It is important to note that even the obvious tips such as not making assumptions, reframing, and checking your biases at the door still provide simple reminders of the things mediators should be doing.
Schau spent an entire year collecting this data dedicating a day each week to recount the case she mediated. She states the intended readers are law students, mediators, parties to the mediation, and the lawyers representing the participants. Each will be able to resonate with each story based on her approach.
Aside of being brought in to the secret world of another mediator’s work (hey, who does not like access to the behind-the-scenes of any profession?), Schau cleverly, by providing the story of each person involved in each mediation, also guides the reader to develop what unfortunately some parties and lawyers failed to have- empathy.
Empathy, according to researchers (including me), is critical for mediators and each party involved in the mediation session to possess if there is hope of moving towards resolution. The ‘road’ Schau takes us on includes constant, subtle lessons in empathy. As each story unfolds, we get the insight, motivations, and perspective of all the parties involved. Schau brilliantly accomplishes this not by describing empathy in terms expected of a training manual or textbook (do any mediation manuals or textbooks do this for that matter?), but rather through a narrative that appeals to the reader both cognitively and emotionally. Her descriptions allow the reader to reflect on what they would do while it also reminds the reader that each person entering the mediation can view the same situation much differently most of the times.
Feel free to disagree with me on this point but what really intrigues me and pulls me into reading narrative style mediation books (however not limited to mediation- see here) is the idea of being a mediator myself allows me to reflect with a critical perspective where it is not required to always agree with what Schau says and has done. One such example includes her body language and how empathy and trust can be displayed beyond spoken words. Schau shares she literally will lean in to create trust while she also explains that sometimes she sits alongside a person to “subtly convey that ‘I am on your side’” (p. 39). I am sure this will get readers to reflect on a variety of levels including what nonverbal actions they choose to use and which are appropriate and inappropriate.
Is this book for you? Simply yes, I recommend it if you fit any of the intended people previously mentioned that Schau has written the book for. As a profession, we rarely get the opportunity to peak behind the secret world of mediation sessions for a variety of reasons. Schau’s book provides an affordable and practical opportunity for mediators to enter the world of a fellow mediator and come out with having read enjoyable stories while also benefiting by getting valuables tips from an expert mediator based on her real-life experiences.
I appreciate Schau for letting us in on her journey while she takes this moment in the middle of the road to reflect. When you get to the end of the road Schau’s book has lead you on you will have gained greater insight into how an experienced mediator has navigated diverse cases allowing you to be more knowledgeable on the roads your mediations take you either as the neutral or the party.