Student Spotlight: Caryn Blanchard
Caryn Blanchard is graduate of Abilene Christian University with a Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Caryn is a Recruitment Specialist for Therapy Solutions Unlimited, and is an avid writer and freelance contributor to Christian Woman Magazine. Caryn completed her undergraduate work at Oklahoma Christian University. She and her family reside in Livonia, Michigan and worship with the Livonia Church of Christ. Her husband is a youth minister and they have three wonderful kids, Lily, Elijah, and Micah.
Extraterrestrials at the Mediation Table
Caryn Blanchard, M.A.
After I graduated with my Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution, I knew I had several directions I could chose professionally. I loved the idea of mediation. I knew I acquired the skill set to sit in the mediator’s chair. Opportunities abound for me to use conflict resolution skills in the church that my husband and I serve as minister and wife. However, having the skills and being prepared for the mediation table in real time are often two different things.
On my journey to get started and well-networked, I met a helpful mediator/ attorney and she included me in a mediation training class for local litigators as a volunteer mediation role-player. In Michigan you must achieve forty hours of mediation training before you can function as a court appointed mediator. Mediation as a profession is a relatively new ballgame in Michigan and is almost solely performed by qualified attorneys who complete the required training.
The idea of a role play seemed simple to me. I had done countless role plays during the Residency Session at ACU and loved every minute. My initial thoughts on this were: 1) This will be cake! I've done this before. 2) What a great way to meet people in the business! I clearly had no idea what I was getting into.
On the morning of the mediation training, it finally sunk in that a ton of successful attorneys, mostly out of the Detroit metro area, would be sitting across the mediation table from me. It was at this point that I considered heading for the hills… especially when a well-meaning attorney introduced me to the room as "the minister's wife”. I completely felt I was in over my head. I would imagine E.T. felt similar questioning stares when he walked into a room.
At any rate, I played the plaintiff, and all in one day I lost my leg, my husband, my house, and my job. During the loss of my pretend husband, I was being badgered by the mediator (yes, the mediator) and finally my beleaguered response shook up this well-composed role-play. The mediator asked, after a long miserable line of questioning, "...and what was your husband doing for the 30 minutes while you waited for the emergency vehicle?" All I could muster was, "Dying?" At this point I think they could see how absolutely scary they all were to me and we had a good laugh together. However, the fact that I was a bit intimidated seemed to be normal, acceptable and, perhaps, intended. I was clearly too soft and the oddball in the room.
Truly, they were all amazing and very talented people, but their approach to mediation looked very different from mine. For example, I was surprised that the mediator did not ask open-ended questions. As litigators, his normal objective in questioning was to get fast facts and a “yes” or “no” would suffice. Discussing the “heart” of any matter seemed to make them nervous. Needless to say, they were tough cookies... wonderful and intelligent, but very tough!
The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that we have a lot to learn from each other. Mediators and attorneys must learn to work together to achieve the greatest resolution possible for the parties. The knowledge and understanding of law is vitally important in some mediations and should not be discounted. There are crucial times during fact gathering in mediation that an attorney’s experiences prove extremely beneficial. Likewise, taking the time to ask open ended questions of both parties and patiently seeking true resolution (not just a tidy quick fix) goes a long way toward creating a durable, mutually beneficial outcome. In the end, if attorneys and mediators (including non-attorney mediators) can work together, parties will benefit and the field of mediation will continue to grow as a viable alternative to litigation.