A coach once asked me to predict which way a drop of water would go around a rock up ahead. Of course there is no way of knowing: the water drop may not make it due to evaporation to the atmosphere, absorption by the river bank, and then if it does make it to the rock, whether it goes left or right, over or below. However, even if the future is uncertain, we can still comment on where the drop of water is at the moment. Even its relationship to our imagined future. And of course about its past.
When did mediation start?
I wonder when the first human chose not to resolve a conflict or dispute of others by telling them the solution but supporting them to find their own. Especially where they had power to impose (make and enforce) a solution. And how many such interventions have been made through the course of human time.
Mediation is both an idea and a process. As an idea it promotes self-responsibility and embraces self-determination. It believes in the ability of humans to take care of their own lives. As a process it has evolved to a point where there are many difference approaches (facilitative, transformative, narrative, party directed, and evaluative) that all use the term mediation to define how the idea is brought to life.
The field of mediation
The idea and process of mediation appear to be enjoying an expansive phase in their history. A self-organized field of mediation has gained self-awareness of the uniqueness of the process and the importance of its role. Some call it a profession. International and regional membership associations for mediators that create voluntary standards of conduct are common.
Debate amongst proponents of different approaches at conferences of professionals who self-identify as mediators is lively. For the most part mediation has been based on intuitive insights of how to resolve conflicts - coupled with reflective practice. More recently we are seeing the emergence of an evidence based or scientific approach to mediation knowledge.
Mediation in contemporary society
Mediation continues to be practiced in many diverse ways around the world both by professional and community members. Mediation has found fertile ground as an idea in many legal systems. The motivation has been varied. Some have advanced more practical social benefits like cost savings while others point to the quality of the decision made in mediation, and more abstract values like self-determination.
The field of mediation has created specializations in a variety of areas such as family, workplace, elder, environmental, commercial and the like. And some professions like HR, realtors, and hospital administrators who routinely find themselves at the intersection of conflict have also started to embrace and internalize the process (skill) of mediation.
Governments of the world are increasingly including mediation as part of the resolution process to address civil right disputes especially in labor, employment and family arenas. Some even provide the mediator’s.
While there is a growing general awareness of mediation, specific awareness of mediation as a valuable or indeed as an applicable option, is low.
One way we venture into the future is through vision statements. Like Roosevelt, my vision is world peace. My only question is how long will it take?
Clearly we are not there now, and as result I anticipate that the popularity of mediation as an idea and process will expand and contract cyclically but with a steady incline as we get closer to world peace.
And in my vision, peace is not the absence of conflict. At this point mediation and other collaborative, non-aggressive processes will have become the norm. The violent and adversarial past will be something people read about and find hard to comprehend!
Humans are getting less violent and yet continue to invest in aggressive and violent approaches to conflict resolution.
In the more short term I anticipate more scrutiny of the mediation process, especially in the legal context, with developments being more evidence based than intuitive. The courts will be rich learning grounds for insights, in part because the participants will test the limits of competition within a collaborative frame of reference, such that mediation provides.
Where I see the biggest opportunity however, is not in the legal system. I believe that the biggest role mediation has to play, is as a process that is institutionalized within the social fabric of our interactions with one another, not just when we are at the court house steps, but when our differences are first emerging, wherever we happen to be.
However, given the current low social awareness of the value or applicability of mediation, education of both end users but also providers will be crucial. I see this as an ongoing challenge. For example, currently in the United States, most HR professionals know about mediation but believe that it is something that other professionals do.
Interestingly, the largest professional membership organization for HR professionals in the world, the Society for Human Resource Management (see below), has established competency standards for certification that expect senior leaders to be able to mediate difficult situations among employees.
As this happens, and similar positive developments take place in schools, businesses, clubs and homes we will seed the slow ongoing improvement in the ability of humans to live together in peace with others. Mediation will continue to have an important role to play.
The 2014 SHRM Competency Model: Relationship Management
The SHRM competency model identifies nine competencies that define what it means to be a successful HR professional. The model offers two levels of certification: the certified professional (SHRM-CP) and senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP) levels. The content of the SHRM Competency Model was validated through a survey of over 32,000 HR professionals.
Relationship management is one of nine competencies and contains numerous mentions to mediation and conflict management. The others are communication, ethical practice, HR expertise, business acumen, critical evaluation, global and cultural effectiveness, leadership and navigation, consultation.
Relationship management is defined as “the ability to manage interactions to provide service and to support the organization.”
“In order to develop this competency, HR professionals should maintain productive interpersonal relationships and demonstrate aptitude to help others to do the same. Healthy interpersonal relationships among employees at an organization contribute positively to employee and organizational success.”
Competencies with Conflict Engagement Responsibilities
Early level expectations focus on:
- Listening without immediately providing the solution,
- Making referrals of difficult situations to their manager,
- Preventing transactional conflicts and when that is not possible facilitating their resolution,
- Providing information about conflict resolution options, and
- Developing a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR representative.
Mid-level expectations focus on:
- Recognizing potential employee relations issues in a proactive manner and resolving the issue,
- Mediating difficult interactions, and escalating problems when warranted,
- Developing a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR professional serving employees and the organization,
- Fostering a positive team environment among staff, and
- Facilitating conflict resolution meetings.
Senior level expectations focus on:
- Mediating difficult employee relations as a neutral party,
- Developing policies and practices for resolving conflicts,
- Resolving escalated conflicts among stakeholders,
- Managing challenging issues in union and non-union environments,
- Negotiating with internal and external stakeholders,
- Building consensus and settling disputes internal to HR on policy and practice decisions, and
- Facilitating difficult interactions among organizational stakeholders to achieve optimal outcomes.
Executive level expectations focus on:
- Creating conflict resolution strategies and processes throughout the organization,
- Negotiating with internal and external stakeholders to advance the interests of the organization,
- Fostering a culture that supports intra-organizational relationships throughout organization,
- Proactively developing relationships with peers, clients, suppliers, board members, and senior leaders.