After a hundred-plus hours of project planning, we recently staged a day and a half workshop called “Mediation and Conflict Management Master Class” and subtitled it “Art, Craft, and Science.” For this course, we wanted to go beyond the usual explanation of mastery as some kind of generalized unconscious excellence. We turned to what we think is a better definition from George Kanahele, a Hawaiian scholar, who defined flawlessness as:
“The right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling... the first time.” 
Mediation Center of the Pacific sponsored and supported the effort. We let people know about the workshop through different networks and were stunned at the quality of participants that showed up and the impacts that ensued.
In this article we want to report on what occurred. We believe there are implications for the next stages of advancement of the mediative practices field which has insufficient unity to have larger impacts.
Why This Course?
We started with an assumption: the term mediation is now “reified,” meaning we tend talk about it as an abstract umbrella term for very different and concrete specialized practices. The word “mediation” ranges all over the place and into a growing catalog of conflict areas. The practices appear increasingly silo-ed from each other and are called by different names.
To name just a few of the places where mediators, facilitators, conciliators, and conveners are working, think of commercial and construction matters; restorative and criminal justice problems; divorce, family, and family business issues; the revival and adaptation of indigenous peacemaking processes; disjunctive issues that roll into or out of communities; the endless dockets of court cases; and the smaller and larger disputes that happen in workplaces and corporations.
We wanted to use diversity as “grist” and bring together experienced practitioners from these and other practice areas. Our notion was to capitalize on the diversity, include as many variations as possible, but stay fully focused on experienced persons who had been in their field for at least ten years, had been selected or appointed for neutral or independent roles for a minimum of 15 or more cases or projects, and were willing to engage in pre-class homework and some extensive suggested readings.
We had three posted objectives:
- Broaden and deepen the practices of experienced collaboration experts working in different domains;
- Advance peer-to-peer learning and cross-pollinate practices with an expansive compendium of tools, ideas, and competencies; and
- Stimulate collective and individual foresight on the future of mediation.
The fee was modest, the sponsorship by Mediation Center of the Pacific effective, the venue and food were comfortable, and twenty-five individuals signed up.
Who Came and What Was Covered
The class included people from California, Hawai‘i, and Australia. There were experienced attorney mediators and retired judges; facilitators working on extraordinarily complex water, energy, and land use cases; the heads of two trusts and foundations who have built consensus-seeking strategies into their modus-operandi; and professionals working in university and business settings.
The course unfolded in three parts. The first half-day sought to examine the links and associations between the “art,” “craft,” and “science” of mediative practices. The second half-day focused on advancing specific methodological skills and, building on the work of Don Schön, moving beyond technical rationality. The third half-day looked at individual and collective aspirations for the future and how to advance and scale up mediation applications in a time of growing polarization and cynicism.
Two complex and fact-intensive read-ahead hypotheticals grounded the course, one dealing with a multi-faceted hotel development project, the other a wrongful discharge case involving serious racial tensions. Course topics involved developing and using appropriate personae, managing emotional and intellectual complexity, and the neuroscience involved when an amygdala “hijack” occurs.
A central reference point for the entire course was an evolving catalog with 60 tools, techniques, and tactics that can cross-pollinate different practices. This catalog is a work in progress and growing.
What Came of It
The feedback we received was beyond our expectations. On a rating scale of 10-High, 1-Low, we received a rating of 9.4. More important to us were the post-workshop comments.
From a former State Attorney General: “Innovative, entertaining, multi-faceted, great content, great participants, good new perspectives, and new techniques.”
From a retired judge: “I hoped to get tools to help in day-to-day work. Not only did I get that, I got more! Energized! Most importantly, thinking on a larger scale to make our communities stronger.”
And from others, repeated comments about “affirming,” “thought-provoking,” and “inspiring,”
Both of us have done a lot of training but as we debriefed the peculiar success we experienced in this workshop, we concluded that there were two keys. First, were the intentional diversity and the span and depth of experience of the participants who attended.
By luck or intention, we assembled an especially accomplished group of business, construction, intellectual property, and family mediators, many of them ex-judges and senior lawyers. We also had facilitators who work on challenging local, national and regional policy matters (energy, water, public health, community tangles, and others), an international facilitator, and two experienced trust and foundation conveners. Every single person brought 10 or more years of experience in agreement building and showed up hungry for new ideas, strategies, and techniques.
The second factor was the unusual pedagogy we spent so much time developing. We wanted a continuing spotlight to shine fully on the participants who attended. We created lengthy introductions and repeated “speed-dating” opportunities to talk in triads, especially on the tension points generated by the hypotheticals. We talked about and compared tools, tactics, and techniques from the facilitative, evaluative, narrative, and transformative traditions and showed a number of movie clips, most of them pertinent, others humorous (but with no redeeming educational value).
We know that institutions and organizations adopt mediative strategies for different reasons and use different versions of what has evolved in the last three decades for their own purposes. We know some practitioners call their work “cases,” others call them “projects.” Some refer to clients as “parties,” others say “participants.” Some processes take place in complete privacy; others operate under “sunshine” laws with posted agendas, public notice, and rooms full of observers.
Under the many differences in practice, we tend to lose site of the commonalities. For example:
- We all tend to have a preference for negotiation and problem solving wherever it is possible;
- We all share instincts for applying good process;
- We all agree we are not in the business of helping institutions, agencies, and organizations “game” people on decisions that have already been made;
- We all believe in the inclusion of the fullest possible required diversity of voices and viewpoints needed to work effectively on a particular conflict, issue, or problem;
- We all know people need to be heard, and feel “heard”; and
- We all are committed to respectful questioning, mutual learning, and grown-up like deliberations that produce results.
There are many others and our hope is that the next decade will advance further cross-pollination as a counter to the silos that seem to have developed. We are convinced that deeper thinking by experienced facilitators, conciliators, mediators, and conveners can inform, guide and expand our individual practices and build more durable bridges in an increasingly troubled world.