When and how did you get involved in dispute resolution?
An inspiring boss and mentor laid the groundwork for my receptivity to ADR. I was an attorney fortunate enough to be working with an experienced trial lawyer who understood the critical role of negotiation in reaching settlement and producing closure for clients. An effective communicator who listened carefully and asked thoughtful questions with skill, she also helped me recognize the value of relationship building to get things done, not only with clients but also with fellow lawyers, even those across the aisle. When I learned of an upcoming mediation training, she enrolled with me in the program and we trained together. 34 hours later, and I was a convert. I knew this was what I wanted to be doing. The rest, as they say, is history.
When and how did you start your blog?
I launched my blog in January 2005. Concerned at that time about the little reliable information available on the internet to those interesting in becoming mediators, particularly with respect to training and education, I decided to create an online resource, which I called “Online Guide to Mediation”. I built it in a matter of a few minutes using Blogger, a free blog publishing platform. An avid do-it-yourselfer, I bought a couple of how-to books on blogging and taught myself how to write HTML so I could make changes to my blog’s appearance and add functionality. It was pretty primitive, but it worked.
Do you consider your blog to have a particular voice? Please describe.
I ended up taking my blog in an entirely different direction than originally intended. Somewhere along the way I developed a fascination with popular culture and the social sciences, particularly with social perceptions of law, negotiation, and conflict. I gave my blog a new name and a new URL, MediationChannel.com. You can see the nod to pop culture in the cherry-red retro TV that appears in my blog’s header. The notion of TV channels also conveys my blog’s character – eclectic and wide-ranging, meant to appeal to ADR folks, lawyers, negotiators, and anyone interested in conflict resolution. I confess that I’m a rabble-rouser at heart, so I like to introduce a bit of controversy here and there as well. I suppose you could say I’m a court jester - pushing people to confront their perceptions and see the world anew – fitting I think for someone who is both mediator and blogger.
What has been most satisfying about blogging?
Two things primarily: connection and access to information. It has connected me with remarkable men and women I might not have met otherwise – a number of whom I count today among my closest friends. Blogging also depends upon the ability to remain current with breaking news and the latest thinking in the field – we bloggers are constantly on the prowl for the latest information or controversial story. This means that blogging has made me better informed and in turn a more reflective practitioner willing to take risks and try out the techniques or ideas I’ve discovered. There’s also satisfaction in mastering digital technology. Blogging lets you be a perpetual student, always learning something new.
What has been most frustrating with blogging?
It’s not always easy to find time to blog, particularly when work is really crazy. When you don’t get a chance to post, you sometimes feel guilty, as if you’re letting down readers (who will be sure to send emails, solicitously inquiring if you’re okay).
How about, most embarrassing?
In a post, I welcomed a new blogger to the ADR blogosphere, a Belgian mediator. I mistakenly identified him as French. I almost created an international incident, but fortunately he was extraordinarily gracious about it, and I hastily posted a correction. Moral of the story: always check your facts before you post. And if you screw up, apologize and fix it.
Do you think Blogging has contributed to the growth of mediation? If so, how?
I do know that search engines love blogs. Therefore, I like to think that ADR blogs have succeeded in raising the profile of ADR in public awareness. Where I think blogging has particularly contributed is in the dissemination of and discussion of ideas connected to negotiation and ADR, particularly among students of law and of conflict resolution. Theirs is the generation that seems most plugged into Web 2.0. I get a lot of email from members of these younger generations, interested in careers in ADR or wanting to find ways to use negotiation and conflict resolution in their professional lives.
How do you see mediation evolving?
Here’s what I predict. (You can come back in 10 years and let me know how I did.)
Advances in neuroscience and psychology regarding decision making and judgment will gain increasing importance for practitioners of ADR, yielding practical applications and techniques for producing better decisions.
As calls increase for professionalization and standardization of mediation practice, one state will establish formal licensing for mediators in private practice.
I anticipate in coming years that mediation will have to confront some of its demons – the fierce divide between facilitative and evaluative practitioners and between lawyers who mediate and mediators who don’t practice law. There’s a cultural divide that we ignore at our peril.
Just please don’t ask me to pick the winner of the next Super Bowl.
What advice would you give a fellow mediator who is considering blogging?
Understand that blogging is fundamentally social. It is designed to be a free-spirited, interactive, two-way conversation between the blogger and readers, as well as between the blogger and other bloggers. During four plus years of blogging, I’ve seen plenty of ADR blogs come and go. The bloggers that manage to last and attract a following are the ones that seem to get this basic principle. I see plenty who don’t ever link to other sites or to other bloggers and don’t respond when a blogger links to them; they’re evidently afraid that if they send their readers away, those readers won’t come back. They’re missing the whole point of blogging. So if you’re not going to interact with other bloggers, don’t bother blogging. Get yourself a regular non-blog web site or publish an email newsletter instead – but know that if you do, you’re missing out on an opportunity to participate in the vibrant, engaged, highly informed online community that is the ADR blogosphere. For many of us, these online connections have directly resulted in close ties with fellow mediators, yielded business opportunities, expanded our networks, and kept us on the very edge of cutting-edge thinking – invaluable for those of us who practice, consult, train or teach.
What are your favorite blogs, dispute resolution and beyond?
It’s hard to choose favorites out of the 175 I subscribe to. I have to start with my long-time blogging pals, Geoff Sharp of Mediator Blah Blah; Vickie Pynchon of Settle It Now; Tammy Lenski of Mediator Tech; and Stephanie West Allen at Idealawg. (You can see other ADR blogs I enjoy in my blogroll.)
Beyond ADR, I’m a fan of the following blogs:
Sociological Images, a provocative blog that confronts and deconstructs images in the media of race, gender, and other categories.
The Situationist, which discusses revelations from the field of social psychology
Blawg Review, an enduring weekly review of the best in legal blogging hosted each week by a different blogger
Trust Matters, a superb blog discussing the importance of trust in business relationships
Boing Boing, a blog that posts about cultural oddities because, let’s face it, everyone needs a little fun in their lives
Thanks so much for the opportunity to participate in this interview. ADR bloggers are deeply grateful to Mediate.com for its enthusiastic support for our community. You guys are terrific – thanks for all that you do.