The 13th-century Persian poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, popularly known as Rumi, spoke then of a place where dialogue and mediation could find fertile ground. The poet warned too that where the world is ‘too full to talk about ideas, language and even the phrase “each other” ’, we must not sleep. In an age so beset with instantaneous and reckless communication, Rumi’s words toll for all.
I was thinking of that poem before speaking at a mediation conference recently after a retired judge, who wished to rise as a mediator, seemed proud of the fact that he had never opened a mediation textbook. Perhaps his comments were self-effacing, though if he was to be a leader in the mediation arena, his words were disheartening. This was particularly so given that I was about to speak on the cognitive aspects of decision making by Nobel Prize laureates Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler and others who have added so much to the understanding of how difficult negotiations can be transformed by informed mediation technique.
So how do we ensure as mediators that we do not sleep? Complacency in the practice of what must be the most noble of professions, has no place. It is also a simple truth that we can learn most from the ideas and language of “each other”, including, other great mediators. But how do we access that experience?
Most accreditation bodies urge those accredited to maintain accreditation by, amongst other things, sitting in with other mediators during a mediation. As a practical matter, this is often difficult to arrange as the presence of a second mediator can change the dynamic of the mediation process and is often not considered ideal by the participants or the mediator. This means that we do need to better educate those participating in mediations, that such peer review or co-mediation should be a ready part of the mediation landscape.
Another option to learn from each other is for experienced mediators to participate in advanced mediation programs where mediators role-play topical and universal disputes and mediate those disputes before one another followed by a class review. A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to participate in one such remarkable program – the Advanced Mediation Workshop: Mediating Complex Disputes at the Harvard Negotiation Institute. Each year at Harvard Law School, forty-eight mediators, lawyers and non-lawyers chosen by application, gather from around the globe for a week of supervised mediation by day, with case-study reading and preparation by night.
The program is transformative. Not only are the facilitators eminent authors, practitioners and teachers of negotiation and mediation theory, but the style of teaching echoes the fundamental tenants of great mediation practice – the ability to build rapport and collaboration between participants. In that week we forged a global network while acquiring new skills in areas such as co-mediation, the management of large-scale public mediation engagements and the recognition and management of bias and stereotyping. However, perhaps the most profound of all opportunities afforded by this program were the opportunities for self-reflection and self-awareness. In a class brimming with creativity, cultural diversity, brilliance, humour and grace, each challenge enriched and honed our theory of practice. It also forever consolidated our “Mooly” of Mediators – the group noun joyously coined in recognition of one of our facilitators, Samuel “Mooly” Dinnar.
I therefore recommend that all experienced mediators gather at this field at some stage in their mediation careers. I think it is the sort of field where Rumi would have liked to meet.