As an administrative member of the TPR team, I asked our Lead Mediator, Raj Dhasi if she would engage in mediation personally or professionally? Here is what she said:
Answer: It depends.
I am hard pressed to think of a professional situation where I would not engage in mediation as a participant, but my criteria for engagement is exactly the same as if it were a personal situation. Let’s start with the personal.
Twenty-six years ago, I found myself in a violent relationship. It took almost 3 years and a baby-on-the-way, to find my way out. For twenty-six years he has made no contact with us. If he showed up today and asked to engage in mediation would I do it?
It depends. It depends on the following:
- Who would the mediator be? How seriously skilled are they, not just what they show on their website or in their bio, but actual honed skills? What background do they have in the specific areas this mediation would venture into? For example, how aware are they of the impact of violence even years later? What is their understanding of the cultural underpinnings at play? Does the mediator live a life in line with their values they espouse to in their work? I don’t want to work with someone who is wearing a mediator mask because that mask wears thin very quickly when the work gets real.
- What process would be used? There is no cookie cutter process to mediation. Every situation demands something different. This type of mediation would demand more than 1-2 initial conversations and then a joint process. This type of mediation would demand a restorative process that has a way of addressing the harms done and a mediator who can suss out the most effective timeline for the process and for each conversation.
- What additional psychological support would be provided? It’s a myth to believe that mediation alone resolves every remnant of conflict or harm. After a review of our in-house cases at TPR, we made the decision to provide therapeutic support (a therapist) to each mediation participant regardless of the skills of the mediator. There is clean up required in many more isles than the mediator alone can get to.
- What about safety? Actual psychological AND physical safety. If we are doing this face-to-face, is the mediator paying attention to the size of the room that is needed? Access to the door? Windows or no windows? Whether there are objects that can be thrown around? Tables that can be flipped? Are there plans in place for physical intervention if need be?
Now, mediators as you are reading this, I have no doubt you are thinking “I wouldn’t even take this to a joint session if I thought things were going to be thrown or I had to have a physical intervention plan in place”. You are absolutely right, and let’s check that thinking for a moment.
The physical intervention plan is not because you will actually need it, but because it adds to the psychological safety of those in the room to know it exists, to know you thought about their safety to that degree. It adds boundaries and relief to know there is a system around you.
- What’s the purpose of the mediation? What’s in it for me to engage in this? What’s the growth, relief, hope for me? If there is no purpose then there is no need for mediation.
- What’s the venue? How is the venue serving the needs of the participants? Interestingly as we have shifted to conducting mediations online, participants have reported a greater sense of safety. They are in their own homes, not in the same space as the other participant, more able to self-regulate, and thus more able to remain focused and real. There is no fear of running into the person coming or going, and in the most anxiety inducing situations, no fear the person will take down your license plate number or follow you home. These are natural fears before a mediation and they settle quickly. For me, I think I would want to be in the same room as him while I shared my perspective. It would land as real and it would help me train my system to learn it is safe now, regardless of what happened 26 years ago. Again, does the venue serve the needs of the participants?
- Relationship/connection with the mediator. We speak again and again in mediation about the need for objectivity in mediation. We say the mediator must engage in the same process with each party, must plant seeds about their neutrality, etc. This is great, until you are the one sitting across from the mediator and hoping they will see you for the well-intentioned, hard working, good person that you are. When you are the one across the table, looking for some glimmer of support and care from the mediator, objectivity is not on your mind. I would want the same. A mediator who is so competent they can offer care, offer a container for my story to emerge in, and for me to know that even the person who I believe harmed me will get that too, because that is the only way we will have success. There will not be a “professional lukewarm” approach.
There is no doubt that there would be other factors I would consider that I am not even mentioning here. The ultimate takeaway is:
Regardless of whether it is a workplace mediation, a family situation, or a situation of extreme harm, it cannot be a cookie-cutter process if mediation is to help with moving forward. The process must be as unique to each situation as we are to each other. Mediators must be skilled beyond their certificates and credentials. As mediators, we need to have a depth of human understanding and an ability to slow down and pay attention to what is emerging before us. We need to deeply understand the fear for participants, the emotional reliance they have on us whether we want them to or not, and that what we do next can impact the psyche of our participants.
After hearing Raj’s answer, I want to thank each and every one of our clients who has come to us and started with “I’m not sure mediation is right for me”.