Mediator Certification: What does it mean? Why is it important?

Since training is one of the hats I wear, I frequently get calls from people who say, “Do you offer training to become a certified mediator?” or “Do you offer mediator certification training?”  I explain that I offer mediation training and upon completion attendees receive a certificate of attendance.  This does not mean you are a certified mediator.[1]  The distinction may seem like semantics but this is a serious issue among professionals who have devoted their careers to becoming quality practitioners. In this post, I’d like to explain some of the important distinctions surrounding credentials for mediation.

Licensing, certification, and credentialing are major issues in many professions and mediation is no different.  Professions are regulated by the states and each state has different requirements.  As mediation has grown and come into its own as a recognized profession, certification has become even more important.

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Visions of Vienna: Alternative Resolutions Goes Abroad

Travel abroad—it expands your horizons and perspectives, whether it is for vacation or your profession. You learn about and experience another culture and language, history and geography.  It changes you. You return with some new insight and an appreciation for the bounties we have in the United States of America.

At the end of June I participated as an assessor in the second annual Consensual Dispute Resolution Competition (CDRC), an international mediation competition in Vienna Austria. There were students from diverse fields of study representing universities from Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States who had been selected to compete in Vienna in this mediation competition. Over 50 dispute resolution professionals from 25 different jurisdictions across the world brought their varied experience and expertise as mediators and negotiators themselves.  There were four preliminary rounds, followed by semi-final and final rounds over four days. New confidential facts were added to the case study at each round thereby increasing the challenge for the teams. [Read more…]

Mediation & the Art of Asking

Asking makes us vulnerable

Musician Amanda Palmer, with her intense arching eyebrows and alt-rock style, incited the audience of her viral TED video to get out there and ask for what they needed. A donation. A couch to sleep on.  A little help to get from one spot on their journey to the next. People are afraid to ask for what they need, she explains, afraid of being that person who burdens those around them with uncomfortable requests. Fear not! argues Palmer enthusiastically. On the contrary: asking is liberating.“By asking you connect with people. And when you connect with people they want to help you. Asking makes you vulnerable.” [Read more…]

The Business of Emotions: Why emotional intelligence matters in your work and mine


Being “smart” is one of the most commonly used memes in relation to success. We want to look smart, make smart decisions, and be smart about our careers. However, being a mediator has taught me that being ‘smart’ means more than we often realize.

This newsletter builds on broadly acclaimed author Daniel Goleman’s work to remind us that intelligence cannot be separated from the blessings and curses of human emotionality – and that this is a vital insight in the workplace.

In the mid 1990’s psychologist Daniel Goleman caused a stir with his book Emotional Intelligence. Intelligence Quotient (IQ), argued Goleman, is an impoverished way to understand intelligence – no matter how much we value rational faculties, anyone performing them is still human, and being human means having to deal with the messiness of emotions. Accomplishing tangible outcomes with our rational skills – publishing a book, closing a business deal, making a good decision – will automatically put us in contact with emotional boosts or complications, whether our own or those of the people around us. As Sandy Hollis and Debra Clapshaw put it, “Emotional intelligence is the partner of rationality.”

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The Mindful Mediator


We all strive to develop practices that help us become better leaders, better practitioners, better team members. And given that so many of these goals rest on interpersonal relationships, this means developing practices to navigate misunderstandings, diverging viewpoints and, inevitably, conflict.

Mindfulness can be a crucial mental tool for handling interpersonal interactions, but this term has become so popular that it’s not always clear what it entails. In this newsletter I explore the role of mindfulness in conflict, and how a mindful mediator can change the tide of a conflict.

Today “mindfulness” has become a mainstream meme for dealing with the hectic fray of modernity while still trying to cultivate some inner peace and meaning in our lives. From The Huffington post’s “3rd Metric” page, to mindfulness trainings at work, to the yoga studios popping up all over our communities, we are being encouraged to address the physical and mental fallout from lives lived on the run by being more mindful. Conflict, too, we often say, will benefit from a mindful approach – it’s a word that admittedly shows up frequently in my posts. But mindfulness can’t be tacked on to the end of a to-do list or scheduled in like an extra Bikram class. Changing a situation through mindfulness requires altering your approach while the scenario plays out. This is not a small challenge – especially when tensions run high. [Read more…]

Building Trust: Listening With No Agenda

In May, Adam Bryant interviewed Joel Peterson of JetBlue for the Corner Office column in the New York Times. Peterson stated that one of the main attributes that propelled him to top leadership positions at a young age was the ability to cultivate the trust of those around him. When Bryant asked him to describe that process, Peterson explained that those trusting relationships come as a “byproduct” of his habit of good listening.

“I’m a really good listener. It’s not a technique — I’m really interested in what people have to say… If you’re authentic, open, you call things as they are, you really are direct and you listen well, that develops trust.”

‘Good listening skills’ is a trope that enters most of our lives in our very first years of school and, as Peterson points out, an overly technical approach to this topic can give it a shallow cliché feel. But Peterson is also testifying to the fact that the art of listening is truly one of the foundational elements of building and maintaining relationships, as well as exercising leadership. Every day we make choices about how we embody this essential activity, and unquestionably those decisions have an impact on our personal and professional lives. In this blog post I want to briefly explore one aspect of listening that Peterson highlights his interview: “listening without an agenda.” [Read more…]

Meditations on Mediations: Looking back on a year of challenging cases


As I write this a few crocuses have poked their heads out of the sodden soil but the forsythia, a harbinger of spring me is not yet in bloom! This winter just doesn’t want to let go !

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This month’s article is a reflection of some of my recent cases and lessons learned.

Last year was a breakthrough year on many fronts for Alternative Resolutions, LLC. We developed new strategic partnerships and grew our client base.   We were fortunate to have the opportunity to handle some interesting and challenging mediation cases. In this blog post I want to summarize a few of these cases, and reflect upon lessons learned. Looking back on my experiences provides a window into the process of mediation: its strategies, difficulties, and benefits. Since mediation is confidential I have altered some facts in the case summaries to protect this private and confidential process.

There were various factors at play that made some cases this year challenging. The disputants’ status and reputation within their organization were an issue in a handful of cases. Post-traumatic stress disorder was a factor in several cases, requiring careful and sensitive management. In some matters parties had equivalent amounts of power, whereas in others one party was responsible to the other, who was a high level manager. As I describe in my post on conflict climate, interpersonal communication is ultimately a collaborative task, and this kind of institutional power imbalance can add an extra layer of complexity to a dialogue.

What are some lessons that can be learned and shared? To reflect appropriately I turned to a book by Michael Lang and Alison Taylor titled The Making of a Mediator: Developing Artistry in Practice. [1] Lang and Taylor pose that “to attain artistry requires three essential elements: practice skills, theoretical knowledge and the ability to make useful and appropriate connections between theory and practice.”[2] Reflection, then, is the process by which practitioners integrate these three elements. It occurs both during the mediation and afterwards, as the practitioner dissects and analyzes the case. The authors then describe that there are six hallmarks of artistry in professional mediation practice: attention to detail, curiosity, exploration and discovery, developing and testing formulations, interpretation, and patience and vision.[3] In the case discussion below I have explored how these benchmarks played a role in my work and in determining the outcomes that were achieved. [Read more…]

Self Reflection: Looking Inward to Change Conflict

We’ve all had the experience of flying into a conversation, riding high on emotions and frustration. The conversation becomes a conflict, the conflict escalates and becomes painful. Hours later the issues may or may not have been resolved, perhaps we still feel they’re very important and perhaps not, but along with the underlying issue there is now another one: freshly formed layers of hurt, quickly and carelessly piled on top of the original problem. Pain inflicting comments, verbal attacks from both sides, new rifts of mistrust and resentment opened between you and your colleagues, friends or family members. After it’s all said and done, we might still feel justified in our original feelings, but all too frequently we regret our behaviors and find ourselves confronting a new emotional struggle.

Such scenarios don’t just occur in our personal relationships, they can recur systematically regarding serious issues in venues ranging from workplaces to communities to societies. They can become normalized and habitual. Writing recently in the Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Robert R. Stains Jr. described the destructive impact of these cycles.

“In this environment, routine opportunities to directly learn and practice attitudes and communication skills that reach across divides in more than superficial ways have become less frequent and less trusted by an increasingly polarized public. Fear grows with distance, stereotypes fuel suspicion, and conflict replaces collaboration as a first response to meeting community needs. ” [1]

Self-reflection, prior to entering a dialogue or conflict as well as throughout and after, can help us avoid these destructive scenarios, and create new communication patterns.

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Discovering Dialogue

We hear and see the word all the time, in headlines, diplomatic initiatives, self help resources, and more. You’ve likely used it yourself many times over. I certainly employ it on a regular basis. Yet despite its relative familiarity, when is the last time we dug into the meaning and significance behind the concept of dialogue?  Taken at face value it is likely to have a nominal, perhaps gratifying, presence in someone’s life. However, understood more deeply, dialogue can open up new spaces of communication and shared innovation, an exciting discovery all on its own.

What is dialogue?

Simplistically, dialogue can be understood as open-minded communication between two or more persons. Originating from the Greek prefix “dia” and root “logos,” the word can be broken down as “moving through or across” (dia) and “meaning” (logos). Synthesizing this etymology with the word’s modern meaning, already we have an interesting idea on our hands: meaning that emerges by moving across or through multiple people.  And already we have stumbled onto one of the deeper, existential undertones to the concept of dialogue:  meaning sought through dialogue is not the same as the sum of multiple perspectives. Dialogue creates something new that is only possible through collaborative communication.

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Nonviolent Communication: a Model, a Strategy, a Lifestyle

In a number of past posts and newsletters I’ve referred to “nonviolent communication” as an important and effective strategy for dealing with difficult conflict scenarios, or for working towards conflict transformation. Much more than just an abstract notion, nonviolent communication is a core concept couched in a strong theoretical base. Not only is it a powerful tool in mediation or formal conflict resolution, it is a holistic process and a lens through which an individual can come to see all relations and communication. At its most potent level, nonviolent communication can ultimately embody a spiritual or worldview. I wanted to take a post to focus on this extraordinary technique, and perhaps make it more accessible for readers in their daily lives.

What is Nonviolent Communication?

What is widely recognized today as the core theory of nonviolent communication (NVC) was spearheaded by the psychologist and PhD. Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s.  With questions about communication and violence originating from childhood run-ins with anti-Semitism and violent race relations in Detroit, Rosenberg began to develop his model during his activities in the civil rights movement. He sought to better understand how entrenched patterns of communication kept humans from expressing their needs to one another without violent escalation, and how he and others could develop the ability to surpass those patterns.

The idea of NVC is founded on some basic assumptions about human beings and their mutual interactions. [Read more…]