Category Archives: How to Become a Mediator

Please contact me…but kindly read this first if you need advice

please contact Mediation ChannelI’ve been blogging for over four years now. During that time I have gotten more emails than I could begin to count from readers asking for advice, looking for help, offering criticism or praise, passing along stuff they knew I’d enjoy, or just getting in touch to say hello. With only a few rare exceptions, I’ve enjoyed hearing from every one of them and have been happy to help when I can.

Your emails continue to come in, more so now than ever. So, to help us both, here are some things for you to know before you contact me.

If you have a conflict you’d like to resolve or you need help preparing for a negotiation or tough conversation…

Please get in touch. I’d be glad to take time to understand what you need and where you want to get to, and answer your questions about how you and I might work together. You can phone me, too, or Skype me.

If you are looking for legal advice…

I’m so sorry, but I can’t help you. Please contact and retain the services of a competent, licensed attorney admitted to practice in your jurisdiction who can give you the advice you need to help you with the decisions you’re facing. I wish you all the best.

If you are a blogger…

It’s always great to hear from a fellow blogger, particularly someone who’s new to blogging. Your fellow bloggers are here to help. If you haven’t done so yet, please read this post, “Just launched a dispute resolution blog? Here are 6 things effective bloggers do“. It contains advice that other bloggers gave me early on when I began blogging. If you have further questions, just give a shout.

If you want advice on becoming a mediator…

Before you contact me with any questions about becoming a mediator, I ask that you carefully read the following posts first, which address issues in mediation training, education, and career opportunities in the United States. They may answer your questions and save us both time:

I’d also suggest that you visit Making Mediation Your Day Job, a superb online resource on career and marketing for mediators by successful conflict resolution professional and educator Dr. Tammy Lenski. I highly recommend to you her book, Making Mediation Your Day Job: How to Market Your ADR Business Using Mediation Principles You Already Know.

If you have specific questions about becoming a mediator in your geographic location…

I practice in the U.S. If you want information on how to become a mediator elsewhere in the world, the best place to find it is to contact mediators in that country to learn about requirements for practice, as well as information about the market there for ADR services.

I practice in Massachusetts. If you want specific, detailed advice about practicing in some other state, I strongly urge you to get in touch with mediators in your area to find out what training, education, or other requirements would be necessary for you to succeed as a mediator there. Find professional membership organizations for mediators; they can be a good resource. Alternatively, visit the web site for the Association for Conflict Resolution where you can locate the regional chapter for your area.

If you’re having trouble finding someone to help you, let me know. I have contacts all over the U.S. and throughout the world. I’d be happy to help however I can.

If you are a recent graduate seeking mediation career advice or have just completed a mediation training…

Have you sought the advice and help of the career services office of your graduating institution? What about your professors? They should all be your starting point. If you haven’t done so already, get in touch with them and ask them for their advice. They’re there to help you.

Ditto for the organization that just trained you, if you have just completed a mediation training program. IMHO, any program worth its salt should be ready to answer your questions, be knowledgeable about issues involving careers in mediation, be prepared to help you take the next steps to continue your training and education as a mediator, and connect you with experienced mentors who can help you develop the capacity to mediate competently. (This is why I cannot emphasize enough the importance of thoroughly vetting any mediation training program before you invest your time and money. Too many training programs are happy to take your money and then send you on your way.)

If you are contemplating a degree program in dispute resolution and have questions about careers in that field…

Contact the career services office of that degree-granting institution. Ask them what their alumni are currently doing and what percentage have full-time employment in the field. Find out what kind of placement support will be available. Contact the faculty as well to ask for their views. If possible, request informational interviews with alumni to ask what they think and what advice they might give.  I can’t tell you whether getting a degree in dispute resolution or some other field makes sense for you; you might want to work with a career coach who can help you with those kinds of choices.

No matter what…

I take the time to personally respond to emails. If you contact me, I would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to acknowledge my reply and let me know that you received it. Sadly, people seem to forget that these days. Please remember that it’s a very small world and little things like that can make a difference. Build relationships wherever you can: it’s what mediation is about after all.

Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog. I appreciate all of my readers and look forward to hearing from you.

Preparing mediators for practice: mediation training or mediation education?

mediation training raises many questionsRecently the alert I set up to monitor appearances of the keyword “mediation” in Twitter posts pointed me to the following message: “Just got back from Civil Mediation Training (30 hrs) to be a Qualified Neutral”. The message took me aback.

30 hours? To be a “qualified neutral”? Qualified? For what?

The persistence of the notion that 30 or 40 hours is sufficient time to train neutrals has long troubled me, a trainer of mediators. It is one advanced by court-connected mediation programs, some private training companies, and mediators themselves. It is even codified in law and court rule. But to be confronted in this way by someone’s certainty that 30 hours prepared them adequately to mediate civil disputes was jolting.

In the trainings I am involved with, we make it clear to participants that a basic mediation training provides an orientation to the field of mediation but that hard work and further learning lie ahead. The best students are those who come away with the humble understanding that they do indeed have a long way to go toward mastery. The ones who keep me awake at night are those who already have their business cards printed on the last day of the training.

My colleague to the north, Tammy Lenski, is clearly troubled, too. She writes:

Is there a qualitative difference between training mediators and educating mediators? I think so and I’m going to put myself far out on the limb here. No doubt one of you will want to shake me right off.

While training will likely always have its place in the ADR world, I’d like to see greater embrace of educating and less commitment to short-term, “let-me-call-myself-certified” training.

Training is traditionally concerned with the development of skills and preparation for specific jobs or roles.

Education is traditionally concerned with the development of the intellect, stretching and learning to use one’s mind.

Like Tammy, I have to wonder out loud whether it’s time for our field to look closely and critically at what it takes to prepare people to become effective mediators. I know that 30 hours or 40 won’t do it. But what kind, degree, and amount of training or education or practical experience under supervision – or some combination of those – will produce a competent mediator?

All in a day's work: is mediation an ideal career choice?

Is mediation a good career for you?The Wall Street Journal on its CareerJournal.com web site reports on the results of its recent survey “2006 Best Careers“.

CareerJournal.com lists 14 attributes that make a career choice an excellent one:

Advancement
Autonomy
Contribution to Society
Creativity
Customer Contact
Friendly Co-workers
Impressive to Others
Income
Intellectual Stimulation
Job Security
Lower Stress
Predictable Hours
Work-Life Balance
Benefits

Although mediation doesn’t seem to have made CareerJournal.com’s list of most satisfying careers, mediation does meet many of these criteria. Plenty of intellectual stimulation, low stress, no indentured servitude to the Almighty Billable Hour, with lots of emphasis on contribution to society and work/life balance. (The only areas that a mediation career may come up short in are income and job security, which can prove illusive although not unobtainable. One of the jokes that mediators like to tell mediation trainees illustrates this all too well: What’s the difference between a mediator and a large cheese pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four.)

This special feature of CareerJournal.com comes with advice for anyone contemplating a career change. Articles to consider include “How to Switch Careers in Midlife” and “Five Almost Painless Ways To Make a Career Change“, which recommend one step in particular that make especially good sense for anyone who wants to transition to mediation from another career: Start a parallel career. (I would not recommend Step No. 5: Go cold turkey. Quitting your day job is rarely a wise move.)

For my thoughts on mediation training and careers, please read “How to become a mediator: five frequently asked questions about training and careers in mediation“.

For a list of blogs (good resources since they offer regularly updated content) that focus specifically on marketing for mediators, visit the World Directory of Alternative Dispute Resolution Blogs.

(Via the excellent George’s Employment Blawg.)

How to become a mediator: five frequently asked questions about training and careers in mediation

So you want to be a mediator? How to get started.I receive phone calls and emails almost daily from people exploring careers in the mediation field.

Although I have written several articles in the past which have discussed the training necessary to prepare for a career in mediation, explained the significance of certification for our field, and also suggested steps to transition from training to career, I thought it would be helpful to develop a list of FAQ’s, together with my answers, which refines and brings all of this information together in a single article for those who want to succeed in building a career as a mediator.

A couple of points before I start.

First, I recognize that other mediators may have different ideas and recommendations. Therefore, I welcome mediators to join the discussion and share with readers what’s worked for them in building a career. Comments are most definitely welcome, as they are for all the articles I publish here.

Secondly, the information I offer here concerns training and careers here in the U.S. only, since this is where I live and practice. I know very little about standards for mediation practice outside this country and consequently have no authority to describe them or provide information about them. Readers, if you’ve written an article about mediation training and careers, in say, England or New Zealand or Bulgaria or India or somewhere else in the world, please feel free to link to it in the comments section below.

Therefore, with no further ado, here are the 5 FAQ’s:

1. How can I get licensed or certified as a mediator?

To answer this question properly, I need to give you the big-picture perspective on a still-evolving profession.

Mediation is a field that has grown and evolved rapidly in recent years. As its influence and availability have increased, and as public awareness and acceptance of mediation services have spread, the mediation field has given rise to numerous models and theories of practice, a vast body of scholarship, together with ethical standards, laws, and well-established best practices to guide mediator conduct.

At the same time, this relatively new field continues to define itself. At the time I write this, no state in the U.S. has established a formal licensing or certification process for mediators. So, unlike other professions–medicine, law, education, social work, psychology, just to name a few–to date there exists no uniform regulatory scheme in the U.S. governing the private practice of mediation.

A few state courts, however, do certify mediators who receive referrals from or provide services to court-connected mediation programs. These mediators must fulfill certain standards, including the completion of a specified number of hours of mediation training, in order to qualify for certification.

Some professional associations for mediators also provide certification for certain classes of its members, but not in conjunction with or under the aegis of any state agency or body. In addition, some private training organizations offer what they describe as “certification training” which should not be confused with certification by a state court or other governmental body. Please be sure to ask what “certification” signifies and what it qualifies you for before registering for any training program.

For further information about certification, including some common misconceptions, please read “Getting it straight: understanding mediator certification“, an article published earlier here at Online Guide to Mediation.

2. What kind of training or education do I need to become a mediator?

Training.

First, please begin by reading the answer to Question 1, above, “How can I get licensed or certified as a mediator?”

A number of state courts have implemented qualifications standards, including training requirements, for mediators receiving referrals from courts or providing services in court-connected dispute resolution programs.

These standards vary widely from state to state. However, 40 hours of mediation training have emerged as a widely accepted standard nationwide.

For example, in Massachusetts, where I both live and work, a state law protecting the confidentiality of mediation specifies a minimum of 30 hours of training for mediators (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 233, § 23C). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Guidelines for Implementation of Qualifications Standards for Neutrals , which spell out requirements for mediators in court-connected dispute resolution programs, require a minimum of 30 hours of mediation training, with 36 to 40 hours recommended.

For a list of the requirements for each of the 50 states, see “State Mediator Rosters and Qualifications” prepared by the Institute of Government, College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A number of state courts, incidentally, provide information online for people interested in becoming mediators. These include Virginia and Florida.

So, where do you find training? Training is available through private training organizations and community mediation programs, as well as through continuing education programs at colleges and universities. Visit the web site for professional associations for mediators, such as the Association for Conflict Resolution, to find a chapter in your area, which in turn will help you connect with chapter leaders who can assist you further.

Before you enroll in any mediation training program, please be aware that not all mediation training programs are worth your time or money. Since training is the first step toward a successful career in mediation, perform due diligence in selecting a training program. Please read my article, “What to look for in a basic mediation training“, as well as the excellent “Mediation Training Consumer Guide” from the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management for tips on choosing a mediation training program and ideas on where to find training.

There are also basic and advanced trainings geared towards preparing mediators for work in specific practice areas such as family and divorce or workplace. These trainings not only cover mediation theory and skills but provide material and information necessary for understanding the issues and challenges unique to these practice specialties.

Finally, please visit this post I published in January on “Getting it straight: understanding mediator certification” and scroll down to the section captioned “One last caveat” for my two cents on online correspondence courses in mediation. (My advice? Don’t waste your money.)

Education.

There is also a growing movement aimed at encouraging those who are interested in becoming mediators to pursue education in the field. College, university and law degree or certificate programs in dispute resolution and mediation abound and provide a richer and more comprehensive immersion in mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution theory and practice than any 40-hour mediation training program can possibly provide. These include:

A list of additional programs in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere around the world may be found here at the Peacemakers Trust web site.

I often recommend that people take a mediation training first, only because it represents a smaller financial investment than a higher education degree or certificate program, and it’s a good way to learn whether mediation is a good fit for you or not. Training is a low-risk way to assess your aptitude for conflict resolution. And the benefits are great, since mediation training provides skills easily transportable into any setting, professional or personal.

3. If mediation training is not required for private mediation practice, why should I bother to take a training?

Training gives you a number of advantages. First of all, a good mediation training will provide you with a theoretical framework to lend structure and context to your practice and promotes the development of core competencies. Mediation trainings introduce students to basic theories of conflict resolution and negotiation, skills and techniques for facilitating joint problem solving, and standards of practice and professional ethics–all of which form a necessary foundation for mediator effectiveness.

In addition, completing a mediation training or a degree program in conflict resolution is a step towards building professional credibility. Although we’re not there yet by any means, I can see the day when training will be required of even mediators in private practice; it makes sense now to get ahead of the curve.

Finally, training can lead to opportunities to mediate–real-world experience–since a number of organizations which provide training also oversee mediation programs or panels which students who successfully complete training may be eligible to join. And training will introduce you to your first professional network–both fellow students and the trainers.

4. Do I have to be a lawyer or have a law degree to become a mediator?

Although a small number of court-connected mediation programs permit only attorneys to serve as neutrals, the answer is a resounding no.

However, it is important to be aware that mediators who are not attorneys may be limited in the kinds of services they can perform for clients and need to be careful to avoid engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. (“Unauthorized practice of law” refers to the provision by a layperson of services an attorney uniquely provides. It can also refer to an attorney admitted in one jurisdiction providing legal services in a jurisdiction to which he or she has not been admitted.) In Connecticut, for example, a mediator who is not admitted to the Connecticut bar may assist a divorcing couple negotiate and reach decisions regarding parenting plans and the division of property and debt but is prohibited from drafting a separation agreement for them.

5. Once I complete my training, how do I get a job and get paid?

Be realistic. Although there are a seemingly infinite number of disputes, there are more and more mediators that you’ll be competing against. It takes time to build a successful mediation practice, and it won’t happen overnight. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of success, but there are no guarantees. Starting a mediation practice is like building any business. You need ambition, creativity, determination, talent, a business plan, a marketing strategy, and a certain measure of luck.

Practice, practice, practice. Taking a training or earning a degree is only a first step. You need experience in order to build a successful career. The best place to gain experience is by starting with the program that trained you. Find out from your trainers what opportunities are available and how to find them. Typically many mediators begin by volunteering their time in small claims or community mediation programs–all great learning laboratories for putting your training into practice. If possible, seek mentoring from more experienced practitioners and ask to observe them at work.

Keep your day job. Your current position counts in several ways. First of all, it’s a source of financial support, stability, and ready-made contacts. Begin by offering mediation to your clients or customers in addition to your existing services. It’s a way of testing the waters safely with relatively little risk. Second, the profession you’re in right now is a good source for referrals and an ideal place to begin networking. Third, you are more likely to succeed if you provide dispute resolution services in a field you know well, since prospective clients will view you as someone who understands their needs. Disputes abound in every field, whether health care, business, digital technology, environmental, education, labor, public sector, the law. Leverage your expertise to build a successful career.

Get connected. Join professional associations for mediators to get to know and make friends with other dispute resolution professionals. Other mediators are not only potential referral sources but your peers are invaluable resources to turn to as you wrestle with ethical dilemmas or other challenges in your practice. Not only should you join professional associations for mediators, but join associations for your profession of origin, your local chamber of commerce, or other civic, religious, political, or professional organization to cultivate and build your referral network. View every meeting, every introduction to someone new, as an opportunity to educate people about mediation and what mediation can do to help them solve their problems.

Keep learning. It’s called the practice of mediation for a reason–you never stop learning. Continuing education can increase your effectiveness and can open up new doors. It never hurts to get better at what you do.

Technorati tags: , ,

What to look for in a basic mediation training

It's important to find the right mediation trainingI frequently get phone calls from people who are interested in becoming mediators. These people are motivated by a desire to help others, to transition into a more satisfying career, or to learn skills to help them do their current jobs more effectively. They come to me for help in finding a place where they can get training to help them achieve their goals.

What I typically discover is that the vast majority of these individuals do not know what questions they should be asking to help them choose the best training possible. They have no idea what they should be looking for in a training program. And that’s a big problem. While there are excellent programs providing mediation training, there are also some training programs that are woefully inadequate. Be smart in choosing a training.

My purpose in writing this article is to raise public awareness of the importance of doing your homework when it comes to making decisions regarding choosing a mediation training. Taking a mediation training constitutes an investment in your professional development, representing an important commitment of both time and money. The last thing you want is to waste either one of those precious commodities.

If you are interested in undergoing training to become a mediator, be an educated consumer. Research trainers and training programs carefully before making a commitment. The following questions were developed to assist you in gathering the information you will need to make an informed decision regarding the selection of an appropriate mediation training program.

1. What preliminary questions should I ask?

At present, there is no uniform regulatory scheme governing the practice of mediation, and, unlike other professions, such as law or medicine, there is no formal licensing or credentialing of mediators. States and governmental bodies such as courts set forth different requirements for mediators and mediation practice, so you should find out what requirements or qualifications standards for mediators are specified by the state you plan to practice in. (See Section 3, below, for information on Massachusetts.) A lead trainer or director of a training program should be familiar with these requirements.

Second, even within the field there are differing perspectives on how mediation itself should be defined and what constitutes the practice of mediation. You should be aware that there are different models and approaches—facilitative, transformative and evaluative—in mediation practice which define the mediator’s role in different ways. The facilitative is probably the best-known and most commonly taught. Be sure to find out what philosophy the training program utilizes and what core beliefs and values the program will teach participants.

Third, find out from the lead trainer what kinds of skills and techniques they believe are integral to effective mediation practice. Ask what the training will prepare students for upon its conclusion. Ask whether the program utilizes solo or co-mediation and why.

Fourth, in addition to inquiring about the program’s philosophy, it is also important to ask about the design of the mediation training program. How will skills and concepts be taught? What information will students receive on ethical guidelines and issues? What is the student to teacher ratio? How is time allocated among presentation, group discussion, and application, including role-playing? What kinds of materials, including a manual, will be provided to students? What is the bibliography for this program?

2. What should I look for in a lead trainer and training faculty?

The Mediation Training Standards developed by the Massachusetts Association of Mediation Programs and Practitioners provide sound recommendations for trainer qualifications: “The mediation trainer should have extensive experience as a mediator in order to be accepted as a credible teacher and role model. Thorough knowledge of the mediation process and a mediator’s techniques and strategic choices is also essential.” Added to this should be a comprehensive understanding of the ethical rules governing mediator conduct.

Find out what you can about the lead trainer, other members of the training faculty, and their professional backgrounds. What kind of work do they do in the mediation field? What types of cases do they mediate? How long have they been mediating? How long has this organization been providing training services? How many individuals have they trained?

Other essential qualifications to look for include whether the trainers

  • are active in the dispute resolution field through membership in professional associations, dispute resolution panels, and organizations committed to the advancement of dispute resolution
  • are committed to best practices and continuing education by regularly upgrading their skills and theoretical grounding on an ongoing basis through advanced training and attendance at conferences and other educational programs
  • have a demonstrated commitment to the dispute resolution community through public awareness initiatives and support of other dispute resolution professionals
  • through their connections in the dispute resolution community can help you identify and network with dispute resolution professionals and others who can provide mentoring, guidance, or information to help you get started in the mediation field

I cannot emphasize how important these characteristics and qualifications are. There do exist mediation trainings conducted by wholly unqualified trainers, so it is critical to find out all you can about the trainers. Definitely request to see bios or resumes for trainers as well.

3. How many hours of training should I receive?

The answer to that question depends upon what state you intend to practice in. Here in Massachusetts, state law specifies a minimum of 30 hours of training in order for mediators to be covered by the mediator confidentiality statute (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 233, § 23C). In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court recently created Guidelines for Implementation of Qualifications Standards for Neutrals which set forth requirements for mediators in court-connected dispute resolution programs. These Guidelines specify a minimum of 30 hours of mediation training for mediators, with 36 to 40 hours recommended. The more hours of training that a mediation training provides participants, the more comprehensive and in-depth the training is likely to be.

To see what other states require, there is a draft report entitled State Mediator Rosters and Qualifications prepared by the Institute of Government, College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which provides an overview of the requirements specified by the 50 states for mediators.

4. What should a training curriculum cover?

At a minimum, a basic mediation training curriculum will typically cover the following topics:

  • Overview of ADR processes
  • Principles of mediation
  • Stages and goals of mediation process
  • Role of mediator
  • Nature of conflict/behaviors in conflict
  • Mediation skills, including negotiation skills, interactive listening, question-asking, use of neutral language, reframing, interest identification, addressing barriers to agreement, agreement writing
  • Values and bias awareness
  • Cultural diversity
  • Power imbalance
  • Working with attorneys and representatives of parties
  • Ethical issues, including confidentiality, impartiality, informed consent, conflict of interest, fees, responsibilities to 3rd parties, advertising and soliciting, withdrawal by mediator

This material is typically taught utilizing a range of teaching methods, including lecture, large and small group discussion, interactive exercises, and coached role-playing. Trainings should provide at least three opportunities for a participant to play a mediator in coached role-playing under the supervision of an experienced mediator, who will provide feedback to support and facilitate learning.

5. What happens after a training? How can I gain mediation experience and mentoring?

Before you take a basic mediation training offered through an organization, find out what opportunities are available to obtain mediation experience after the training is over. Such opportunities are typically available on a volunteer basis, usually through small claims cases at local district courts. Beginning mediators are teamed up with more experienced mediators for coaching and support in developing skills. This can be an effective way to build the skills you acquired through training and to become acquainted with others in the field. There is generally no cost to the volunteer mediator for participating in such a program, but you should be prepared to ask whether there are any costs or membership fees associated with volunteering.

In addition, organizations may offer practica to individuals who have completed a mediation program. A practicum provides intensive supervision and coaching to newly trained mediators by experienced and highly qualified mentors. Its purpose is to increase a mediator’s effectiveness and support the acquisition, development and refinement of skills and techniques. Enrollment is usually limited, and organizations typically charge tuition for such programs.

6. What can I expect to pay for basic mediation training?

Cost can range from as little as $600 for training offered through an all-volunteer community mediation program to several thousand dollars. In the Greater Boston area, you can expect to pay in the $650 to $1800 range for basic mediation training.

A basic mediation training should be viewed as an investment in your professional development. Although there is no licensing or certification of mediators in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, mediators nonetheless consider themselves to be professionals. Professionals such as social workers, psychologists, attorneys, and others invest in getting the education they need to perform their jobs effectively, including post-secondary and advanced degrees and continuing education. Aspiring mediators should do likewise in selecting carefully the training that will prepare them to become effective professionals. Therefore, you should approach mediation training in the same way you would any other professional training by choosing a training program that will help you achieve your professional and personal goals. A quality mediation training may cost more, but it provides greater benefit in the long run.

7. Where can I get mediation training?

For those of you in the New England area, information on upcoming training programs may be found on the web site for the Association for Conflict Resolution, New England Chapter (NE-ACR), a non-profit association “dedicated to serving its members and the public by providing expertise and resources on the field of conflict resolution…[Its] members are mediators, arbitrators, facilitators and educators from different backgrounds and professions from across the six New England states.” NE-ACR’s goal is “to build the understanding and use of quality conflict resolution services.” Click on the link for “ADR Calendar” for a list of trainings offered around the New England area. However, be aware that NE-ACR cannot ensure the quality of the programs listed in its calendar–you still need to do your homework before making any commitment.

That’s one way to find trainings. You can also contact the leaders of professional associations for dispute resolution practitioners in your area and ask them for their recommendations. For those of you outside the New England area, the Association for Conflict Resolution is a good place to go to find local chapters in your area, as well as to locate professional mediators in your community. Find out from them what trainings they might recommend, and talk to a number of practitioners.

The important thing, however, is to do your homework. You’ll be glad you took the time.

[Important note: Since I published this post back in January 2005, I have revisited this issue. For further information on careers in mediation and choosing a mediation training, click here.]

Technorati tags: , ,