What do you find to be the most challenging or stressful aspect of your mediation practice and how do you manage it?
For me the most stressful part of mediation starts long before I get into the mediation room. When new parties contact me looking for mediation, but the other party has not yet been invited to mediate. I always find myself struggling with the right approach to bring the other party to a table where I get to serve as the neutral.
The conflict is the conflict; however the approach at the earliest phase of a mediation can colour the whole process. It is exceedingly important and it’s one of the only parts I can’t see the reaction to. Even when I get it right, I worry that I have not set the stage for settlement.
The risk of rejection also makes me uncomfortable, rejection of the process and rejection of me as the neutral. If a party doesn’t want to mediate with me, I often won’t know why. Was it the process? My approach? Their relationship? Frankly, just answering this question gets me a bit fired up.
Is there any particular activity that you engage in outside of practice that you find helps you unwind or otherwise supports your wellness as a mediator?
My wellness as a mediator is supported by a dedication to the craft. I am completing a Masters of Laws in Dispute Resolution at Osgoode Hall. I really gain a measure of satisfaction by developing the skills that I can offer to my clients.
Also, I try and escape on a cruise ship whenever workload and finances allow.
What aspect of mediating poses the greatest obstacles for your own health and well being? Do you have any strategies to manage this?
After spending 16 years as a paramedic, it may seem hard to believe, but I get an adrenaline rush from mediating. I don’t see the work itself as an impediment to my well being so much as supporting my well being.
There are days when multiple priorities can feel overwhelming. On those days I find lists to be very helpful. I keep a pad of letter size paper on my desk exclusively for daily lists. I get great satisfaction from crossing things of the to do list.
Do you have any advice for fellow or aspiring mediators in terms of developing strategies to preserve good mental health?
During the mediation the advice I would give to mediators is the same as the advice I gave to new paramedics for years: it’s not your emergency. You are injected into a situation that you didn’t create. As the mediator, it is your responsibility to work with the parties to see if they can find a way out of it.
In between mediations my advice would be to ensure you have multiple income streams. A full time practice takes time to build and jumping in without a net will work for very few of us. Make a plan to develop your client base over a number of years.
Is there anything you do in preparing to mediate to safeguard your health and well being?
Jazz. When heading to a mediation, I listen to jazz in the car to get myself in the right headspace. I don’t take calls on my way to a mediation. I put my focus on the process and on the clients.
Have you ever experienced an action by a party mediating that posed a risk to your physical or mental well being? If so, what did you do to protect yourself?
I have mediated cases with people who were being manipulative and tried to manipulate me. I have a rather direct approach. I asked them in caucus what would be gained by their current course of action and asked if they were serious about getting a deal or if they were just into wasting time. They modified their behaviour and the parties found a settlement.
I also mediated a small claims case where one party was clearly intoxicated by crack cocaine. He was unstable and had issues with personal space. In that case, experience told me that escalation was not a good idea. I tried to direct his energy into his claim and prolonged the talking. He represented a risk but he was not a threat. As I continued dealing with him, as the drug came down from its peak, he calmed. In the end, the parties did not reach a settlement.
Have you ever experienced compassion fatigue? If so, how have you dealt with it?
I have experienced it, but I just didn’t care.
But seriously, I draw on my experience as a clinician. Patients don’t care about your day or your life. You are there to help them. Mediation is the same thing. Parties are in conflict; it is about them, not me.
Mediators often work with parties who have intense emotions that surface in the course of a mediation. How do you do draw the line between empathizing and not letting yourself get caught up in emotion at the negotiation table?
They are often scared and feel under threat. It’s my job to help them for the time I am with them. There is a concept in medicine called clinical distance and I think it has important applications in mediation. Clinical distance allows a clinician to get close enough to express empathy without entering the situation themselves. Incidentally, maintaining this distance also helps a mediator maintain the appearance and reality of neutrality.
To learn more about Dave's practice, visit Wakely Mediation.
interview conducted February 2019