What do you find to be the most challenging or stressful aspect of your mediation practice and how do you manage it?
This has changed since my practice has grown. As you know, building a practice can be very challenging. It is hard to get known and to establish yourself. It was discouraging at times. Now that I’m fairly busy, the stresses are different. While I love what I do, I have to make sure that I allow myself enough time to exercise, keep a healthy diet, and spend time with friends and family.
I’m lucky to have mentors and friends in mediation who I can turn to when I need advice or just want to de-brief a difficult case.
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?
Yes – a couple of years ago I took up Shotokan Karate. I have a brown belt, and I try to train several times a week. It’s good exercise, it gets me out of my head, and I’ve met some wonderful people.
What aspect of mediating poses the greatest obstacles for your own health and well-being? Do you have any strategies to manage this?
It is hard for me to see people make what seem like bad decisions – often against the advice of their lawyers. But I remind myself that no one can foresee the future and things might turn out OK after all. And more importantly, I believe strongly in party autonomy – and that includes the autonomy to make bad decisions.
In my organizational work, I find it difficult when the problems I see can be traced to structural factors in an organization, and I can also see that there is no institutional will to make the structural changes that will improve things. It is easy to feel hopeless. Here I find it helps to talk with other mediators – while keeping the particulars confidential, of course.
Do you have any advice for fellow or aspiring mediators in terms of developing strategies to preserve good mental health?
I would say to surround yourself with positive people who will support you, and to find like-minded mentors. I’m fortunate to belong to a weekly professional networking group, and I get a lot of support from them.
Mediators often work alone, so having activities where you’re meeting other people is important – maybe team sports, or singing in a choir, or some regular volunteer activity.
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?
Knock wood – this hasn’t happened to me. I’ve heard of mediations where things got out of hand and people have thrown coffee mugs, etc.
Is there anything you do in preparing to mediate to safeguard your health and well-being?
I take the possibility of violence very seriously. When I started my training I took some courses in family mediation, although I eventually decided not to practice in that area. The section of the training on domestic violence was very useful. I’ve also taken courses on de-escalating potentially violent situations, I read up on the psychology of violence, and a big aspect of martial arts training is preparing for violence.
When I read mediation briefs, and before I go into a workplace, I assess the potential for violence. I once mediated a personal injury suit arising from a serious criminal assault. You can be sure that I took great efforts to make sure that the plaintiff and defendant were never in the same room and didn’t cross paths.
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?
I remind myself that this isn’t my conflict, and at the end of the day I’m going home.
To learn more about Jeanette's practice, visit Bicknell Mediation.
interview conducted January 2019