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?
I used to play hockey and found it to be a great way to blow off steam and get some exercise. Unfortunately, it also took up a lot of time. So, I started running instead. For the most part, I do it on my own and find the time I spend “in my zone”, pounding the pavement to the tunes of my playlist, to be therapeutic.
I also do a fair bit of writing, which I find helps me reflect and process my experiences. While most of my writing is focused on my professional life, I have also had some fun writing on other topics. (I’ve been published twice in Canadian Running magazine and contributed a guest blog post to Food Allergy Canada.) Writing about mediation most supports my wellness as a mediator but I enjoy the process of tackling some other subject matter from time-to-time as a way to unwind.
Do you have any advice for fellow or aspiring mediators in terms of developing strategies to preserve good mental health?
Mediators are trained to focus on the parties to the dispute. They apply tools, techniques and strategies to help them without ever really considering themselves. During a mediation, it makes sense for the mediator to focus on those directly experiencing the dispute to try to help them improve the situation. Thus, the real opportunities that mediators have to consider themselves arise before the mediation gets underway. My advice is to plan ahead. Arrive early, ensure you are fed and watered, use the bathroom and do all you can to comfortably give 100% to your 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?
Yes – more than once.
I do a fair bit of mediation with self-represented parties and, on two memorable occasions that took place several years apart, encountered a client who struggled with anger management issues.
On both occasions, I found myself in caucus facing an irrationally angry outburst and wondering if I might get punched. While I was not the target of anger, it was more a feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To be honest, I braced for the potential of getting decked, yet continued on as I had a job to do. Both times, I was able to help my client calm down and re-focus.
While there are several other reasons why I always encourage self-represented clients to bring along a support person to mediation, I suppose that it is one way that I try to protect myself from physical risks of this nature.
On another occasion, I encountered a heckler in a mediation I was facilitating. This person was not a direct party to the dispute but was involved and had a role to play in the mediation. I am not certain that they planned to mess with me, though do think that it was their intention to do so going in. Upon greeting, this person attempted to body shame me – it was unwarranted and completely out of nowhere. I ignored it at the time but did find myself resentful after the fact, as it was entirely unprofessional and inappropriate.
During the mediation, and despite confirming that they were willing to stay for the full scheduled duration of the mediation at the outset, the heckler complained about how long the mediation process was taking and asked me to wrap it up... several times. This individual was not contributing much, yet progress was being made with the parties to the dispute, so I did not let this bother me or affect how I carried myself. I did not ignore the complaints, but maintained my focus on the parties.
Once settlement was reached and the mediation concluded, it turns out that I won over the heckler. They have had nothing but good things to say about me ever since. I’ve spent much time reflecting on that experience and the different ways I could have responded. While this includes the thought of ejecting the heckler from the mediation, at the end of the day, I think that I handled the situation the best way that I could have, and would do so again.
Is there anything you do in preparing to mediate to safeguard your health and well-being?
I have developed a “Mediator Survival Kit” that I try to have with me, in some form, at all of my mediations. It includes small snacks, water, tissues and other little things that are helpful to have handy. Mediators often have very little time for themselves in the course of facilitating the process and I find that my kit allows me to better take care of myself while mediating. Of the items in my kit, I find water and a snack to be the most important to keep handy – especially if there is potential that a mediation could go into overtime.
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 appreciate that emotion has a significant role to play in conflict. There are often times were a party needs to “get something off their chest” before they can even start to truly mediate. While I do my best to empathize with my clients, I view my role in the process to require me to separate myself from emotions that are tied to a dispute. This is not to say that I disregard them, emotions are very important. It is more that I view my role to be about managing more than only the emotional elements of a dispute. By thinking about the bigger picture, I find that I am able to respect emotions and keep my clients on track.
To learn more about Marc's practice, please visit Marc on Mediation.
interview conducted July 2019