What do you find to be the most challenging or stressful aspect of your mediation practice and how do you manage it?
I seldom get stressed when mediating. I prepare the parties as best as I can and then take comfort in the fact that I know how to conduct a safe process that gives them the best opportunity to control their own fate. Also, I am comfortable in managing high emotion. I learned this early in my career, when I practiced family mediation.
Where I sometimes do get stressed is in the business development part of my practice. I know that informal processes are most often the best way for people to move forward. After decades of mediating, my work continually reminds me that strong communication skills are the essence of getting people to a better place. It is frustrating when potential clients do not realize the value that we bring with our less formal approaches. This is mainly because ADR is still a relatively new profession, without clear messages to help clients understand our value. This is frustrating and can lead to stress.
I find that taking the long view and reminding myself that transformational systemic change is a long, slow process - combined with my passion for making a difference in the lives of the people who I have the privilege to work with - helps me overcome the bumps along the road and keeps my stress levels to a minimum.
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 have always been physically active, and this has immeasurably helped me relax and stay healthy over the years. I try to get a least one hour of exercise each day. Another great relaxer is retreating to our country place. Walking in the forest, splitting and carrying firewood, cutting trails, basically getting out in nature is extremely important to me. Finally, if exceptionally tired, I go to quiet place and meditate. This is always a sure way to get quick and deep rest. I know I should do that more regularly.
Do you have any advice for fellow or aspiring mediators in terms of developing strategies to preserve good mental health?
I have been a long-time volunteer at the YMCA. The Y’s motto is short – “Body, Mind and Spirit”. I try to attend to all three. Think about what you can do to do so.
Is there anything you do in preparing to mediate to safeguard your health and well being?
I have trained mediators for many years. In my workshops, I always cover ADR Canada Inc.’s and ADR Ontario’s Inc.’s Model Code of Conduct for Mediators and Code of Ethics in my workshops. Knowing and following these foundational guidelines, that describe both the expectations and limitations of the mediator, keeps me grounded and secure in my work, and helps me stay healthy.
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?
It is extremely rare that I have felt mentally or physically at risk while mediating. It is much more often that I am thinking about the well-being of one of the parties. I recall an incident where, prior to the start of a mediation, I was tipped off that a party might be packing a gun. I discussed this with the other party, who decided to proceed with the mediation. I alerted the police, and they kept a close watch on the situation. Another time I was tipped off that a special interest group was planning to take over our mediation room (which in fact turned out to be the case). In that instance, I contacted both the local Police Service and their partnering Indigenous Police Service for assistance. Thank goodness these situations do not happen too often, but they make for good war stories when they do.
Have you ever experienced compassion fatigue? If so, how have you dealt with it?
I cannot really recall experiencing compassion fatigue. I find that showing empathy to the parties during my mediations is a gift that, not only can I give to them, but that also affirms our humanity and helps me stay healthy.
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?
Empathy is about acknowledging our common humanity and being concerned for where people are at in the moment. Most people do not like being in conflict and hope to get to a better place. Having empathy shows that we care about our clients. Intense emotion in mediation is a reflection of people’s struggle to get to a better place, and it can be a barrier to doing so. A primary canon of mediation is self-determination. It is a mediator’s duty to help each party work through their emotions to get to a position where they can make good decisions about their futures. Getting personally caught up in clients’ emotions impedes our ability to help them cope with their own emotions and achieve self-determination. It is a dereliction of our duty. Having said that, this does not mean that we try to deny our own emotions, including, sometimes, shedding a tear or two of our own.
To learn more about Richard's practice, click here.
interview conducted December 2020