The values of conflict resolution
We need to be open about conflict – not just give in to a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Conflict is the source of changes for the better in our society, a force for progress but only if handled respectfully and openly.
All parties to a conflict should participate in its resolution – high authority procedures like litigation take conflict out of the hands of the parties involved. People using them often feel confused and out of control. Mediation provides for participation, the parties retain control over the decision-making, and work at their own pace, in language they can understand.
Conflict is a shared problem – viewing parties to a conflict as at ‘opposite poles’ generally limits solutions to those in which one party wins and the other lose. By visualising conflict as a shared problem, the parties can face it together and have the chance to build, rather than destroy, a relationship.
Co-operative conflict resolution depends upon certain skills – people can be taught these skills and thus handle conflict more productively.
Mediation can empower people – when people are involved in a conflict they are often not sure of their own power. They may even feel completely powerless. Mediation empowers people to see that they can work through their own problems with each other, and also deal more effectively with them in the future. It also provides safeguards to reduce the risks of power imbalances.
Violence is not an appropriate method of resolving conflict – constructive conflict resolution requires trust, seeks to create a safe place and time to settle differences, and to keep violence out of existing disputes. It also seeks to prevent situations escalating into violence in the future. It offers a real alternative to violence.
Focusing on interests not positions provides more possibilities for people in conflict – people in conflict often take up very rigid positions. These are one parties’ solution to an issue – ‘I want you out’, ‘I’m staying put’. Mediations shifts the focus to people’s interests – their concerns about an issue – ‘I want a peaceful life’, ‘I want to be free to live my life the way I choose’. It seeks to identify their interests, explore whether they have any common ground, and negotiate how they might reach agreements which satisfy both their interests.
There is a need for personal, strategic and socially acceptable alternatives to traditional methods of resolving disputes – for many involved in a dispute, the choices seem to be: ignore, be nasty, call the police, use violence, go to court, retaliate. Mediation is an alternative to these. It costs less and takes little time. Unlike most other choices, mediation lets people reach agreement without deciding who is to blame, and without labelling someone a winner and someone a loser.
Skills and qualities of a practitioner
Listening and general communications
Giving people space to say what they need to, feeding back accurately what they say, asking appropriate, encouraging questions and gathering facts effectively.
Being able to gather together and re-present facts, feelings, issues and ways forward.
Creating the feeling in other people that their thoughts and feelings are understood, giving them a chance to make their own decisions, at their own pace, and demonstrating a real interest in helping parties resolve their dispute.
Being clear about your own needs, and able to express them to other people without putting them down.
Assisting other people to communicate, listen, express emotions and concerns.
Finding our facts, identifying problems, looking at what can be done about them, and working out plans of action.
Staying clam, being assertive, encouraging communications between parties when emotions are running high, defusing anger, acknowledging and responding to strong feelings, keeping positive.
Able to put across ideas, create summaries in ways which help people build understanding. Realising the effectiveness of verbal expressions, gesture and body language in communicating with the parties and using them appropriately.
Management of the mediation process
Able to put together a variety of skills, provide a structure for the parties and keep control of the process.
Understanding of situations and people
Has experience with people, some understanding of various different kinds of behaviour, the necessary substantive knowledge of the issues, and a familiarity with relevant rules or guidelines.
Ability to learn from experience
Willing to build on knowledge, self-awareness, and understanding of others.
Honesty, knowledge of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.
Openness to other people
Respect, understanding of differences, and an awareness of own prejudices.
Is concerned about the outcome for both sides and has the ability to demonstrate that to the parties.
Pays attention to own feelings and behaviour, so as not to treat the parties unfairly without realising it.
Is able to change process in order to meet the needs of each situation
Has the ability to be aware of own feelings, and balance them with the needs of the situation; can match the need for authority and control with a concern for the parties.
Commitment to equal opportunities
A willingness to build an understanding of how ‘isms’ such as racism, sexism and ageism play a part in disputes between people, to be aware of different cultural needs, and to work with a diversity of clients and colleagues in an even-handed not-discriminatory fashion.
Has the ability to assess realistic chances of change and agreement; knows when to stop and when to continue.
Ability to come up with ideas, try different ways of working where necessary, and be flexible to changing situations.
Take work seriously, is prepared and on time, is respectful to parties at all times.
Code of Conduct
The European Code of Conduct for Mediators is the most recognised for UK mediators.
There is also a specific Family Mediators Code of Practice
And for Restorative Justice Practitioners this applies:
Mediation and Restorative Practice is not regulated in the UK. This means that anyone can call themselves a mediator or an RJ practitioner.
There are accrediting bodies who set standards and provide accredited training. This means that the mediation providers and their mediators have passed a recognised training course and adhere to certain practice standards. Scotland has its own system through the Scottish Mediation Network
Mediators usually pursue accreditation in order to become part of a registered panel that accesses mediation casework. This is also becoming true for RJ work.
There is no other recognised accreditation process. Some organisations provide their own ‘accreditation’. Some providers accredit mediators using the Open College Network. The Centre for Peaceful Solutions is a registered OCN provider and can provide training up to OCN level 4
Accreditation is not a guarantee of skill or quality. There are good and bad mediators like there are good and bad doctors, teachers or lawyers. It is possible to be a great practitioner and not be signed up to any accrediting body and it is possible to be a poor practitioner and have every accreditation going. And, of course vice versa applies.
In some cases it might not be possible to access certain types of casework without an accreditation. For example in family mediation only specifically recognised mediators can provide mediation under Legal Aid or sign a specific form which the court would use to process a divorce.
Centre for Peaceful Solutions has made careful choices about which bodies we sign up to and some we choose not to be part of. Regulation, standards and accreditation are a complex topic and we do not necessarily agree with top down hierarchical systems which are at odds with some of the values we espouse. We believe that professionalism, accountability, quality, openness, integrity and continuous development are important and can be attained through other peer based systems.
It is also, perhaps controversial to write this publicly, but true to say that there is a lot of tension in the mediation industry demonstrated by the obvious issue that there is not one unified body representing mediation in the UK. Instead, each practice area defends its own turf. On the other hand different organisations that co-exist promotes discussion and choice which is positive.
There are four practice areas where accreditation is nationally recognised.
Civil / Commercial and Workplace / Employment mediation are accredited by the Civil Mediation Council.
Family (divorce) Mediation is accredited by the Family Mediation Council which has six member organisations which sell accredited family mediation training.
The Restorative Justice Council accredits RJ Practitioners.
If you are looking for a practitioner the most important consideration in choosing a practitioner is your own sense of what is happening and your own desire for resolution.
You may feel challenged but you should not feel forced into any outcome. You might change your desired outcome because it makes sense to you to do so. You should feel empowered to ask the practitioner about anything you do not understand and expect to get answers that you can understand.
Becoming a practitioner
Practising in Mediation or RJ is rewarding and fulfilling. It is also challenging and inspiring. However, we do not live in a society where people self-refer as a matter of course so getting work can be difficult.
The best way to start is with a basic mediation training which should be at least 30 hours. The training should include role plays. The training will give you the basics but it is very important that you can observe a live case with a skilled and experienced practitioner soon after the training and find places to continue to practice otherwise you lose the skills very quickly. The next step is to assist and then finally to lead a case with a skilled and experienced practitioner to support you.
You will also need to build your practice through a mixture of ongoing training, peer discussion, supervision and casework.
Personal growth and development are also important. Self-awareness leads to better practice.
There are a few routes to working as a mediator:
- Setting up in private practice
- Getting onto a mediation provider’s panel of mediators
- Volunteering with a mediation service
- Finding employment with an organisation (these opportunities are rare)
Being inventive helps; if you can find areas that would benefit from mediation and conflict resolution start networking and marketing and you can create opportunities.
The Centre for Peaceful Solutions began in 2006 after Maria Arpa found herself working in areas of immense poverty. Gang activity was on the increase and there were drive by shootings on her road. Maria did not want to start a business that could profit from people’s misery. However, she did need to sustain herself and her household so the charity started with a small group of committed people. As its CEO, Maria earns a salary from the charity, (which she only draws when the charity has sufficient funding) and the charity develops innovative and cutting edge projects pushing back the boundaries of what can be done with these tools. The ethics work because no one profits from conflict.