Skip to main content

Learnings of a new(ish) mediator


An edited version of the following blog entry was originally published in "Mediation Matters - January 2023 - Issue 2" the quarterly newsletter of The University of Strathclyde Mediation Clinic. 

Alan Jeffrey is a part-time student in his second year on the Msc Mediation and Conflict Resolution course at Strathclyde University. He currently works for Cyrenians Mediation support as a family mediator and workshop facilitator, as well as volunteering for Strathclyde Mediation Clinic and Lothian and Borders Court Mediation.

As I approach the one-year anniversary of my first mediation, a hostile standoff between a furious mother and a newly homeless teenager, it feels appropriate to reflect on the things I have learned. Like mediation itself, my thoughts and feelings about the practice can be messy, constantly shifting and are routinely updated as my experience grows.

Yet, here are some of the challenges, thoughts, questions, and topics which have stuck with me as I begin the journey to becoming an experienced mediator…in no particular order. The following list is not exhaustive, nor do I commit to standing by these statements next year, or this afternoon.  

Boring cases. Interesting people
I don’t think it casts me in the best light…but I don’t really care about people’s kitchen worktops, complaints against travel companies, or unpaid parking fines. Most of the conflicts I have encountered in Simple Procedure cases are often dull to me…at least on paper.

But…people are interesting. The reason that someone is behind on their energy bills or why they parked their car in that particular spot is rarely simple, and often fascinating. There is always a unique narrative, a fascinating story that demands to be told, and mediation as a format can allow for the telling.

I am a people person, not a problem person. Understanding motivations, empathising with people’s situations, acknowledging their struggles, and helping them communicate that to others can make the banalest problem truly interesting.

5 hours for 5 years
I shuffled like a zombie away from the computer screen, dehydrated, tired and doubting. Doubting my skill level as a mediator. How did I let that mediation go on for FIVE HOURS! Should I have ended it after three?! Four hours?! Could I have said one magical sentence that would have miraculously resolved their conflict in ninety minutes? Who knows, but I was certain someone better at this than me could have got this wrapped up quicker and more confidently.

I wallowed in imposter syndrome for a few days before the chant of ‘five hours’ gave way to the thought of ‘five years’. Five years that conflict had raged on for. Years of anxiety, stress and frustration. Five hours to resolve this conflict, feels more reasonable in this context. In-fact five hours to resolve a five year long conflict sounds beyond reasonable, and honours the desires of both partiers who communicated to us they wanted to get this resolved today.

I haven’t quite processed why the lengthy duration of this mediation upset me so much in the moment, but the act of reviewing the mediation less through my ego and more in the context of the wider conflict seems like a smart one.

2 / 3
Sustainability is key
My ego thoroughly enjoys the fact that all simple procedure mediations thus far have reached agreement. I must be pretty amazing at this mediation thing, right?

Perhaps I should be more concerned about the sustainability of such agreements. Several times I have received emails after the fact suggesting that one or more parties has not stuck to the agreement and the conflict remains ongoing.

Is this human nature, bound to happen in a certain percentage of cases, no matter how agreement is reached? Or was the agreement doomed to failure by the way it was agreed? Did I, in my need to “win” at the game of mediation, push for an agreement that I knew would be unsustainable? Not consciously. But the pride I take in a  “successful” settlement may subconsciously highlight this to be true.

What I know is I have no desire to create settlement for the sake of a positive outcome in the moment, sacrificing sustainability. Sustainability is key and perhaps communicating this to the parties clearer may destroy my “winning streak” but ensure any agreements that are made haver a better chance of being met.

Shuttle mediation - a necessary evil?
I don’t like it. I don’t like shuttle mediations. I don’t like private caucus. Zoom breakout room and are ideological nightmare fuel, threatening my carefully constructed mediation identity.  

I like conversations. I want people to have conversations and find agreement through dialogue. I want to empower people to sit in a room and discuss real problems like real adults.

I’ve heard all the arguments for shuttle and private caucus. You all make perfect sense. I know you are (mostly) right and I am wrong. In-fact I use it myself…and I feel like I’m cheating and taking the easy way out.

No one I’ve spoken to agrees with me.
But…I just don’t like it. So there!
I’m having a tantrum now. I’ll get over it.

Too much to say
I could go on…I wanted to talk about the usefulness of ritual in mediation, something I take from my previous career in the theatre. I wanted to talk about the honour that is being let into other people’s lives. The difficulties and endless rewards of co-mediation. I wanted to talk about the impact that those not in the room may have on the mediation, the spouse that may not be in attendance but has strong opinions on the outcome, or the employers/employees who don’t get

3 / 3
a say but will be impacted by the decisions made. And I REALLY wanted to talk about whether mediation gets in the way of justice…Yet I’ve made you read enough of my rambling and thank you for indulging me.

I plan to re-read this next year, and update with learnings year two has brought. I may chuckle at the naivety of my writing here, or perhaps be struggling with the same thoughts. Yet, if I’ve learned anything on this nascent journey is that mediation encourages reflection, learning from our mistakes and experimenting with different styles and techniques. And after a year of successes, failures and mistake making, I am no less fascinated about the opportunities to come in the world of mediation.

1 / 3


Popular posts from this blog

Will you please start acting like an animal!

  Steve and Andy aren’t happy with each other. Steve stole Andy’s lunch, a delicious fruit platter piled high with pineapples, mango, and ripe bananas. Understandably, this made Andy angry - he was looking forward to this exotically sumptuous banquet. Steve doesn’t feel too guilty though, he was already furious with Andy, for Andy had only that morning performed a salacious dance for Lola’s benefit, Lola being the female that Steve has his eye on of course, and sadly for Steve, she seemed to enjoy it. As fists are raised towards the canopy and panted barks ring through the forest, violence is all but certain. Chimpanzees, for that, is what Steve and Andy are, have been known to aggressively maim, kill and even cannibalise their brethren when conflict arises. This is bad news for Andy, the smaller of the chimps who I’m sure does not want to be eaten by his family. As the conflict escalates and violent hoots give way to physical posturing, the troop is seconds away from wild and savage c

A conversation starter - A blog about the blog!

  A few weeks back I went on a long run with a virtual stranger. My usual running buddy was on parenting duties; pancakes, PAW Patrol and Play-Doh kept him away from his planned training.  Sadly he would remain entrenched in the house on what was a perfect day for running. The sun was shining, the temperature was in double-digits and I had brand new running shoes in an ostentatious colourway. The Holy Trifecta. Of course, long runs are always improved by the company, so it was unfortunate that this key-element had been ruined by the middle-aged burden of responsibility. Luckily, the previous week a third runner had joined us, a friend of my friend who held all the characteristics a good running buddy should hold.  He ran at a similar pace to me, was keen and capable of running the required long-miles and had decent banter. So, despite having only met him once, I reached out. I felt like my six-year-old daughter approaching another child in the playground “Will you run with me? Will you

Intimacy through insults - The strange world of male friendships

  **Please note this piece discusses suicide. Feel free to skip this one if that is something you don't want to read about** “Middle-aged men are more likely to die by suicide than any other age group” ( Samaritans,2012) I wonder whether the above statement is shocking to you? I am horrified when I read that roughly 7% of UK children have attempted suicide by the age of 17. I am aghast when I hear that the number one cause of death in mothers, in their first year of motherhood, is suicide. When I discovered that men, specifically middle-aged men from disadvantaged backgrounds have the highest rate of suicide compared to other groups, I said to myself… “That makes sense”. Perhaps it’s because I’m fast approaching middle-aged myself. In fact I may be there already…does 37 count as middle-aged!? Or that in recent years instances of suicide have touched my life that affirms those findings. I inherently knew this was true before the evidence was presented to me. I could have been wrong,