Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Value of A Professional Study Group

Over the past couple of weeks, I've attended a couple of different study groups that have really enhanced my practice in small and large ways. The first, hosted by my colleague, Wendy Kramer through the Southern California Mediation Association, was a group of about a dozen mediators. We considered a difficult personality and a bind that one of our members had experienced in a mediation that had not yet been completed. The very next day, I found myself in a quandary about an issue of finalizing a settlement. I called Wendy and suggested the topic for our next monthly meeting. It was a great relief to be able to take that matter off my shoulders, anticipating wisdom, validation or consolation within a matter of weeks from some of my esteemed contemporaries. This past week, I attended an informal gathering of about 17 mediators and a few other professionals, at the home of my friend, Laurel Kaufer. There, we were guided in the art of the story by Stacie Chaiken, about whom I have previously posted (see the Blog about storytelling). I think Stacie has a certain dynamic genius, but more than that, it was again a rich opportunity to take our thinking and practice to a higher level, and our friendships to a deeper one. We all spend plenty of time attending events where clients or potential clients are, but often ignore our inner needs to enrich and unload our own triumphs and challenges amongst a group of professionals who understand them. It may not be a coincidence that the only images I could find on Google to depict study groups were Church groups. So my conclusion is that these groups have the potential, perhaps even promise, of restoring a mediator's soul. The redemption offered by your colleagues' validation or simple understanding is unrivaled. I am grateful to have become a part of each of these groups and urge you to begin one in your town or join in on an existing one. For your sake!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mediator Ethics

It's an interesting thing, mediator ethics. I know that many mediators, particularly those that had a stint as Judges in prior lives, advise the parties before them that they will beat up on each side until they get a settlement. I, on the other hand, tend to prefer to cast the whole event in a more positive light, by letting the parties know I'm there to partner with them to get the best deal--while telling the same to the other side. In the end, we achieve the same result: a settlement that both parties can live with. But what I hope to achieve is a settlement in which both parties are satisfied, whereas those that take the "beating up" approach tend to go after the settlement where both parties are equally unhappy. Is that a violation of my mediators ethics? I attended a training this week with the LA Superior Court in which the Judge very plainly cautioned that we must never allow a litigant to have reason to believe we are biased towards (or against) them. Yet I know it is common practice in our community for mediators to treat clients to meals, sporting events and concerts. Even a bottle of wine or cigar at the conclusion of a settlement is not unheard of! So are our ethical constraints different than a Judges? And if so, is it time for us to revisit them? I'm still considering this one...with no answers this week, only questions.