You often don’t know what you’re getting when you take a case as a volunteer mediator with CCR. You may not even know what type of case you’re going to be mediating if you volunteer with one of our court programs. It’s something of a gamble - you don’t know what might be at issue in the dispute, and you don’t know where the parties are going to be emotionally. So, aside from all the training you’ve received, how do you prepare for the unexpected?
As the mediator, your primary responsibility in the room is to create an opportunity for communication between the parties. Yes, you’ll get names and ask for initial statements. You’ll flipside, reality test, and BATNA/WATNA. But these are the mechanics of what you’ll do. Your real role is to hold a space for a conversation in which you are a participant, but not a party.
With that in mind, the following practices can assist you in preparing to hold that space:
- Get rest the night before: It may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you come to your mediation well-rested. Mediation takes from us as mediators and we give to it. That is infinitely harder to do when we are not rested.
- Eat, eat! You’re skin and bones!: Another tip where you may think to yourself, “Well, duh.” But, again, mediation asks something of us and sometimes requires hours of concentration. If your brain is going to be on non-stop for that long, you want to be sure you’ve given it the energy it needs.
- There is no “right” question: Be thoughtful and forgiving concerning your role as mediator. Be prepared to make mistakes and forgive yourself when you do. If you make a mistake the parties are aware of, own it with a simple apology and move on. If your question pushed the conversation in an unproductive direction, gently steer it back. This is an art, not a science. Allow yourself room to err.
- Give yourself space during the mediation: We’re asking a lot of you. Parties are asking a lot of you, and they don’t always know it. Allow yourself to breathe. Give yourself that restroom break. Bring a protein bar or a piece of fruit to power up in the middle of a long session. Create space for yourself so that you can create space for others.
- Dos and Don’ts before and after a mediation: Along the lines of resting and eating… don’t schedule a stressful phone call for just before your mediation. Meditate that morning. Get your favorite coffee. Give yourself time to get to the office or the courthouse. Afterward, do something to relax if you can - take a walk, have your lunch in a peaceful place. Not every mediator needs these things, and not every case requires it, but give yourself permission to be kind to yourself.
The lesson here is to practice self-care. You cannot take care of others--and mediating is a kind of caretaking--unless you take care of yourself. So, stay calm and mediate!