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 The Path to Success as a Mediator

On March 6, 2019, ADRIA held a panel discussion with five Alberta-based mediators to discuss their views on mediation and what the path to mediation success might look like for newcomers to the field.  Below is an edited transcript of the 2-hour panel discussion. 


Tammy Borowiecki
ADRIA Panel Facilitator:

If you're here, you're probably interested in finding out how to break into the mediation world. What opportunities are there? How do mediators get the work that they get? Or, what are they looking for when hiring mediators?

Each of the panelists will share who they are, their journey to becoming a mediator and what it took in terms of their ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) training and practice to get where they are today. Following that, we will have a series of four questions for the panelists to discuss and finally, there will be an opportunity for questions.

Panelists: How do you use ADR in your work? What was your journey to becoming an ADR practitioner? And what ADR opportunities are there in your organization or area of practice?

Michael Scheidl

Manager, Intermunicipal Relations, Government of Alberta:

Thanks very much for having me. I'll just give you a brief background in terms of where I'm coming from. I'm a manager of Inter-municipal Relations with Alberta Municipal Affairs. We manage a mediation and collaboration program that provides services to municipalities, when they want to work together and when they're fighting over different issues like services, land use plans that sort of thing. In terms of how do you use ADR in your work? Specifically, for me as a government staff person I use it in doing some of the case building or what we call convening the parties. Meaning that we help two municipalities get together to figure out how to do the negotiations.

We do coaching with municipal elected officials and staff. They'll phone and talk to us and say, “We have this situation. How can we deal with it?” This results in a lot of coaching. Primarily convening and coaching are the areas where we use our mediation and dispute resolution design skills the most.  That is because we also have a separate roster of private mediators that actually do the mediation between the municipalities. We also do a lot of training in negotiation and public input with municipalities.  I would call this interest-based negotiation and public input training complementary skills to mediation.

We also do a lot of direct facilitation of large public policy issues where we use our mediation and process design skills. This is especially true when it's very controversial or it has some sort of provincial interest.  When this happens, we get called in because we're the “mediators”, to deal with and facilitate some of these more contentious public policy issues. An example of this is intensive Agriculture working with municipalities. In this particular situation we worked with the Farmers Advocate and ourselves and facilitated some of those meetings.

The journey? I think everybody's journey will be a little bit different. From Michelle to Mark and myself we all come from different places and so do you. I was involved in sport and I used to do a lot of training with Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada, teaching coaches how to coach. There's a lot of conflict in hockey between parents, coaches and players.  Knowing how to deal with conflict was part of my instructing and coaching in hockey.  I developed an ability to deal with it.   I also did a lot of facilitating with Alberta Community Development to nonprofit organizations and other government departments in the areas of team building, board governance, strategic planning and a lot of public policy issues.

I got really interested when I worked for the province facilitating, because I was doing some team building work with some organizations and it really wasn't team building where they had a positive culture and they wanted to do better. They had full-on conflict and I got myself involved in some situations where I don't think I helped them out. I thought to myself, I think I need work on handling conflict better. So, I got interested in improving my skills in dealing with conflict. I heard about this thing called interest-based mediation. Then I got a job with Municipal Affairs where I got to use mediation skills when facilitating amalgamation of municipalities.  I then moved over to doing Intermunicipal Mediation work for the department and then became the manager.  I've also done some volunteering with civil claims mediation and some parent teen.

Opportunities for ADR?  In terms of the Government of Alberta, we have a network called the Dispute Resolution Network which is a network of staff from all the different government departments that do ADR. We come together and talk about common issues. I've emailed ADRIA some of the information and links about the network. The information might be dated on there so check the link because they're updating the web site. This information gives you a flavor of all the different departments that do ADR and I know some of my colleagues on the panel here have worked with some of those departments.

But I'll give you an idea of the different departments and some of the types of ADR that they do.  This is not an exhaustive list but a sampling. Agriculture has some work through the Farmers Advocate, Alberta Energy Regulator, Environmental Appeals Board, Children's Services. We also have Labour and Employment and Immigration that do a bunch of ADR work.  So there's lots of different departments that offer what I'd say are a spectrum of ADR. Anywhere from doing some casework, helping folks figure out disputes in a little more directive manner to interest-based mediation to arbitration. So there's lots of different opportunities out there. In each department, they either have staff that deliver directly or they'll have roster people or contractors. So, I'd encourage you if you're interested in any of those fields or if you have background in any of those fields just to check those out and see what they're looking for. Because each roster is run a little bit differently, because each field has different needs and wants.


Thank you, Michael. Joanne you’re up next.

Joanne Munro
Private practitioner, Silver Lining Mediation and Consulting:

Well good evening everyone and thank you for inviting me to be a part of this panel. How I use ADR in my work. Well I'm a mediator. I'm a Restorative Justice facilitator, a coach, and an instructor. I facilitate large groups. Sometimes workplace facilitation, developing group norms. So I'm using ADR skills constantly. I've been on nonprofit boards of directors and lots of conflict there, and lots of opportunity to be skilled in conversation. I've said to students in the past, you will never regret taking these courses because what you learn and how you can apply it in your life is limitless. It really is.

And I've certainly applied it.  Five children, and I was especially luckily I had my training before they became teenagers. That was very helpful. It's just every aspect of life really, you can use this work. Alberta Justice Resolution Services has a sub-program called Family Mediation and I'm on that roster, as well. Working with families, working with parents who are separating. I'm also on a number of different rosters but I'll talk about that when I talk about my ADR journey.

So how did I get here? I was on a nonprofit board of directors and there was a lot of conflict and I was chair of that board. And there was a lot of expectation around me solving the problems. I, like Michael, was convinced that I was making things worse and that there had to be a better way. A friend of mine, recently deceased Mel Hizinga, had taken some mediation courses so he suggested that I take some. So, I started taking the first couple of courses. The program was structured very differently back then and it just felt like the right fit for me. I went on to complete 220 hours of training. And that was in 2006. In 2007, after having practiced twice a week, with two different role play practice groups for eight months, I passed my negotiation assessment and then my mediation assessment. And then the next day I waited for the phone to ring and the phone didn't ring.

So then I realized I had to actually hustle. I started networking. I went to Lunch and Learns. I went to things like this. I was fortunate to be offered a coaching position. I was in the Alberta Arbitration Mediation Society in their level 2 Negotiation course, which was totally over my head. It forced me to jump in feet first. From that I started doing some instructing. Yes, and always taking courses along the way. One of my passions is restorative justice. I have taken a lot of training in restorative justice.

I also had the opportunity to develop some materials for AAMS and then ADRIA. I really enjoyed putting together customized training. Some of you may know Cecile Schulz and she teaches a course at the University SMO 411. I was a coach for her for a number of years. It's just through these little contracts, little bits of work that eventually you grow. You grow your reputation you grow your network. And you start getting referrals and the phone starts to ring.

I also had a website put together for me, which was good as well. In fact, back in 2007 there were more opportunities for new mediators to get some experience. Mediation and Restorative Justice Center was in existence and thriving. Catholic Social Services had a parent teen mediation program. Both those are gone now pretty much. So it's harder for you to find opportunities. I think that means it's good to network and attend things like this, as well as constantly practicing, upgrading, and training; these will be very important for you. Every so often there are opportunities to get on rosters. Civil Claims is probably one of the ones that opens up.

There are several locations for Civil Claims around the province. Edmonton, I think opened up just about a year ago and accepted more people, so that's something to keep your eye open for. ADRIA will always post job opportunities so just keep watching the newsletters. The other thing that I was able to do at some point, one of my colleagues recommended that I work for or get a contract with Homewood Health, which is an employee benefit program. So I get a lot of workplace stuff from Homewood Health.


What opportunities are there in your area of practice?


That's tricky because I'm in private practice. I have on occasion, brought people in to co-facilitate. Heather, you observed some family mediations. Peg's going to have the opportunity to do that as well. So there's limited amounts of exposure that way. But because I have my own business it's just not as much. Sometimes I bring in other mediators when I'm doing private training as coaches to co-facilitate. Sometimes if I do a large circle, I need another set of eyes on the group but that's probably pretty much it.


And what would you see for other mediators that are entering a similar type of practice as you. What opportunities are there for those individuals?


I think there are opportunities out there. I think that more and more people seem to be aware of mediation. I get phone calls and inquiries, way more now than I did before. And so I think that there are more opportunities.


Thank you Joanne. We'll stay with Edmonton and go to Ali then we'll go online to our Calgary panelists.  

Ali Ansell
ADR, Indigenous and Stakeholder Engagement, Alberta Energy Regulator:

Hi everybody. Glad to be here. Thanks for coming. Nice to see a couple of you that I haven't seen in a while. My name is Ali Ansell and I work at the Alberta Energy Regulator right now in an ADR specialist role, as they call it. I think that's because we mediate and we also facilitate and instruct some communication, conflict resolution courses, do coaching one on one with oil and gas companies, landowners, and Indigenous communities. So it is disputes usually revolving around a project that's in the works and folks living nearby have concerns about it.

They have the opportunity to request to go into a hearing process but before that we reach out to them and say, do you want to try sitting down to work that out amongst yourselves before going to a hearing? So for me MY JOURNEY. I started about five, a little over five years ago I think. And I learned, I remembered that a person that's close to me was a mediator after I had an experience where a couple of other close family members were dealing with an issue and having a really hard time working it through. And so having no skills at all I said OK well we should make a list of things we want to say. And we should maybe let them talk first in case there's anything they really want to say to us. And I kind of mashed this idea of what I thought a good conversation would look like together. And then we showed up and we got everybody together and we talked about it.

And it was clunky and awkward and felt strange but it also worked a lot better than I think it would have if we didn't think through and prepare. And so reflecting on that afterwards I actually felt really great. I felt empowered by being able to improve that circumstance even if it was to a small degree. And so after that I went to this close person in my life and said, so you mediate right? What is that exactly? And can you tell me how you got into that field? And so she shared that if I wanted to get started, I could take a course through ADRIA and see how I felt. Back then they had a one-day introductory mediation course and I think Joanne taught that actually. So you're my first instructor.


And you came back.


And I came back, so it must have been good. And I did because what's great about those courses is you can take one and then you go from there. You take the next one which is three days or six days. And I took it chunk by chunk which was wonderful. I had just gotten out of a four-year degree at the U of A and I did not want to do that. So it was wonderful to take it piece by piece. And in a year or so I had all the training that I needed to start, as Joanne was saying, practicing like crazy. So I glommed on to every other person in my classes who was interested in doing that. And we role played and we role played. And we created schedules for ourselves, and we also connected with as many of the instructors as we could, who were available to answer our questions or sit down with us and coach us through what we needed to know to move on to the next level.

Then we all took turns training for our designation and then going for our designation. And then there are some people actually from the beginning that I still am in contact with and connect with regularly. And I would say for me at least, those connections that I made at the beginning, mostly because that was the messaging from the instructors, is if you stick around in this field you're going to need allies and people to help you get through all of the different things that you need to navigate in this field. So that was really, really useful. And so some of them I still connect with today and a few of them including myself started a private practice. And so I did that for a couple of years. But before then, before I really got my teeth into that, I was volunteering like crazy.

And so that's when Catholic Social Services was still up and running, their parent teen mediation group. But I was so new and so green and also so young. You'll notice, just I think statistically, the majority of mediators out there don't get started in this field until their 40s or 50s. And so I was looking around feeling inexperienced in every way not just in mediation but because of how much our life experience plays into the work we do. I was feeling inexperienced that way too. So with that in mind getting as much exposure as I could was really important. So I started at Catholic Social Services but I wasn't mediating, by all means. I wasn't even working with mediators. I was working with the mediation coordinator, Rochelle Charles, volunteering to do admin work, because that's what was available at the time.

And I was more than willing because I knew that that would give me the opportunity to be aware of the opportunities when they came up, and be around so that I might be thought of when they did come up. And so that happened. So I did admin there and then I received Circle Facilitation training. Because they had a circle facilitation program for youth. And so I was helping to coordinate that after a while. And then we were facilitating sharing circles with youth. And then after a while I was on the parent teen mediation roster and so bit by bit I began to just gain more experience.

That roster as well is a co-mediation model which is wonderful.  To start mediating in a co-mediation model is a really great learning experience. So I did work there. I also was on the mediation and Restorative Justice Center roster. And they are still there but just not at the same capacity as they were when I started. So less work there for mediators, but similarly just volunteering there, where I could not necessarily mediation but what was available. And so I worked in private practice for a while, mostly with families and communities, because that was my experience. And applying for things as they came up. And I applied for this job at the Alberta Energy Regulator AER two and a half years ago. And it was in Bonnyville, so I moved when I got the job which sounds worse than it is because I'm from Bonnyville.

It wasn't a shocking scary move because my parents lived there and all that stuff. But it was still a big change and so when I started there, I started full time. Still had my private practice but it's in the background until I have more time to focus on it. And so that's what I'm doing primarily and I can get more into that as we go into the next questions.


Are there any opportunities in your current area of practice or organization?


There definitely are roles out there and I think Michael touched on a few actually. The AER where I work, there are six of us, six mediators. And three of them were hired in the last two or three years. So similarly I think this field is expanding and folks in all fields are realizing there's a real need. So keep an eye on the AER website because they post those positions. The NEB (National Energy Board) also has a small group of mediators on their team. And so I would keep an eye on their website for that and the Farmers Advocate Office also does some mediation work and although it's focused on farmers with concerns in general, a lot of those concerns tend to be oil and gas related, or some of them anyway. So those are a few of the opportunities that I see.


Thanks Ali. And just as a reminder ADRIA is usually connected to these opportunities. For the most part, when there is a job posting for a mediator or other ADR role in Alberta, we are asked to share it in our newsletter and on our website. Now I'm going to move to Michelle and Mark online from Calgary. We’ll start with you Michelle.

Michelle Phaneuf
Partner, Workplace Fairness West:

Sure, thanks for having me Tammy and everyone. It's great to hear all these amazing journeys and to hear from everyone and where they're at.

I'm working as a partner with Workplace Fairness West which is my own consulting company and I'm using these skills every day in my work. I'm working with organizations to support their employees with conflict. And that can look like facilitating teams in conflict, facilitating interpersonal conflicts between just two people - mediating. I try to steer away from that word in the workplace because it has a pretty strong connotation for people, so I don't often use that word. I do a lot of coaching, more focused around conflict coaching, and providing training for organizations around conflict resolution skills for their employees, and some of the bigger picture assessing conflict management systems and work environments. As a business person I'm really using these skills every day in the work that I do with my clients and negotiating contracts with my clients. Really asking the right questions of clients to help them understand how we can support their goals as businesses.

So, as everyone knows after taking these classes, this skill set is very important and very usable in work and at home. I also play a role as an Organizational Ombuds with various organizations so I'm using those skills in that same way. An Organizational Ombuds is an independent neutral third party that can act as a support for employees to call out to confidentially and anonymously sort through their workplace concerns. In that role I'm doing a lot of coaching. I'm doing some mediation and also facilitations and training, learning sessions for those clients. So that's what that looks like.

Another place where we've been focusing is what we're referring to as workplace restorations. That allows us to come in and support employees who have been through some difficult situations like investigations or other crisis type of situations, and really bring people together, groups together. Normally it's in a group setting, and just restore some harmony to those workplaces and restore working relationships. I think Joanne was and Ali were also talking about restorative justice techniques. Using some of that facilitation, mediation, bringing that all together and using a process for workplaces, because workplaces really right now are focusing a lot on psychological health and safety. This has now become part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Alberta. Employers are really tasked now with creating a safe workplace for everyone and they have a duty to step into that. This is where a lot of the restoration work and that focus is coming from employers recognizing that they have to create safe workplaces for people, looking for support on how they undertake that.

MY JOURNEY. I've kind of had a winding journey probably similar to lots of other people. I have an engineering background and early on worked through my own consulting company in the engineering world. More as a third-party negotiating energy contracts. I became interested in mediation not just because of the work I was doing at that time but because it was around me in different ways, shapes and forms. And so, I started taking classes. And of course, loved the classes. Really grabbed onto them. It was really some skill sets that I was looking for and interest based really resonated with how I thought negotiation should work instead of the pounding your fist on the table and demanding things. 

I really grabbed on to the classes and thoroughly enjoyed them. Finished in about 2008 with a mediation and negotiation certificate. And you know, kind of went on from there. I thought I would, with my engineering background, I would use that more on the oil and gas side. But I didn't want to have a job, because I was a consultant for a long time already. I didn't think I could do a job. But I was looking for consulting opportunities and that wasn't as prevalent in the oil and gas engineering world. So, I got more and more involved in the workplace side. Like Joanne mentioned I connected with some employee assistance providers. Was doing some work through them. Doing a lot of networking to try to make connections in that world because it was totally not my background or my world. 

It was more the HR world and the leadership world and that sort of thing. It took a lot of connecting, networking. And in that time, I was also, like Ali and others mentioned, doing a lot of volunteering with community mediation, with the ADR Institute. Really just learning a lot. There's a lot to learn with all of these skills and also in the workplace these complementary skill sets of facilitating and coaching and training. So that was a very long journey to be able to undertake all of that training and get some strong skills in all of those different areas along with restorative justice. And also the Ombuds. They provide training also. 

I was starting out and I connected with Blaine Donais who is president of the Workplace Fairness Institute in Toronto and I really appreciated his theories and tools. He's a labour lawyer and a mediator also, and had been writing some books and had some really good science around workplace fairness which really resonated with me. Likely coming from my analytical background. And along with Marjorie Monroe who I'm sure many of you know. We began working together with Blaine and kind of spreading the word about workplace fairness in Alberta and what that looked like. And we formalized our own partnership in about 2014 and had the opportunity to work together a lot and learn together a lot which was very helpful. And of course, a lot of fun. 

Marjorie is now full time with the City of Calgary and their Respectful Workplace office. Doing some good work there and I'm really lucky to be able to continue my journey through Workplace Fairness, blessed with other really skilled and experienced associates. So that's kind of been my journey. Now to ADR opportunities kind of in my area of practice. As a business owner and independent consultant, I see many opportunities for people who are wanting to step into that. Especially in the workplace and especially now with the focus on psychological health and safety and that tie in with conflict in the workplace. The impact of conflict, that conflict has on the psychological safety of an organization. There are such close ties to that. And being proactive, of course, is where we always want to be and where workplaces hopefully want to be also. But unfortunately, we often get called in on that kind of reactive side where conflict has escalated substantially. And organizations need help but we're always trying to shift things to help organizations look through that more proactive lens.

But you know there's so many different pieces of this in workplaces around change management, organizational effectiveness, the human resources field, conflict management systems, the organizational Ombuds, and even around the respectful workplace, bullying, harassment. There's a lot of opportunities I think in workplaces that might not be called specifically mediator, but could. Certainly the skill set that mediators have can be very required in workplaces.


Thank you so much, Michelle. Mark, do you want to share?

Mark Donovan
Mediator & Instructor:

Yes, absolutely. Lovely to be here even if electronically. And thank you Tammy for the invitation. I guess normally it would be challenging to come on after all these strong acts; all my compatriots on the panel. Fortunately, I completely concur with all their general remarks. And so you can all imagine that I've just made these remarks myself because I totally agree with them. I'd like to start chronologically which is often a good place to start with my journey which was like Mike suggested and Paul indicated. Everyone has a unique path to this area. I did my original training academically. And I did two degrees in Religious Studies basically in Buddhist thought. I anticipated that I'd go on when I finished my Masters to get a doctorate and be a university instructor. That was interrupted by the birth of our first daughter and we ended up having four kids. That for me changed everything in the sense that I needed to stay home with my kids. That's what I absolutely wanted to do. So I was a house father basically looking after my kids for about 20 years. And then casting about after that for what to do next. Once the kids were old enough to sort of be on their own and didn't need me to volunteer in the classroom and those sorts of things anymore, I was wondering what to do. It was too late to go back, I thought, to Asian studies. Because I'd forgotten all my Sanskrit and my Tibetan and so on. And by chance I met a woman who had worked as a mediator and was a friend of a friend. And she had seen my children in a couple of social circumstances and she remarked to me one time, “Well Mark it's something strange about your children. They get along so well and never seem to fight”. And of course they do fight from time to time but that was her impression anyway.

She said “it can't be a coincidence. It must have had something to do with you. You'd probably make a good mediator”. So I said well what's a mediator? And so she told me what it was. And it sounded appealing, although I found it dubious in that the theory she was telling me about seemed unlikely to work. And I guess part of why I thought that way was because I was at the time going through a divorce. Which was, you know, grotesquely conflictual. Which I think probably most of them are. And I was really looking for a lifeline too because I recognized that I just didn't have the skills to manage a difficult and highly emotional process like that. So with that inspiration I started the program at Mount Royal University--which was then college. And finished it as quickly as I could because I needed the skills immediately. They were of immediate application and tremendously helpful in getting through that.

And as I went through the program, I realized wow this is really appealing and it seems very congenial to me. One of the things that made mediation, especially interest-based mediation, congenial was that I thought I saw immediately a connection to the practice of Buddhist mindfulness. Which everybody by now has heard of. Just in the sense that as mediators we need to be completely present in the situation. In a non-judging way. And just completely present so we can bring whatever skills we have to the benefit of the parties there. Anyway, that to me formed a very vital connection which remains alive today.

So, I completed the program there. The next year I was coaching in the program. And my approach, I think like a lot of my compatriots here, was to really try to get my feet as wet as possible. Like Michelle--and in fact we kind of paralleled each other in our training--I got on with Calgary Community Mediation Society. This is a non-profit mediation society that does mediations for people who are in neighbourhood disputes, that kind of thing. We joined the board at the same time if I remember correctly Michelle.

So, I just really jumped in with both feet. And my approach in that respect and in the sort of normal steps that a new ADR practitioner will take, which is for example to get on as many rosters as you can, was to do that. So, starting with Community Mediation I got to the level where I could take part in mediations. I could be a co-mediator either as mediator or lead mediator. And basically, I said yes to every mediation that was offered. Because the process there was to mail out to the whole list of roster mediators. ‘You know we've got a mediation coming up’. And I always said yes. And that was my approach when I joined the civil roster in Calgary as well. I just let them know ‘you know if you ever have somebody who calls in sick or you need somebody-- If I'm not absolutely doing something else, I'm your man’.

So, my approach was really to just dive in entirely and that's worked very well for me. One of our other colleagues, Janice Tye, made a comment about being on rosters that I thought was very apt. She said that it's a tremendous credibility booster. I think that's true. When you serve on one of the government rosters you get a tremendous amount of experience which is probably the key thing. But also, when you can tell potential clients that you are on a government roster it's an immediate credibility booster as Janice said. So, carrying on from there within a couple years, two or three years into being on the Calgary roster, I was asked to help set up an experimental or trial program with mediation in Fort McMurray.

So, myself and another mediator have done that and that program continues. I'm still mediating there. As I mentioned I’m coaching with Mount Royal. Through good fortune--I think basically the recommendation of one of the instructors who was moving to Australia--I had the opportunity to teach the Negotiation Skills class at Mount Royal University, which I still teach. And basically, I think like some of my colleagues here have said, I just looked for every possible opportunity. You know you're always watching for the rosters to open up, for instruction positions opening up. For example, a year or so ago ADRIA put out the call, you know, who among our coaches is interested in instructing?

So, I made my application there and it has been very rewarding for me to start teaching for ADRIA as well. So that's been the path in general. And once again like my fellows have said here, everything kind of connects. The more work you do the more work you get. For me I do a lot of my work, of course, I'm certainly on these rosters and doing some instruction, but privately I mediate. I do conflict coaching. I do a lot of facilitation. And I do facilitation for all kinds of groups. Often for boards of directors. I'll do strategic planning sessions. And often the sessions for the groups that I facilitate have a kind of a dual purpose. There's a facilitation where the group is trying to figure out what it is they want to do, where do we want to go. They're getting a strategic plan. Those sorts of things.

And also, they want to have a little bit of a component of instruction and want some coaching in ADR. So, they have discovered as we all have discovered at some points in our life, that we may not have all the skills that we would like. And so there's an opportunity working with those groups. Not just to facilitate but also to do some instruction and to kind of bring them up so they have the skills. That they can work in a more integrated manner with less conflict. And in general help them move forward to achieve their goals. I also work as a supervisor in a hospital department here in Calgary.

The skills are very useful for me there. There's lots of conflict in the hospital between patients and staff, staff and staff and doctors and nurses and so on. And something that hasn't been mentioned I don't think up to now, but I'm just exploring now. Only now because I've been doing all this other stuff. It is that if you happen to be associated with a union environment there's a lot of application of these skills in a union environment. So, you could have the opportunity to train as a, for example, a shop steward and or move through the union in the various roles they have that deal with conflict. So that's something that might be worth looking into.

We want to talk about opportunities. What I've really found is that the skills that we learn and as Michelle most recently pointed out are so useful both at home and at work--really everywhere-- they are transformational for your life. And the beautiful thing about them from my perspective is that they all connect. So, the mediation of course helps the coaching. Together they help the facilitation. Altogether they help the instruction. And they all can kind of form a lattice that builds up so that you develop skills in a whole range of things. And kind of a raft of competencies that you can then offer to your clients. And that has been the most successful thing for me. I maybe, I probably am-- I almost certainly am the least entrepreneurial of all of us here. And yet a lot of work comes because if you're really focused on the client, on helping people, on giving them what they really need in terms of ADR communication and conflict resolution and so on, the word will spread and people will speak of you to others. And that has certainly worked for me. I also of course have a business card which I pass out all the time. Every time I meet somebody else. So, it's like Ali said it's about networking, making yourself available and just letting people know that you have those competencies.


Thank you, Mark. Now we have a series of four round robin questions and we're going to allocate about 15 minutes each. Each question will be open to the group to answer, whoever wants to start and the others can build upon it. The first question is: For people looking to enter this field, share what skills or qualities you think it takes to succeed either in your particular organization, in your area of practice, or just to succeed in general.


I'd like to speak to three qualities just quickly. The first is self-care. Because the work we do in ADR can have a strong emotional component. You're dealing often with people who are in very difficult places and emotions are strongly felt and sometimes strongly expressed. It's very important to care for ourselves properly, to resource ourselves properly so that we can do this work without being torn down or burning out. And so that we can be resourceful for our clients. So, I think that's an ongoing challenge for a lot of people. For example, it's well known that most people these days are sleep deprived. I would just ask new people to the field to think about, how am I caring for myself so that I can work properly for the people that I'm serving?

Another quality is persistence and I've spoken to that as well. In terms of just keep working. Work as much as you can. And that doesn't mean just formal mediations on a roster or privately or mediation or something like that. But use the skills every day. Find a way to make yourself aware. To remind yourself of micro skills or the process skills and look for those opportunities persistently. Plan to do that every day in some way. And the last quality that I think is super important to cultivate is curiosity. My feeling is that a lot of us have a lot of our curiosity sort of beaten out of us from teachers and families. People say ‘well no we don't ask about that’ and so on. We really want to cultivate our natural curiosity. And there's a good body of social science research that shows that the quality of curiosity is very highly correlated with a meaningful life and living a satisfying life. It's certainly highly correlated with being an effective ADR practitioner.


I think you've hit most of my points Mark. I had kind of made a note on persistence, of course, as a business practitioner being high on that list, and curiosity. And the self-awareness piece. I think also within that is transparency. I know I'm always working on that myself to be able to get what's in my brain, what I'm thinking, and putting that on the table. I find that has such a huge impact on facilitated conversations. When you're really able to say what you're noticing and put things out there. That's what I'd add to that.


I agree 100 percent with what has been said. That tenaciousness is very, very important. But I think too that a lot has to be said about the mediator's presence in the room. So that calm presence. That unflappable presence. That ability to not get rattled as people around you are losing their minds. I think that that is something that's so very important as well. As is a sense of humor and being able to walk out of a room and shake your head and laugh.


It's hard to pull off a sense of humor in mediations I find Joanne, it often falls flat for me I'm not very good at that.


Yeah, don't be funny if you're not. J


Yeah I'll add just one other thing and I agree with all of you. But one that came up right away from me was humility. There's an interesting piece to what we do. We have control over the process but we really have control over nothing else. And I think it could be easy over time especially, to start to think that if parties are resolving and are coming up with great agreements, that we did that somehow. That we're the cause of that. And although we may have assisted and set up the space, the success or the failure has so much more to do with them. I think it's really important to keep that in mind. Especially since it'll help with the constant learning that I think Joanne mentioned too. That we need to continue to take courses and to learn from each other. You know a year in or three decades in I think that's really important just to keep it fresh. And to keep that presence that you're talking about and never let it get stale. And never forget just how, even if we've been doing this again and again and again, it's new - it's oftentimes very new space for the parties to be in. So just remembering what we're asking of them each time is really important.


I'll take a little different tack because I'm thinking the folks that are listening, you're looking at how do I get success in the organization. So, the organization I work with is with the Government of Alberta. I think one of the skills is to really understand, and I think you talked about it Mark, is to really understand the people that you want to work with. So, Government of Alberta, there's lots of different rosters that are available and there's also opportunities to be part of the GOA as a staff member. Try to understand that particular department or that board. What are they, what do those clients need? So, the example, I work with municipalities for Alberta Municipal Affairs. For my area, what they're looking for is people that do training, facilitation, public input, mediation and project management. 

To get on to some of the rosters, it's kind of a catch 22. So, for ours in Municipal Affairs, we just did a call out. We only do it every three or four years. We look for mediators, arbitrators, and folks that do Med-Arb. We're looking for people that have specifically experience in that field of municipal business or organizations and can show that. But it's tough to get on the roster if you don't have that experience. It's kind of a catch 22. Same if you're going to get on other rosters. So Environmental Appeals Board has board members. You’ll need to try to understand that organization, what they're looking for. And how to get that experience. To get on our roster then having experience working with or in a municipality will give you some of the understanding of how municipalities work and what their needs are.  This experience would then make you more competitive to get on the roster as a mediator or arbitrator. 

Michelle you reminded me, we also do work where we provide a grant for municipalities to figure out how to work better within themselves. Usually between council or staff. In these instances, the municipalities send out a RFP (request for proposal) for a particular project that is requiring a consultant to help deal with a conflictual situation or help them collaborate more effectively.  So, if you have that expertise in the HR area or governance, then you might have an in with municipalities. And each roster is done differently. Our roster is a list of private mediators that the municipalities can freely choose to use those mediators or not. If you are not on that list that doesn't mean that you can't get selected by a municipality.   You just have to be aware of those opportunities if they do a call out for it. I think it also behooves anyone interested to get into the field to find out how the other rosters and various RFPs work.

Our roster is very difficult to get on because it's hard to get that Inter-municipal mediation experience, but other rosters are different. If you're looking to get that experience, talk to the department or board staff and find out what they're looking for. I think having that aptitude or that understanding, curiosity and understanding of the field that you're in will help you be competitive. For example, if you are working with politicians it is very specialized and it's very interesting. We are looking for people that have some emotional intelligence and can read the room.  We are looking for people who are going to understand various political sensitivities and not say anything that is politically incorrect or get us in trouble in the public.  This is important because government is risk adverse.

So those are some of the skills. But every department's looking for something different. Or each cadre of, if you're working with family mediators, they're looking for something more specific than what we're looking for. I would say if you're interested in that field or you have a background in that field. Like if you've been a farmer before, talk to Farmers Advocate and see what opportunities are there and what they're looking for. If you've been involved in energy or environment see what opportunities there are. And I really liked your example Ali. I did administrative work or I did this. I got involved in it because I worked with a municipality before and I was already working for the Municipal Affairs. I got the job because I understood municipal business and I was interested in mediation.


Mike can I just hinge on that.




I very much appreciate your comments. And to me it speaks to, and you used the word I think customer service. The customer service mentality. And just sort of open the box a little bit. In my experience look inside the box. The experience that you have in learning interest-based mediation and practicing interest-based mediation. The experience I've had was very helpful when I turned to something like, OK, now here's a board of directors who need a facilitation. I was able to directly use those skills of understanding people at the level of their interests, so that those interests could be met in the course of the facilitation.  These processes are very helpful and as I mentioned earlier, you use your skills and training in order to build processes for your clients.

And you've talked about the importance of understanding the specific client that you're dealing which is of course I think super important.


And also, within that Mark, helping clients understand or get some clarity on what they're actually looking for. Right. What is it that they want? And what's their goal with this?


And Joanne, are you comfortable sharing a little bit of what skills you think for the family mediation side since that is one of the areas that you work in? And what skills people look for in that area?


Sure, and maybe I'll just start by saying that there was a debate back when I took my training about whether or not mediators needed to be content experts or have content knowledge. And the feeling back then was that no, if you can mediate you can go in and mediate in any situation. I don't believe that for a second. If you want to do family work then you probably need to take some courses on separation and divorce mediation. Because it's a very specific field. And the qualities and the skills that you bring to the table there, would be of course your interest-based background. But also, that you are able to understand and empathize with what these parents are going through. Or what this couple is going through as they are restructuring their lives. It's a huge thing, right. And so that ability to empathize. That ability to remain neutral, not take sides.


You mentioned a little bit on the separation and divorce training. What kind of subject matter expertise? Can you expand just a little bit more on that, what that might look like?


You need to know what the legislation is that governs divorces or separations. You don't have to memorize the legislation but you have to know where to find things. You need to be able to work with high conflict people. For example, I worked with these two parents. They're living in different parts of Alberta and fighting over the kids for seven years. He's into his lawyer for two hundred thousand. She's into her lawyer for 140 and they get ordered into mediation by the judge and they pick me.

But it's about again being unflappable. Just saying OK they're dealing with all this stuff; they've got all this background and they were able to come up with a parenting plan. It’s just doing the job, getting the job done.


Related to that, Michelle you do a lot of workplace mediation. What specific skills do you see in the workplace work that you do that are maybe a little bit different?


I don't know if necessarily the skills are any different. I mean it's the background of psychological health and safety. And some of the regulations that are in place in the workplace are helpful. Again, you're not giving advice or stepping into that. But just that knowledge base I think is very helpful. But I think as skill sets that we're talking about that's what mediators need. The empathy. The curiosity. The self-awareness. All of that.


Any final thoughts on this round of questions from the panel?


Definitely from our perspective, it’s important that mediators or staff members have the subject matter expertise in that area. So, I work with municipalities, so if you have organizational development experience, governance experience. Understanding if you dealt with Inter organizational conflict. For us that's directly relatable to, you could probably do the job. If you've got experience with municipalities that would be helpful. I think some of the other government departments, when they're hiring, they want to make sure that you understand the context. So, you can make those connections. And it also shows that you're self-aware and you know what they're looking for. And you can also customize the processes that you use to fit the circumstance. So, there is some jargon that we use in mediation training. I don't say that to politicians. I use language that connects with them. Or if I'm working with different groups, sometimes I will work with some Indigenous communities and municipalities. Well how I work with them might be different than others. I think having some good self-awareness and what they're looking for is really important. I think that will help if you're looking at being marketable. Understand what they need as well, from government perspective, we just changed our legislation to mandate that municipalities have to work together.

That's a pretty big shift. So that means there's a lot of demand for facilitation. They don't call it mediation because they don't have conflicts. So, you don't tell them you're a mediator. They're saying, I don't need a mediator, I just need a facilitator. But they might run in some conflict down the road. So having those transferable skills is important. Also, in our world doing public input and those related pieces like facilitation, governance and organizational development are really important. Really being self-aware and the context that you're in, is vitally important.


And I just want to ask you one other question Mike because you use the consensus decision making model as well. Can you share with everybody what that looks like and what opportunities might be in that area?


Consensus decision making model. So that might be the more facilitation work. And that's probably a lot of what our team does at Municipal Affairs. We call it convening because you're getting two or more different governing bodies, that can't force each other to do something, to try to agree by consensus. It's a different model. It's multi-party. That's where you really have to understand the political dynamics. The history of what's going on. But then you're trying to get them to willfully agree to something that they can't force each other to do. There’s a lot going on. And each one we customize to fit the situation using a lot of mediation type of principles and processes. But you have to put it in context. And that's where it really ... And this is my viewpoint on it ... You really have to understand the organizations and what's going to work for them to ensure they buy into the whole process. It's very facilitative but you definitely use your mediation skills when you're doing it. It's contextual depending on if they are providing input, recommendations, making a decision or forced to make a decision.  As you can see depending on the scenario, it's really important to understand the context.

Our context with Municipal Affairs is that now municipalities are mandated to work together to create collaboration frameworks. To do this work to help build consensus you have to understand the legislation, what these frameworks are like and how they need to come together. 


Thank you. The next question for our panelists: You notice a new mediator or ADR practitioner and they seem to really stand out… they're new but you see something in them that makes you think oh, yeah, I could see them being successful. What is it that you are noticing?


They have committed to practice. And they've committed to lifelong learning would be two things that would cause a new mediator to stand out for me. Self-awareness. A sense of being humble. And aware of their limitations. Mediators that scare me the most, new mediators, are the ones that think that they are way better than they actually are. They haven't put in the hours of practice and they're hanging up a shingle and dealing with people at a time in their lives which can be the most difficult. The opposite of that is what causes them to stand out for me.


For me, what stands out and what stood out and helped me connect as I was going through my training with the other folks that made me say I think I could learn something from this person that I'm going through training with or now when people reach out looking for advice is, they're interested in knowing all of the little, the best way I can describe it, is the space between the rules that we're given. If we get the foundational pieces and we learn it in the training there are so many, Yeah but what if this? And what if that? And let's talk through this scenario. And the people who really have a passion for digging into that and kind of philosophizing about it a bit, stand out for me, because for me that means they're really interested in what they can offer the work and how they can best understand this and serve in the room versus what branching out into this new field is going to offer them.


I think for me that self-awareness is really important and knowing what you're really good at. And also, be able to flex to the situation. So, what does the situation need and understanding the context that you're working in. Because people appreciate that. They don't want to have to get you up to speed to what their world is. You're there to help them. Understand what your ability is and be humble. The people that scared me the most in interviews over the years has been people who say oh I know exactly what to do or that there is only one way to do this work.  And then you watch them do it and it's like a train wreck. You could just see it coming.

The other thing that I appreciate in the work that we do is to be able to read the room and really be observant, because we deal with a lot of multi-party dynamics and there's so many things going on. We often work in twos or threes because they're such large rooms.

Just the appreciation and valuing what people are bringing to the table.  Honoring their knowledge and strengths and applying it appropriately.

Also being able to observe and see what those folks need in the situation to help them move forward. That's what stands out for me. You can usually tell their awareness when you debrief.  They’ll say hey did you see that or did you notice this. And I really appreciate those debriefs when I didn't notice or was oblivious to a particular dynamic or behavior.  It’s those catches that help improve your work.  Those are the things that stand out for me when I'm working with people.


Can I just add one piece to that? Because I wrote this down and I forgot to say it. There is this really wonderful quote that I think about a lot. That's “trust those who seek the truth and doubt those who claim to have found it”. Like a little bit of a snarky quote, but it's so true.


Very Zen.


Do you have some thoughts on this question Joanne?


I just think that mediators are dealing with people's lives and you have to have a strong sense of ethics. Recognizing that all of us are going to make mistakes at times.


Totally onboard with what you folks in Edmonton have said. For me when I was making notes for this conversation, I noted enthusiasm. And an apparent taste for continuous learning. And I think you folks there nailed it when you talked about the debriefing and basically reflective practice. I think the inclination to philosophize about it: I think that it's a key quality of someone who is a good mediator and also someone who's the new mediator who looks like they're probably going to be really good, is that they're prepared to debrief extensively. I think it was Roger Fisher who said your own experience is the least expensive education you'll ever get. And that experience that you have in any ADR process that you are a part or if you're facilitating or doing mediation, if you're willing to, as a new entrant to the field, if you're willing to debrief, to really think about what happened there. What worked? What would I change? Ask yourself all those reflective questions. That is a rocket ship to quick improvement.


I think I totally concur with all of that and I think along with that I would say, being able to be accepting of failure because, in my experience, that's happened fairly often. And that reflective piece is that opportunity to do that. And when you're working with other people, which I've been lucky to be able to do, I always have a good opportunity to do that. To kind of debrief and reflect and so that emotional intelligence, that awareness, insight. And also, I think you were talking about overconfidence, but I might look at that maybe the other way and kind of look at that willingness for people to step up and step into situations where they might not feel totally comfortable. Because when as a mediator really do you ever feel that way? I know I don't. So being able to step into that. Having the courage maybe to step into that.


Michelle I'd like to just share very quickly an anecdote that I think touches on that. How we deal with failure or what feels like failure. Once when I was doing the Fort McMurray mediations, we would typically fly up there and work four or five days and do typically two mediations a day. One month when I went up there for that week, I had eight mediations and seven of them did not resolve. Despite everything, the full deployment of my skills, and my team, the whole Fort McMurray team, and also my family when they heard about it, said stuff like, ‘Oh my God how terrible for you. You must feel awful’.

And my response was, this is amazing. How many times as a mediator do you get to have seven non-resolutions in such a short period of time. There's so much to think about. There's so much feedback. It's a very rich vein to mine, to mine out, to get understanding. I thought it was a great benefit to have that. In a sense if you consider non-resolution a kind of failure, and some do and some don't. You may not, but if you have seven in a row you start to think something's amiss here. Right. And it forces you to go deep and it's a real benefit I find. So failure maybe is just more feedback. And if somebody new to the field can develop that…for a lot of people, it needs to be developed. To develop that attitude, very beneficial.


And I'll just add on that. You talk about the train wreck. I think sometimes when I have learned the most…I’m the engineer. And I'm the one that caused the train wreck.  That’s how I got interested in the field. I had a situation where I thought geez, I know how to work with this group. We're going to do team building. It's going to be awesome. And it wasn't, it was far from. So that was a great learning to go, whoa I need to do something different, because I didn't have the right skills or use the right process for those people. And I don't think it helped them out at all. I remember telling them you need somebody else …  you really need a mediator. And I was not a mediator at that time. I think that's, when we talk about what we're looking for in a mediator is being able to reflect. When we're doing interviews, they go “geez” we tried this and it didn't work. It shows a willingness and humbleness and flexibility to adapt … to be honest about what didn't work so you can improve for the next time. Because if people think they're always right, then I don't know if this field would be the right one for you.


Everybody talked a lot about being self-reflective. You have to have that awareness and that self-reflection and that balance between, what Joanne you said is, not taking on too much that you can't handle, because you can cause harm. Especially in separation and divorce. But in other fields too, even a workplace. You're dealing with a contentious workplace issue and you've bitten off more than you can chew, you can cause harm. And at the same time, challenging yourself to be that little uncomfortable and learn from your failures. So how do you balance that?


Yeah there's been times when I've taken on cases and I thought oh I don't know about this. It's more complex than I had realized. I've brought in other people to assist so that we have two brains in the room four eyes in the room. That works well. And the reality is that I think often we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes. And so right now I'm actually quite brilliant.


And I think, I can't remember who talked about transparency on the panel here.




Michelle. And I know the work that we do is I just go hey folks I don't know. With municipalities, you want to do this. Here's what I see. Tell me what you see. Talk to your other professional and professional people in the room because they want to make it work and they'll go. OK. Well if we do this and this, this might work. OK. Because I think you've got to be honest with them. If you don't know. I think this might work but it might not. So, how are we? How are you going to deal with that situation if it doesn't work? Well ok then let's try this. If you have that ability to be that transparent.


That's always my line. I'm not here to fix anything, that's up to you guys.


I think it's so helpful to be as explicit as we can, for example, about process. Kind of reminding the parties whether it's mediation, facilitation or whatever, where we are in the process. And always turning it back to them. You know those skills that we have of paraphrasing and especially summarizing. Here's kind of what's happened that I see. You know characterize it for folks and then put it to them. So, what do you want to do? Where would you like to move? We co-mediate a lot; I think probably all of us. And sometimes co-mediate with people who say to the parties ‘this is your process’. And I never say that because I'm kind of running the process, but I'm always conferring with the parties to see, Is this working? What do you need now? Based on what's happening. So even if it's a train wreck, I think that you can characterize it and say, you know some people might say, based on what's happened so far in the conversation, it's a bit of a train wreck. And maybe one of the parties has. So, in as much as it feels like a train wreck if it does to everybody, what do you want to do about it? Where should we go?


Two things are coming up and I hope I remember them both. One is just I'm so still just on a high from having a team to bounce things off of in my group. Going from private practice, which can be quite lonely, into working with a team. It's wonderful to get off the phone in a conversation that's really tough and just go OK there are three different things I could do from here and I'm in a fog right now, and feeling overwhelmed. And just to be able to go ok out of the five people I work with, who is appropriate to talk this through with. Is it the guy who's been here 50 years and knows all the ropes and all the tech stuff? Is it the super empathetic one who's been here for 20 years and really is great at giving it back to the parties? Is it being the one who's newer like me and you're bouncing off potentially innovative ideas from a course we just took together? So, I'm able to call the person that's going to work for that situation and just say it out loud to a mediator who knows the lens that I'm looking through. And by the end I've often talked myself into the direction I'm going to go with their guidance, which is wonderful to just use that process to become more sure than I was. And I forget the other one, if it comes up later, I'll share it.


So the third round question is: What do you notice is missing from new practitioners or from people that you interview? So either students you encounter when you are instructing, new mediators that are coming to you and asking you questions, or people you're interviewing for an ADR role. What do you think they are missing?


I struggled with this question Tammy. I'm not sure necessarily anything is missing. I think tying back to what Joanne said earlier is that, and like myself at that time when I finished my classes, I was in a rush right. I wanted to get out there and mediate and just to recognize that it takes time to learn and to grow and to bring in these other skill sets that can make a difference in the work that we do. The facilitation, the coaching, the training, all of that. So just that patience I guess which is not probably what people want to hear.


What I find most commonly missing, sort of a fundamental quality that hasn't been well-developed in a lot of new mediators, is the quality of equanimity, or sort of non-judging. Whatever you call it, an aptitude or skill or whatever. The ability to be present in a situation and be balanced. Keep the balance of your mind. Judgments will naturally arise. And when parties speak in mediation or in a conflict conversation, whatever. But just to have the quality to recognize that that is something we don't need to deal with. Whatever my judgments are, I set those off to the side and just be present and help this party, these parties express whatever they need to express and so on. So, I think that's something, working with new mediators. They'll often say, if we debrief, ‘wow I couldn't believe that guy said that’ or you know ‘what a jerk’. You know that sort of thing. These are natural judgments that we're sort of hardwired to have. It's something that I find really needing to be developed in a lot of new mediators. It does come of course, like any skill, like any aptitude.


I'll say, I agree with what Michelle was saying. I feel a bit more like it's what's missing from the field. And I get the sense that maybe that is gaining momentum and more opportunities are showing themselves. And there is more of an understanding of what mediation is and how it can benefit any organization or any field. But if I'm looking for something that is needed, to deal with that current climate, it's that drive and independent momentum and initiative to keep going. Even when you know you're spending a year doing a ton of training and not getting very far and then the next year doing mediations but it's all for free. And you know maybe four more years like that. It takes a lot of doing it anyway. And a lot of seeing that work as free education. And seeing it as an opportunity instead of seeing it as a sacrifice. The people who are framing that in their mind that way, I think last longer and are ultimately more successful.


So, the question is, what do you notice is missing from new practitioners you encounter or interview? So, I'm going to talk about two things. We have a roster and we interview for staff positions that come up, not very often, because we have a team that stays in the positions for quite a while. But when we do interviews, things that are missing is that lack of demonstration for passion for what you're doing. Because we like what we do. Also, a lack of demonstration that you understand how to apply that skill in the context of where we're at. I work in municipal affairs. So, if folks think that it's easy to do, and don’t understand municipalities or working for government then I don't think they fit. What’s missing is that they don't understand the context and how their skills are applied in that context. If I was going to interview with AER, I'd better understand what the energy field is looking for and their context, and how that applies. And if I haven't worked in that field, I'd better show that it's similar to what I've done before and how that works. If that makes sense.

 For our roster, we have a roster of arbitrators, Med-Arbs now, which is new, and the arbitrators and mediators. There we have a committee that's looking at it. We have criteria. And it's very hard to get on because we're looking for people specifically with that experience. Or can demonstrate that they've worked on something similar. So what's missing is that lack of demonstration. What's good, on the flip side, is persistence. And I think somebody talked about persistence. If somebody is coming back to reapply a number of times or interview a number of times. We've hired at least one of our staff members, when it was the second time and they got hired on. Their persistence demonstrates that they're interested and they want to get in the field.  I've applied on rosters too and not got on them. Given my background in sport I’ve applied to be on a national sport roster and haven't got on because I don't have as much experience mediating in the sport world.

I just share that, because if you're interested in being on a roster or becoming a staff member it really helps to demonstrate how your skills and all of your other complementary skills can contribute to doing the job and that you understand the context.  There's a lot of other folks that we may hire, that may not have finished all the mediation training, but can demonstrate they understand the context that we're in and they are willing to take the mediation training and have an aptitude for it.  If that makes sense. Because a department wants the right person for the right fit who understands their clients and business. And it's different all over the different agencies. So make sure you understand the various departments’ needs, and if you're curious … phone one of the staff members up. I sit down and go for coffee with folks on a regular basis because they're interested in the field. Or they're interested in something in GOA.

I will sit down with anybody that's interested in the field and have a chat. Because it kind of goes two ways … you need to make sure that you're comfortable working in that field or department and we have to be comfortable with you.


I also struggled with this question. And I don't want to say that this is something that is missing from all new practitioners because there are some new practitioners who are just doing some amazing things. I say one thing that might be missing is that commitment to practice. There is no shortcut to practice. That's the only way you're going to get better. Maybe about a year ago, Alberta Justice’s Family Mediation program was advertising for a job as a staff mediator, and there was something like 90 mediators who applied and several were shortlisted and they had to do a role play. And the feedback that I heard afterwards was that these mediators didn't even know what an interest-based mediation was. And nobody got hired that time. So, make sure you stay true to interest-based mediation and don't lose that.


And I'll maybe add to that as well because I do know that separation and divorce is a unique category. You deal with emotions in workplace and you deal with emotions probably on counsels and AER with what you're doing. But when you're dealing with individuals that are divorcing, and there are the assets, and the children and where the kids are going to go to school and all of those things - the knowledge that you have to have and the depth of your mediation integration needs to be really quite high. So, if these new mediators are going in there and they're doing a basic mediation, just after they’ve finished their training, that's not even 10 percent of what you need to do in a real separation and divorce mediation. You know when you're just finishing your classes you probably have enough to be dangerous. Definitely not enough to truly take care of your parties in a safe way. What are your thoughts from the rest of the panel on that? When you consider the people that are just coming out of their training, where are they in terms of handling real clients? Their ability to handle real clients?


Well as the newest person here I'll say every instructor I ever had told me and everyone else in the class, you will not be ready by the time you leave these classes. You will need a lot, a lot of work. And so that was the direction. Get to know the people beside you. Get to know anyone else who's doing this and start practicing right away. Because it's not enough just to know the theory and have a day of practice. Much more than that.


I would … I'll just say for folks that we work with, our team specifically, it takes a good two to three years to understand the context and the nuances to it. It's quite specialized. We hire the person that has the aptitude and the willingness to do it and can demonstrate their experience is going to add to our team. For our roster, we're looking for folks that have that experience specifically. That's what I would share from our perspective.


I’ll just add to that Michael. So I did some work for an institution because there was conflict within the work group. So it was a group facilitation on group norms. That kind of morphed into several mediations between certain individuals. That morphed into two days of training on conflict resolution. So it was nice that I was able to offer those various processes. They didn't have to go shopping around.


And I completed my classes in 2008 so, 10, 11 years ago and I'm just starting to feel comfortable now walking into difficult workplace situations. It takes time and all the other skills that go along with that. I can't stress that enough to support the mediation classes.


You mentioned Cecile Schultz. She's another instructor close to my heart that I've had multiple times, and we were talking about her practice specifically and she said, in private practice after a decade you kind of feel like you don't have to hustle as much. You still have to, and there's still work to be done. But after 10 years, and this is after practice mind you, doing the work and getting clients and then that leads you to other clients and other clients. Then you start to build a momentum that you're not worried is going to fall apart at any moment. So, every message I've ever heard has been, it's a slow process, and so just know that going in. There should be no rose-colored glasses on about that.


That's exactly my answer to the next question.


A good lead in. Did anybody else have any final thoughts on this question before we go to the next one? OK so let's go to the final round robin question. What recommendations do you have for people wanting to enter this field?


OK. I wrote it down here. Practice, Network, volunteer, and when you're starting, co-facilitate.


I actually have four too. I don't even think there's an overlap. Although I agree with all of yours. My first one is take time to reflect the whole time. Like right now is the perfect time and six months from now will be the perfect time. Just keep doing it. And ask yourself what's brought you to the field? Why are you pursuing it? And I think that's really important, because during the tougher times, if the reason is deep enough and connected to something that's real, you'll find a way to make it happen. You'll be more open to the opportunities.

The second one is build a support system which you heard me say a bunch of times, and practice together. For example, there's a group called MMM which I joined a few years ago. Mediators mentoring mediators. And a lovely instructor Paula Drouin, a bunch of you've probably heard of her, took it upon herself to start the group and open herself up, with a couple of other veterans, to the newer folks. We were able to sit down with her and two other mediators, Nancy Love and Cecile Schultz, and a group of us just pelted them with questions and made structure for ourselves, connected as a community. We ended up building a book of role plays together that we could use, as well as creating a list of rosters that were in the Edmonton and the surrounding area that we could tap into. Sometimes we would just get together and agree about how tough it was. And that was really useful as well. So that's the second one.

Ask for help from the instructors and people who are doing the work in the way that you want to do it. And try to approach, if you can with something to offer them, whether it's just can we go for coffee, I'll buy you a coffee. Or if it's their time. I've seen new folks offer to do sort of like the paperwork end of some files for mediators as they're getting started. Not to do any of the mediation but just to help on the back end to get into the field, to be around when they're doing stuff. So, don't be afraid to ask because there are a bunch of instructors and practitioners out there who are eager to share all of the knowledge that they've been collecting and think a little bit about what you might be able to offer them.

And the fourth one speaks to the comment earlier about self-care. It's just, do some hard work to build up your boundaries and do what you need to do to maintain them. My biggest question when I got started, after I learned some of the more tough trainings like Circle facilitation or for restorative justice, was just how have you been doing this for 30 years and you haven't let it deplete you or exhaust you? How do you bounce back from those tricky files without taking them on? In various different ways, the response was always, you need to be very aware of what you can handle and what you can't. And take the time that you need to take. And if we don't do that, then we aren't able to show up in that present way.

All of these pieces really just intertwine. So, if you start with one it'll lead you into the other skills and into the other suggestions, I think that we've heard today. And that self-care one is really important because the parties and the work are going to continue to ask things of you. And at the beginning it's all about saying yes to get opportunities. And that's not going to stop until you start saying no, and building protections for yourself so that you can keep doing it for years and years.


And I guess from my perspective as a business owner, it's about if people are wanting to go that route and that's what Ali was talking about earlier, is having that patience to be able to grow your business. And that those ups and downs will be pretty persistent for the first few years and now at the 10-year mark I'm fairly comfortable with the amount of business. And as a business person to really look at how can you collaborate with others. What other partnerships can you create with others, so that both businesses can be successful. And there's lots of business out there for all sorts of ADR practitioners. There's no reason to hoard business or not share, there's very much work.


Well first I just want to say what a delight and how inspiring to hear my colleagues! Thank you all for the conversation. It's really great. I've been listening to the Three Musketeers in the car when driving around, and seems to me this conversation is all about success, right? How are you going to find success in this field? And just yesterday there's the scene where the young D'Artagnan is being sent by his father to make his success in Paris. His father says to him I've taught you sportsmanship. You have arms of iron and wrists of steel, fight, therefore, as often as you can. So, I thought you know in terms of this conversation, you folks have got, or will soon have, the attitude, the skills and the process for this. Mediate therefore, as often as you can! Facilitate, instruct, teach. Use the skills as often as you can. Every day, every day do something. And I think I'm underlining what my colleagues here have said, practice. There's no substitute for practice.


All right. So, any other thoughts on recommendations for people entering this field?


I'll just say that there, and maybe this was mentioned, but for those of you who don't know, there was an ADR symposium that happened in May of 2018. And there was a panel session similar to this called Opportunities for Practitioners. And they had a PowerPoint. And it's actually on the ADRIA website still. And it's loaded with resources and options and ideas and places to look for upcoming jobs, maybe not necessarily in mediation always, but just places to keep an eye on. So, if you just google ADR symposium Alberta it'll come up. It's also on ADRIA's website. And just click on speaker handouts and it'll be there. I really would recommend taking a look at that.


And I think I'll just finish up kind of reiterating. All you folks have lots of really good experience, so make sure you highlight that. And then how does the experience that you've taken with mediation fill in that gap if you will. And then when you start, and I'll say this from experience I was a facilitator. I facilitated a lot. I did a lot of facilitations, I thought, oh I really know facilitation. Then I took mediation training and thought I would give that a go.  After taking the training and getting feedback I thought I don't know what I'm doing anymore. And then you start to try it out and you go … “oh!”  well these skills that I had before kind of compliment this. How can I take what I know and my strength and apply that?

This came from freeing myself from thinking I was incompetent to following every step in the exact sequence. I freed myself by going to one of these advanced mediator workshops and people say well I don't follow the model exactly like this, but I customize it to the context. For me that was a game changer and I applied my strengths to the mediation and the situation I was in a way that worked for me and the participants and I didn’t feel hemmed in by the “Model”

Given my sport background I’ll give you a similar example of when you're first learning how to play hockey … you have to learn how to skate. Well you don't learn how to play hockey first. You first learn how to skate, puck handle, shoot and then eventually play in a hockey game. You practice a lot and then try it in a game and then refine your integration of the skills.  The same analogy here. When you first start learning the skills of mediation you're going “geeze, I have a four-stage model … I've got to do all these skills and then I've got to put it all together and then to get good at it you have to practice, practice, practice.

Don't forget all of those skills and strengths that you bring, because those are the marketable skills that somebody is going to hire you on. Keep practicing and hopefully you can work with some other people that will help you learn and grow along the way.  Also know and understand what you bring to the table. Because every time I've worked with somebody, they have brought some skill or knowledge that I appreciated.  I often find myself saying “I like how you did that … How do you do that?”  So, don't forget your own strengths. And integrate it to what you do and practice.


Are there any questions online? Any questions in the room.

Ok the questions is – you offered two qualities accepting failure and to do reflective practice. In doing reflection what would you note as the criteria that leads you to say yes, this is why I love mediating?


Well sometimes I hate mediating.


I think for me it's just that opportunity to build understanding between two parties or more. So it's not necessarily what solution they come up with or how they resolve it, but it's about oh, well I didn't realize that. Or you know that opportunity to build some insight and awareness and understanding and see how that changes people or changes the situation. Yeah.


How it changes the situation. I like to use a phrase that I learned from one of my instructors, Cari Patterson. “Have you moved the conversation forward?” And it's not necessarily about getting a resolution in a conflict conversation or in mediation or any situation like that. It's about, have you moved the conversation forward? So, I find mediation incredibly rewarding when I'm going to mediate, I have a big grin on my face because I'm thinking ‘wow, you get to go and help these people in conflict. You know, ‘I've got the skills to help them have this conversation and move them forward’. So that even if they don't resolve today, they are further ahead than they were before. And as well, I spoke earlier, I think warmly, about the quality of curiosity, and I find mediation incredibly rewarding because it's so interesting.

Every human being we meet is full of experience and wisdom and they have the opportunity to share that in the mediation. And so, to me, I see the mediation room is like the Matrix movie where they have all the information coming down. It's like the room is full of information. And the more that I can pay attention to, the more value I can give these parties. Because I can potentially make a skillful intervention of some kind that will help them move forward. My colleagues, I'll put this out to you. I don't think we've spoken, perhaps enough, about the rewards of the work. We'll talk about the value in family and home life and so on. But at least to me it's very rewarding because it connects directly to my deep value of helping people. I just love to help people. And that's why I'm grinning when I go to mediation because hey, I get to help people.


And it really is a helping profession. We think of nurses as being in the helping profession and some more black and white. But it really is, at the end of the day, a helping profession. And I think that maybe that's number one. But it's hard to tell someone what their why should be. That's so individual. I think it really depends on that person. I think for me, when I reflect on what, what motivates me and has me euphoric at the end of a mediation, is one of my deeper values, is about connection. And experiencing that, but also watching other people experience it. And so, to go into a situation where there is so much disconnect; to inch that a bit closer is so satisfying for me. And so, I think I would suggest doing reflection on what those deeper values are for you, in work or in your personal life. When is it, when are you at your happiest? And when are you your most satisfied? And then go ok, what values are really being satisfied in those times. And if those values can be satisfied by this work then I think that's a bonus. And it's a sign that you're in the right direction.


And I was joking about hating mediation.


I knew it, I knew it.


What I did before I was a mediator is, I was a reporter for the Edmonton journal. One of the things I loved about that job was meeting people, interviewing people, and hearing their stories. And there's a real correlation with mediation. I get to meet really interesting people. I get brought into their lives often at a time when they're at their lowest, but they still have a story. And it's my job to bring that story out and I get a lot of satisfaction from that.


I think it's really individual for folks. But I know for me, I really want to make a difference for those people in the room. I know it's up to them to make a resolution. I really care that they make it, that they can do it.   I’m there to help them have a fair safe respectful conversation. 

Often, I get to do some work where they don't reach consensus. It's like the likelihood of success of them to come to consensus is zero because there's a really polarized public issue, but they like the process. They thought it was fair and they compliment the team. When I reflect is it because you helped them have that difficult conversation and hopefully, they have learned something about the situation and each other and resolved the issue. It is those really contentious and difficult situations where you may or may not get an agreement and people come up to you and still sincerely thank you for mediating or facilitating their conversation and compliment you … that's pretty good.

I was reflecting on the specific work I do and I’m thinking “geez”, they're not really mediations, they're really consensus building using mediation skills.  Regardless of what you call it, for me it making a difference for those people we serve.

The success of the mediation program that we administer is also pretty good at 90 percent. When we get down to do it, I'm just talking about personally, the value is that I want to try and make a difference. And I was able to do that. That's when I go, “This is the right job for me”.

Paul (ADRIA Executive Director):

I wanted to add to the joy piece. Because many of you teach in your profession and there's great joy in that as well. I had a workplace ADR program in the military and I used to love watching these folks sent to training. Two or three days for training. Crusty old sergeant majors shuffling into the room thinking that we're going to teach them how to hug and sing Kumbaya and looking quite nervous about the whole situation. And so, it was always a great joy for all of us that we're in the training environment, and you have shared this as well, is to see the light go on and realize that this is a great skill to have. You know, sure they're teaching it from a workplace, getting along with each other kind of perspective and team building and that kind of thing. But it's a leadership skill. It's going to help me get promoted. It's going to help me with my kids. My church group, my wife, you know, my ex-wife. You know it's going to help in all those environments. So seeing that light go on and realize that this is not just about hugs and kisses and playing nice with each other, this is actually a leadership skill that's going to advance my career.


Another question from the room. Do you ever get people who say things like, don't mediate me? Especially when it comes to working with teens.


So when I was doing my training, my kids of course knew what I was doing. You know how far in, not very far in. And I had a conflict with my daughter Mollie who of all my children is the most determined. And I tried some skill or the other. I can’t now remember what it was. And she said “Dad don't give me that mediation bullshit”. That's exactly what she said, but that's the only time she ever said it. That's meaningful to me because, the skills when you first try them are clunky, and I think maybe Ali used that term. They quickly become integrated. The more you practice, they become integrated and people don't feel mediated anymore. They feel like they're in a situation where somebody is present with them. Very interested in having them be understood and in understanding.


That's funny Mark, I have the same experience, but with my husband. He says don't use that shit on me. He doesn't say that anymore. In fact, I hear him using all the skills himself a lot of times.


Ali do you have anything to add from your parent teen experience?


Just that with parent teen, it's interesting being in a co-mediation model, often I would be co-mediating with a much older person. Either female or male. And so I think the teen would identify with me and take my lead a little bit, which I think helped a lot of times. But the hindrance a lot of times was that the parent would try to tell the teen that they should act more like me. How old are you, aren't you young like my, you should act more like... Gosh that's not helping. So anyway less of that actually and more trying to, for once use my youth to my benefit in this field.


And so final question from Paul.


Yeah just a lightning question perhaps. There's been a lot of talk about continuous learning, professional development, staying engaged, and always learning, and almost making yourself uncomfortable. Because that's actually where we learn new things. So, for each of you I just wondered if you could tell us, what's that one skill that's still elusive. What's the one thing that you're still reaching for and trying to master that makes you uncomfortable?


Ok so in my work in the restorative justice field. I still need more training in trauma informed restorative justice. So, when you're working with a victim or an offender, often there is so much trauma in their lives and how to deal with that in a way that they're not re-traumatized. And so, I've had some training in that but I need more.


Mine I have a ton, but the ones that I'm working on that relate to the field I'm in now. Having a better understanding of the power dynamics in the room and being able to address that. And more quickly realizing that the good faith meter may be off a little bit. My BS meter otherwise known as just having, with a landowner for example, automatically the company has a lot more knowledge and manpower and resources. And say that they're there to have a good conversation and the landowner says that too, and how quickly am I able to realize that there may be other stuff going on behind there. So, the quicker I can do that, the better I can call that out.


Trying to think where to begin. I think some of the work that we do is a lot of convening work. And since I'm the manager, they look to me to be speaking a lot. So, I have to remind myself that there's somebody else there, that needs to have a voice, and make sure to include them. As well as not being aware of there's some other political dynamics going on, or something else going on. And it's just doing that research over and over again. What situation am I going into? What's the background? What do they need to hear? And ensure there's balance. Because a lot of times from a government perspective, they want to hear from whoever's the manager at the top. So, it's to be conscious of making sure that my co-mediator or staff or team are chiming in. So, it's to be aware of that, because you get caught up in, oh I'm supposed to be the lead. So, making sure things are balanced. And I think also balance in the room. But the work that I do, balance doesn't mean that you speak and then you speak, but making sure everybody has a voice at some point. I think those would be the skills I constantly have to work on is to have that balance.


Michelle or Mark?


I think for me it's probably still the anger, those explosive outbursts. I'm always trying to self-manage my own fight flight freeze in those situations. I'm certainly a lot better at it than I used to be. But it still kind of triggers me some times.


I had to think about this one and I now know what it is. As we have more experience thing and sort of feel more skilled, it's harder to keep that beginner's mind and just be really fresh in the uniqueness of every interaction. And the other thing that I'm working on is, because once again, I think as we have more experience and we've used all the skills and we've become "competent" with them, I'm really trying to do more with less. I'm trying to have fewer interactions that are more skillful. Just little interjections of some energy to the conversation so the parties, speaking about mediation here, can have that conversation. So really doing more with less.


I just want to thank all of my panelists for giving up their time today. Thank you all for staying and participating. Really great perspectives and great range of experience.  

Some ADRIA information related to today’s discussion. Joanne is teaching a restorative practice and circles course here in Edmonton in June. Some of you have talked about using circle process in your work. So that's something that's coming up. Consensus decision making relates to Michael's field working with municipalities and we do have a Consensus Decision Making course in May in Edmonton. And Michelle Phaneuf with her partnership in Workplace Fairness, is offering a workplace course. I took that course here in Edmonton last fall it was an excellent course. Paul took it as well. So you're interested in workplace assessments and workplace mediation, that's going to be in Calgary in the first week of May. And then of course we have all of our other training - high conflict courses, separation and divorce mediation and other specialized training. So this field is a is a lifelong learning journey. And it's self-reflective and it is everything that everyone else has shared. So again thank you again for participating and thank you to the audience for being here.


Of course, I'd like to add my personal thanks to the panelists. You know I've known all of you, well learning to know pretty much all of you. And it's always been a pleasure to work with you. I do also want to take a second to thank Tammy and her team for putting this together because it's been really well received. There was a lot of mention of getting to know your community, networking, taking opportunities to meet other mediators and practitioners. So do remember that we have ADR luncheons in both Calgary and Edmonton. Pretty much on a monthly basis except for the summer. It's a great opportunity to meet others and network and enjoy a great lunch. So take a look online to see those and again my thanks to the panelists and to Tammy and her team and really great to have you all here and here online.

Panelist Biographies:

Michael Scheidl is the Manager of Intermunicipal Relations with Alberta Municipal Affairs and manages the Municipal Dispute Resolution Initiative which has been recognized as one of the most comprehensive municipal dispute resolution programs in North America and provides a spectrum of services from mediation, collaboration and education to help municipalities work better together and resolve conflict.  Michael was an instructor with Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Alberta and has extensive experience in organizational development with non-profit groups through his work with Alberta Community Development.  Michael also has a certificate in Conflict Management and is a Chartered Mediator.

Ali Ansell a nationally Qualified Mediator working at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) as an ADR Specialist. In this role she mediates disputes with oil and gas companies, landowners, and Indigenous communities. Ali’s role also includes facilitating multi-party conversations and projects, instructing communication courses, and participating on various conflict resolution committees.

Ali started her ADR career volunteering in co-mediation and facilitation roles with organizations like the Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre and Catholic Social Services’ Parent-Teen Mediation Program. From there she built a private practice, which she still maintains, mediating family and community disputes and facilitates sharing circles with youth.

Michelle Phaneuf is a Chartered Mediator, Certified Coach and trained workplace Ombudsman.  She has worked as an entrepreneur in the conflict resolution field since 2009 and been a partner with Workplace Fairness West since 2014.  She has extensive experience supplying conflict management and conflict resolution services to all types and sizes of organizations. This includes providing workplace assessments to shift cultures, facilitating teams to reach innovative solutions, and coaching individuals to gain insight and awareness when in conflict.

Joanne Munro is a nationally chartered mediator, a restorative justice facilitator and an instructor in the fields of mediation, restorative justice, restorative practices, peacemaking circles, conflict resolution, and negotiation. She mediates for Alberta Justice's family mediation and civil claims programs, and is a member of the provincial police complaints mediation roster. Joanne also volunteers as a mediator and restorative justice facilitator with local community mediation programs. In private practice Joanne specializes in workplace, faith group, non-profit and separation and divorce mediation. Joanne has extensive experience in organizational/workplace assessment and mediation, and a rich background in facilitating meetings, public involvement processes (for government) and helping organizations restore their workplaces. She was a member of the ADR Institute of Alberta’s Board of Directors for several years.

On numerous occasions Joanne was a coach and guest lecturer in the School of Business SMO 411 course.

Prior to entering the fascinating world of peace making, Joanne was a journalist with the Edmonton Journal, reporting in a variety of areas and then working as a columnist and editorial writer. 

Mark Donovan, C. Med., has been in the ADR field for about 12 years. He holds a BA and MA in Religious Studies from the University of Calgary where his field of study was Buddhism. After staying at home to raise his four children he trained and certified in Mediation and Negotiation at Mount Royal University. Mark serves on several mediation rosters including the Calgary and Fort McMurray Civil rosters and conducts mediations, facilitations and conflict coaching sessions for private clients. He also mentors and coaches people new to the field. Mark is a part-time instructor for ADRIA and for Mount Royal University. 


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