Mediating dangerously

As some of you might know, Mediating Dangerously is the title of a book written by Ken Cloke. The book deals with how mediators might operate at an advanced and complex level. It includes many case studies. I use the same topic today but in a slightly different context.

Over the last 4 weeks I have heard 3 separate stories about disputes being mediated by people who are untrained. Just last week at a dinner I attended, I sat next to a person who was due to mediate a dispute the next day despite having no training. Gosh. This is a problem. As you may have picked up from previous missives, I have a particular interest in the good work of the NHS and the correlation between conflict and health. But, if you were ill and you needed a surgeon would you invite me to carry out the procedure based on my interest and textbook reading? I doubt it.

Mediating without training has at least 5 implications. There are more too I’m sure.

  1. Mediation must follow a process – Mediation can look and sound easy, but the process can only be understood with the appropriate training and experience. Previous experience as a coach and/or facilitator can be helpful but the mechanics are different.
  2. Parties need professional help – Parties in dispute look to a suitably qualified person who can help them achieve what they haven’t been able to achieve on their own. The mediator fulfils this role.
  3. Risk – All mediations should be underpinned by an appropriate agreement to mediate. This includes confirmation that the process is confidential and without prejudice. It is conceivable that a mediator could end up giving evidence if the mediation fails, the dispute rumbles on to an Employment Tribunal and the appropriate documentation hasn’t been put in place. This could damage the reputation of the ‘mediator’ and the mediation process.
  4. Duty of care – An untrained and inexperienced mediator could quickly get out of their depth and make matters worse rather than better. This would be both hazardous and unfair to the parties involved.
  5. Litigation – Parties (or their representatives) who become aware as the mediation unfolds that the mediator is untrained could decide to take legal action against the ‘mediator’ for the damage caused.

This is serious stuff and really would be mediating dangerously.

I wonder whether these stories I have heard might be as a result of the season of austerity. This would be one of those areas where one might spend less or nothing initially, but potentially spend much more in the future on corrective measures. If you have heard any similar stories, I’d love to hear from you.

Next week, I’ll be writing my last missive for a few weeks. My missives will resume again from Sunday 6th September.

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