We are a great group of people, us mediators. We understand how emotions and values play into conflict, we recognize the power in a solution that fits both parties’ needs, and we approach the world with a quiet confidence that any disagreement can be resolved. I love that about us. Too bad we don’t always apply those skills when it comes to the divide in our own community, though—namely, the ongoing attorney-mediator versus the non-attorney-mediator discussion. Unlike doctors without borders, it seems our community has borders…or should I say boundaries? I know I’m not the first person to bring up this subject and I’m certainly not the first person to think that the topic is talked about way too much behind closed doors rather than out in the open, but I’m going to bring it up again because I’d really like us to work on a resolution. The divide between the attorney-mediator and the non-attorney-mediator disappoints me.

I rarely think of the qualifier (attorney- or non-) unless I’m with a group of individuals who insist on introducing themselves one way or the other. Otherwise, I simply introduce myself by using my name. I’ve noticed that on all sides of the room there can be a tendency to look down on an individual who doesn’t share your qualifier. For instance, if someone introduces herself as a therapist-mediator, it is not surprising to hear her somewhat negative take on those without the same qualifier.

I have had attorneys tell me that in order to be a good mediator, one must have a strong understanding of the law and you cannot get that without a J.D. I have heard individuals from the psychology and therapy worlds say that in order to be a good mediator, one must have a strong understanding of human nature and that you cannot get that without the type of education and experience they have gained in their practices. Moreover, I have witnessed plenty of mediators without a law or counseling background look down on those who hold such credentials because “those people” have a slightly twisted view of “pure” mediation. Oh my.

At a recent ADR conference, a breakout session was offered to discuss the state of mediation in our region. The topic of certification, licensing, and qualifying for mediator status came up and by the reaction you would have thought the speakers were personally attacking our mamas! The response was heated and, quite frankly, got a little out of hand. Old guard folks were irritated that anyone would suggest their lack of formal training (which didn’t exist when they started a gazillion years ago) made them any less a mediator than their counterparts who had finished three years of law school but only completed a 40-hour basic training and wanted to call themselves mediators. Those in mediation practices got hot and bothered when others likened their thousands of hours of mediating cases to a nice thing to do for the community, much like peer panels at the local high school. And it went downhill from there.

So, what is the answer? Should we as a community insist on another level of certification that anyone is free to obtain so that we can simply call each other mediator? Alternatively, can we agree that we are entitled to our own opinions about what makes a mediator a mediator and ignore the opinions of those with whom we disagree? Maybe we could use some of the skills we like to tell everyone we possess and work toward solving the dirty little secret in a way that would satisfy everyone’s needs. Starting with common ground might be a good place (note my first paragraph).

I really do believe we have more in common than not. I also believe I am bringing up a touchy subject that will not be put to bed easily, but I would like us to try. Oh, and in case you are wondering, I am a non-attorney mediator. I am also a non-astronaut mediator, a non-physician mediator, and a non-silent mediator.

Discuss!

by Vivian Scott

Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator with a private practice in Snohomish, WA. She is the author of “Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies” and a contributing author to “Thriving in the Workplace For Dummies”. Her expertise covers workplace, business to business, family, and community disputes. Ms. Scott received the Silver Screen Award from the International Film and Video Festival for outstanding creativity for her role as developer and Executive Producer of the “America at Work” video series which aired on the USA Network.