Putting a mediation career together peace by peace
The mediator’s role
Thanks to saturation advertising on television, radio and even public transport, mediation is in the spotlight. The image of the mediator as a middleman and peacemaker has become prominent in the eyes of the public. Making peace is no easy task, but here are some tips for those who may be interested in pursuing a career in mediation.
Contrary to common perception, rather than being judges and arbitrators who advise arguing parties, mediators go through disputes with the parties concerned and facilitate direct communication in order to reach a settlement. Disputes occur in many different situations and can involve just about any elements you could possibly imagine.
For instance, a dispute between a couple could, on the surface, involve buying an apartment. But it may be just the tip of an iceberg involving the lending of a mahjong table, ways of brewing coffee, allocation of resources in walled villages, or the calculation of employee mortgage benefits.
The mediator’s skills
Mediators ask all sorts of exploratory questions – sometimes repeatedly, but in different forms – to foster discussion. Possessing curiosity and a keenness to increase and update your knowledge in various different areas is a good starting point. Persistence and empathy are also essential qualities. A court case could last several years, while mediation could take a few days. Deadlock can sometimes occur, but this is not the end of the world.
Experience shows that the ability to emphasise parties’ common interests, offering diagrams showing the progress they have achieved, and holding separate meetings can lead to compromises being reached in a speedy manner. Mediators should stay positive to keep up the momentum and not give up easily – or at least before the other parties do.
In addition to passion, another vital quality is empathy. To a mediator, a dispute may be just another case – and another bill – but for the parties concerned, it involves their very lives. Before meeting face-to-face, they may have had many sleepless nights. It is no surprise that they are often highly emotional. Mediators must therefore be good at acknowledging feelings, listening to concerns, controlling their own emotions and maintaining their impartiality.
The mediator’s starting point
Mediators are required to undergo 40 hours of training prior to accreditation assessments, where they must demonstrate the skills they have acquired – both on the course and externally – in two role-play situations.
The Hong Kong Mediation Accreditation Association Limited (HKMAAL) was set up in April 2013 to unify the profession by standardising the relevant training and accreditation. Many institutions now offer courses of varying standards and fees, and so applicants should check with the guidelines HKMAAL has laid down for the assessments involved, the reputation of the institutions, the qualifications of trainers and coaches, and the cost.
The question arises as to whether 40 hours is long enough to pass the assessment and assist in obtaining your first case after the exam. It is useful to practise as much as possible to tune, refine and polish skills. Opportunities are only for those who are prepared.
The Hong Kong Mediation Council of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre regularly organises seminars on skills enhancement and the latest developments in mediation. Experienced mediators, both local and from overseas, are invited to share their experiences.
Day-to-day practice is the easiest way to demonstrate to people around you how good you are at facilitating communication. Attending seminars and events is a good way to learn new skills and get to know people in the field. Make sure that the interpersonal, communication and active listening skills are among those in your toolbox whenever they need to be used. Your first client could be introduced by your mediation circle, your colleagues, friends, or even your neighbours, in situations you cannot imagine or expect.
In answering the question on how to become a mediator, we always ask: “What makes people hire us as a mediator? Our experience, background, skills, or fee?” Starting off a career in mediation is the same as setting up any other business. We should ask what persuades people to pay for our services. Constantly upgrading your knowledge and skills, knowing clients and competitors, and marketing and networking are some of the crucial factors.
Melody TY Leung is the honorary secretary of the General Mediation Interest Group under the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre’s Hong Kong Mediation Council.
Alice KY Wong is the deputy honorary secretary of the General Mediation Interest Group under the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre’s Hong Kong Mediation Council.