A Year On…
It’s a year since I took the plunge and trained to be a civil and commercialmediator. I’m not quite sure what I expected from the experience – which I enjoyed enormously – but while not exactly leading to a new career (I wasn’t looking for one anyway), it has been eye-opening in some quite unexpected ways.
In my ‘day job’, I’m the rabbi of a sizeable and very active congregation in North West London. I also serve in various educational and counselling roles and as an organisational consultant for a number of communal organisations. I realised that I’ve actually been mediating in different ways, whether in counselling or other professional settings, for years. However, I’d never thought about what I do in terms of mediation, nor had I really considered formalising my skills by completing a proper course.
I assumed that the training would provide me with a new skill which would enable me to credibly add mediation to the portfolio part of my career. It has certainly done that, and a number of modest-sized mediation opportunities have come my way, mostly offshoots from a pastoral area in which I have been practising for years – divorce counselling. But learning to mediate has also offered some important and unexpected insights, which I’d like to share briefly.
One of my most interesting discoveries about mediation is how flexible and widely-applicable its principles are. From responding effectively to an irate congregant to persuading lay-leaders to consider the need to alter the governance structure of a community, I have found mediation techniques invaluable. Although it seems obvious when set down on paper, asking people in a non-judgemental way why they think certain courses of action are appropriate, what they think their consequences might be and encouraging them to consider how they might play out for others, can make the difference between ongoing conflict and deeper understanding and harmony.
Outside of my immediate congregational setting, the mediation technique has been especially valuable in some of the recruitment work in which I am involved. It’s been helpful in guiding selectors to overlook their visceral interests and reflect more productively on what kind of recruit
would actually be best for the role. And, it’s been especially useful when delivering negative feedback in a considerate but effective way.
A final area (for now) in which I have found my new skills helpful has in been in collaborative group work. In two recent contexts – one a team exercise at an interfaith retreat, the other a group assignment for a course – I am certain that my ability to collaborate well and produce a good outcome were enhanced by my mediation background.
I am looking forward to increasing the number of ‘real’ mediations that I perform, but in the meantime, the skills continue to add value to many things that I do.
Harvey Belovski MA(Oxon) PhD