ADR Practitioners Write Letters to Their Younger Selves

To wrap up ADR Student Awareness Week at ADRIO, we asked some seasoned ADR Practitioners to reflect on their ADR Career path and share some advice with ADR Students; we challenged them to do this in the form of a letter to their younger selves. You can read their sage words of wisdom below.  

Jennifer Webster, Mediator, Arbitrator, Facilitator, ADRIO Board Director

Dear Jennifer,

Mediation work is a reflective practice. You work alone and you can be your own harshest critic.  Make the time to engage in reflection about what worked well in a mediation and what you would like to have done differently. How can you grow from each experience?  But, be kind to yourself – you are using complex social and soft skills to support people in managing conflict and your intention is to be facilitative and supportive. You will make missteps when working to exercise your best judgment.

Work with parties where they are at and recognize when you should stop because you are the only person who is interested in reaching a resolution.  The opposite is also true that you need to recognize when to continue and press ahead through a difficult point in the mediation

One of mentors once told me – “If we take credit for their success, we must also take credit for their failure” – as a reminder that we are not responsible for the parties’ resolution.  We don’t know know the solution and we don’t own the solution.  When he told me this, he had just concluded a mediation of a settlement of the collective agreement between the NHL and the players association and many stakeholders were congratulating him.  It was crucial for him to share the message that the parties were responsible for the successful resolution, not him.

Marc Bhalla, Hons.B.A., C.Med, Q.Arb, MCIArb, Mediator & Arbitrator

When I first launched my ADR practice all those years ago, I felt inclined to model neutrality in every aspect of how I presented myself.  I am a big fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was hesitant to express it… this had nothing to do with how poorly the team was playing then, honest! It took me time to realize that other ADR practitioners express political/religious views and share opinions related to and beyond the field.  I came to appreciate that it is not possible to be neutral about everything and have found that it helps to share personality. 

Dear Younger Marc and other ADR Students,

My advice to you is to be authentic.  Impartiality in practice is essential but this does not mean that you are not entitled to have opinions. 
Go Leafs Go!

Helen Lightstone LL.M.(DR), C.Med, Lightstone Mediation Services

Dear Younger Helen,

I see that you are doing a considerable amount of work trying to get experience and make a name for yourself in Dispute Resolution.  Here’s what I can say to you years later; keep volunteering, keep networking, when someone suggests something, explore it and take action, work outside of your comfort zone, send thank-you cards and not emails, go the extra mile, it’s ok if you don’t know something, just ask.  People love talking about themselves, listen to how they got where they are, and see if you can follow their lead.  Continue educating yourself, there is always more to learn. Stay humble, there is no peak! Never forget to say ‘thank-you’ to those who supported you, you would not be any where without them.  In the future, be generous. 

Joan Cass, MSW, RSW, Q.Med, VP of ADRIO

When I completed my Certificate in Dispute Resolution in July 2015, I felt like I was stepping off a cliff into nothingness. Having made the commitment to truly become a “Mediator”, my task was to create a “somethingness” into which to step.

It is important to realize, at that stage, that money is almost never the “somethingness” that you create and you will likely have to spend some to make the magic happen.

Dear Younger Joni, and other ADR Students,

Here are some fruits of my experience so you can create your own unique “somethingness”:

“Do Stuff”—Even if you have no idea what kind of mediation you want to do, or where you want to focus, you must start somewhere and do something. Organizations such as ADRIO are excellent places to begin. Become a member and join a committee.

Go to orientations and Meet and Greets.

Volunteer to help at events. Go to educational workshops and trainings. Some of these things are even free. Go and do and become part of the mediation world.

“Show Up”—There is no point in being on a committee if you don’t go to meetings. There is no point in going to meetings if you don’t say anything or offer to help with tasks. Even if you are attending a meeting by phone, you can’t just “phone it in ”! You need to be an engaged and contributing participant. Show up fully and be noticed for what you bring to the table.

“Speak Up”—I acknowledge that while speaking up is relatively easy for me, it can be difficult for my more introverted colleagues. It may not be easy but it is really important for your voice to be heard and for you to become known within the mediation world. You may have to pretend to be a very extroverted person. Acting! You don’t have to say a lot and it doesn’t always have to be in front of the whole group but you must make an effort. Approach someone who has said something that interests you and say you are fascinated and want to hear more. If someone approaches you, tell your story and listen to theirs. Networking is everything!

“Get a Mentor”—Approach people you admire and tell them you want to learn more from them. You never know what can happen. Even if that particular person does not have the time or interest to mentor you, they may know someone who does. Or maybe they will at another time. For sure, they will remember you because who doesn’t like to hear that someone admires them and wants to learn from them?

“Share the Somethingness”—By doing stuff, showing up, speaking up, and finding mentors, I connected with others who were also passionate about creating “somethingness”, not only for ourselves but for others in the same situation. Now I am the “J” in JADE Mediation Practice Group, which launched in January, 2017, a community for new mediators to connect and practice skills with experienced guest coaches. I was elected to the ADRIO Board of Directors in 2017, was just re-elected at the June, 2019 AGM, and am currently Vice President/President Elect on the board of ADRIO.

Start creating your “somethingness”. If I can do it, so can you.