Today all the volunteer mediators at Camden Mediation Service were invited for a day of top-up training. Community mediation can be very unpredictable, especially as emotions tend to run very high when the disputers may have their home or sanity at stake.

We started with general chat & an ice-breaker, for once meeting on our own terms with fellow mediators… An quirky bunch of like-minded do-gooders! Unbeknown to any of us however, Adriana had dreamed up a day of those rare but unavoidable “critical moments” which turn a mediation into a potentially dangerous or legally implicated confrontation.

We soon found ourselves diving headlong into racisim, homophobia, angry insulting language, and threats of physical violence. All of these may be directed from or between the clients, and still need to be dealt with using the non-directional framework of seeking out opportunities for empowerment and recognition. This involves confronting an issue as soon as it arises, “calling” the words or behaviour of the person responsible for what is going on, and offering them the chance to deal with the issue in an empowering and constructive way. At the same time, it may mean protecting one party from the behaviour of the other whilst maintaining impartiality and a non-judgemental, non-directive approach.

Choosing language to fit into the framework is always tricky, even when the client is cooperating… But with Adriana playing her wicked characterisations of impossible clients, it really becomes a balancing feat of mental gymnastics to tread through the minefield. The skill comes from finding a way to offer the clients a new direction in the conversation, purely based on what they are or aren’t actually saying about their needs in the moment. It can feel like juggling a dozen invisible balls at once!!

I’m not sure I did that well, struggling to deal with a joint mediation roleplay in which one was insulting the other where the situation was crying out for ground-rules. All my attempts were too timid or subtle, so we really only seemed to inflame and enhance the divide between the clients even further.

Watching other mediators dealing with their role plays, was incredibly enlightening though. Especially Jane, who effortlessly disarmed a pair of racist & insulting clients by asking them perfect questions about what type of conversation they would like to have. Certainly a great example to learn from and so much further to go in my own practice.