Peter Adler and The End of Mediation

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Peter Adler has written an article of compelling interest on the core values and direction of mediation. Provocatively entitled, The End of Mediation, this ambitious essay sets out a powerful vision for the future of the process and its practitioners. His basic point is that mediation is not a “field” or “profession” but a set of cultural habits ( a meme) dating far back in human social history. Its concepts and tools are widely used by many who have never had specialized mediation training but have mastered the art of helping people reach effective agreements. He makes forceful arguments against attempts to professionalize a practice so basic to human culture.

Formalizing mediation as a profession would only lead to restrictive licensing, narrow definitions of acceptable practice and a guild-like mentality. It would serve to protect the market of paying cases for those with prescribed qualifications, sanctioned by a formal certification procedure. But those restrictions would likely limit useful professional adaptation or simply push innovation beyond the control of a licensed caste.

Mediators, formally trained as such or not, lacking licenses but enjoying the trust of participants, should have a bright future because the role they play will continue to be just as important as it has been for ages. He argues that the future will doubtless see the evolution and application of the fundamental mediation process in ways that we can’t anticipate now. Such responsiveness to future trends has the potential for changing paradigms of social interaction and the satisfaction of interests. Big thinking, big claims.

He offers some great suggestions for getting us there sooner. Among them:

  • tracking the major trends of change that will require mediative skills

  • dropping our jargon and explaining mediation principles in real-life terms

  • forgetting arguments about trivial details and focusing on the frontiers of practice

  • learning from the catalytic leaders who function as mediators because of their personal connectedness and authority as trusted intermediaries

  • taking on the work of changing political culture and its typical emphasis on “towel-snapping” fights between advocates of opposing conditions

There’s much more than I can summarize here. Peter covers a lot of ground in history and culture as he develops his ideas. That makes the article especially exciting and challenging, and one that’s bound to be hotly debated.

A couple of thoughts as I read through it:

  1. I think the broad idea of collaborative practice, rather than the term “mediation,” captures the extension of underlying mediation principles into new areas, in the way that Peter describes. “Mediation” and “dispute resolution” often seem too limiting to meet the diverse demands for consensus-building services. Public agencies ask mediators to manage projects for long-term plans, organizational change, and visioning that may incorporate but go well beyond dispute resolution.

  2. Responding to such changes, many mediators have had to blend their traditional skills and techniques with methods drawn from other fields like organizational development, change management and long-term planning. The practice has largely been pulled in this direction by the demands of a market in need of new approaches rather than pushed there by mediators themselves. They have a lot to learn from other fields of practice in order to enhance their competence to deal with this variety of need.

  3. As a result, though there are always exceptions, mediators in public policy, probably more so than in commercial, domestic, labor or other areas, now spend more time – and gain more income – working on plans and visions for the future rather than resolving disputes that started in the past.

  4. Coaching and training leaders and managers in the use of collaborative processes are also important activities. These have a lot to do with creating a culture of collaboration that can lead to the deeper changes Peter foresees in the future.

I’ll come back to this rich and provocative article in future posts. Whether you provide or use collaborative services, you should read The End of Mediation – it can’t fail to get you thinking.

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2 Responses to “ Peter Adler and The End of Mediation ”

  1. John,
    Interesting post and good additional thoughts you provide at the end of your post (especially #2 about the need to blend mediative skills with other organizational skills). As a mediator (and blogger on collaboration) I can relate to the challenges of aligning a service that we currently label “mediation” with the bigger picture offered undered the umbrella of “collaboration”. I think your site is very timely and I look forward to reading future posts from you.

  2. Thanks, Ben – I’m really glad you stopped by – especially since this gave me a chance to discover your blog. It’s a beautiful presentation of excellent material on collaboration. I look forward to an ongoing dialogue about our numerous shared interests.

    All my best — John