Revealing MASTERY…

With the tenth anniversary event only days away, the MATA faculty, can now unveil the latest key concept – Mediation Mastery. This new theme will be uncovered and explored in depth at the event running from 7th – 11th July, and in particular at the Peter Adler two-day workshop (see below).

We introduce in this key paper the ROUTE TO MASTERY..

Route to Mastery

Purpose of this paper

For the past ten years or more, we[1] have been training commercial Mediators at every level – foundation, through the Mediator Training Course; intermediate through a series of courses that build upon the foundation training; and advanced, particularly through the annual international Advanced Mediator Retreat.

Our training is always mediation-centred and is delivered by practising Mediators. The purpose of this paper is to draw all these diverse strands into a cohesive whole. Because our aim is always to train people in excellence, to enable them to continually grow both in knowledge and in ability, we have called this ‘whole’ the Route to Mastery.

Why me?

It may seem audacious for me to write such a paper. I am not a big name Mediator who helps to settle major, big-price disputes or who helps the government resolve international embarrassments. I am not mediating three or four cases every week and I am not an eminent lawyer who helps frame European or other directives. I do not have the ear of politicians, nor do I guest at state or other banquets. But I have trained a lot of people in mediation skills and recognise that some, a precious minority, ‘have it’ (some call it ‘in the flow’) and others don’t. And I do, often, experience the magic of being ‘at one’ with the parties and their problem in mediations – and that is something very special. It is also a privilege.

I just want to capture in words what it is that takes some Mediators to the heights of excellence.

What is Mastery?

Put baldly the Mediators role is to give the parties the best chance of doing a deal. Less baldly the Mediator’s task is:

at the right time, under the right conditions, in the right way and with the right people, to artfully settle things to the highest mutually-productive ends possible with the least amount of friction[2].

In 2010 we asked a group of around sixty people, probably half of whom were Mediators, “what is a Master?”. Words such as:

vision, self-awareness, humility, passion, compassion, tenacity, patience, from the soul, fearless, flexible, childlike curiosity, present, instinctive, able to improvise/innovate, transparent, living the process, dedication, emotionally intelligent, focus, reflection, mentoring

were used. As the discussion developed it became obvious that one set of words applied to the internal Mediator (being rather than doing) and another to the external Mediator (doing rather than being). The consummate Mediator is a person who is centred, at peace with him/herself, unconsciously competent, intuitive in the use of skills and techniques, open and accepting of others and able to create a safe and nurturing environment in which people can be both vulnerable and positive. S/he is also a person who does not rely on force of personality, charisma or position to be an effective Mediator (although being charismatic may help!).

Route to Master Mediator

What gets you to Mastery? More important, what keeps you there?

We see the Route to Mastery being a virtuous cycle. Ultimately it will involve Masters passing on their knowledge and experience to others who will in turn become Masters themselves and so pass their knowledge on to others. It means a journey from apprenticeship to Master and then to Mentor. The cycle will take many years and involve continual personal development, polishing of skills and techniques and a pile of experience (it is difficult to quantify what constitutes a ‘pile’, because quantity may not be the correct measure, but it could be, say, 100 commercial mediations within five years). It will unquestionably involve the sharing of experience and the giving back by the Masters to ‘younger’ members of the profession of their wisdom and insights.  In the early years, however, the ‘pioneer’ Masters will achieve that status by learning and sharing with each other.

The starting point of the Route is accreditation by a reputable body. At the time of writing this, the Civil Mediation Council is publishing standards for Mediators and Training providers. Unfortunately it is setting minimum standards, particularly for training, whereas it should be setting the aspirational standards. In addition, it is not the number of hours training that makes an effective Mediator. A ‘natural’ may only need ten hours training to be effective, whereas some people can have a hundred hours training and still not be effective. It is the assessment criteria that should be regulated.

Accreditation by a reputable body therefore means by a training organisation that has rigorous assessment of clear criteria that are accepted by the profession as standards that produce effective commercial Mediators. The aim should always be for an accredited Mediator to be good at mediating disputes and for those who are not good, or mediocre or uncertain, even borderline, to not be accredited. The aim should be to produce Mediators who have the recognised potential qualities of the consummate Mediator mentioned above.

It is recognised that one of the problems for newly-accredited Mediators is getting experience and (paid) work. That is largely down to their own network of contacts, tenacity, determination and luck. Sometimes their training body can provide pupilages and, if they are lucky and the trainer is also a provider, some cases to mediate. This is key because there is nothing better than experience. But personal development and learning from others must go alongside, if not ahead of, experience.

Building on the foundations

Before a commercial Mediator can polish his/her skills the knowledge-base needs to grow. No matter how many hours of training in the foundation course, it can only teach the safe principles. Such principles need to be expanded and made flexible. So part of this initial stage is taking those key areas on the foundation training into greater depth. For example, communication skills, understanding conflict, negotiation in mediation, managing the documents, settlement agreements, making confidentiality more fluid, risk-taking and so on. Building on the safe foundations, the new Mediator is likely to need these areas of further training to obtain the flexibility in the skills and process of mediation to become most effective, quickly.

This is also where learning from the Masters is most needed. Having the opportunity to soak up years of experience, challenges, skills and techniques is vital to grow in ability and confidence. Also, sharing and feeding off contemporaries helps not only in learning but also in building camaraderie in an otherwise solitary profession.

Once the foundation skills have been refined, the Route to Mastery has identified the two parallel training streams mentioned above – the Internal Mediator (being rather than doing) and the External Mediator (doing rather then being). A Master Mediator would be expected to follow, and be competent in, both streams.

The internal Mediator – being rather than doing


This is about what goes on inside you, the Mediator – knowing yourself, understanding your values, principles and motivations so that you know how and why you react to conflict, challenges and relationships in the way you do. It is about understanding your own values, how they were formed, why other people may have different values and how that, in turn, causes them to react differently to you. It is about recognising how we deal with conflict and how our reaction may be different in different circumstances; and why other people will react differently to us. It is about understanding and managing our emotions in challenging situations and in having difficult conversations. It is about recognising, and embracing, the paradoxical role of the Mediator, how we need to be both:

  • strong and vulnerable,
  • gentle and challenging
  • assertive and yet be in the background,
  • empathetic and uninvolved,
  • compassionate and dispassionate,
  • authoritative and powerless,
  • flexible yet structured,
  • open-hearted yet manipulative,
  • risk-taking yet a safe pair of hands.

This is also about being instinctive, but recognising there are dangers as well as rewards; of being fearless but not reckless; of being centred and a peaceful presence that generates empathy and trust with other people. Of showing humility, despite the ego-feeding high settlement rates. And from somewhere in all that emerges the word ‘grace’.

It also recognises that, as skills increase, so should the challenges. An effective Mediator needs to be constantly fresh and refreshed. A Master does not operate on auto-pilot or rest in idle time. S/he learns and changes all the time. The Internal Mediator is about deep self-awareness.

The External Mediator – doing rather than being

This is about using your skills, instincts and techniques to maximum effectiveness, and being challenged to go outside your comfort zones. It covers:

  • skilful problem-framing
  • strategic use of information
  • separating people and problem
  • party story-telling (and I don’t mean lies – although they might be!)
  • intelligent negotiation
  • cultural, cross-cultural and faith-based disputes,
  • managing crowds into a meaningful few
  • designing the process to suit the dispute,
  • non-caucus mediation,
  • Co-Mediation,
  • Time-Limited Mediation,
  • ethical issues

and so on. It also covers, where appropriate, evaluation in mediation, consensus-building techniques and specialist sector training. It recognises that the Mediator models behaviour for everyone and that what works for some people, somewhere at some time, does not mean that it will work for everyone, everywhere. So sensitivity and flexibility are essential for the Mediator to operate at maximum effectiveness, every time.

Achieving Mastery

The Internal Mediator stream and External Mediator stream go hand-in-hand. Both streams combined, the Route to Mastery is challenging, testing and rewarding. But not for everyone. The aim is for excellence, the golden standard. It is not just to provide another ‘title’, a long-service reward or to recognise services to the profession.


Having achieved mastery in both the Internal and External Mediator, what keeps the Master at peak performance every time s/he mediates? We like the IMI[3] policy of Mediators maintaining a log which is peer-reviewed. We also see Masters committing to peer reviews of actual mediations at least once per year and taking part in Master Classes and mentoring other Mediators. Not only should this be an accepted responsibility of all Masters but it helps to prevent the Master from slipping from unconscious competence to unconscious incompetence (potentially caused by over familiarity and assumption of success). The aim is for excellence; excellence that is continuous and on-going, where the Master is operating at the centre of his/her passion.

David Richbell

June 2011


Mediation Mastery final

[1] See MATA website ( for details and training courses

[2] Peter Adler ‘Leadership in the eye of the storm’.

[3] International Mediators Institute (


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