Four weeks have passed since I completed my cross border family mediation training at MiKK e.V. and I feel it’s time to share a few thoughts.

When a group of people from 11 countries with different background and different level of experience meet to co-mediate, chances are that it will be challenging to find common grounds. It is from this very challenge that I got the most important learnings.

First: Interdisciplinarity is extremly enriching and it is worth taking some time to become well attuned to one another.

Mediators usually come in very different flavours: Some are lawyers, some have had a career in more than one arena before discovering mediation as the unifying profession for their unique set of skills.

The intensity of such influences (or conditioning?!) entails the danger of bias but also the gift of variety and impacts the relationship with your co-mediatior: While you can be irritated by your co-mediatior not opening up enough space for addressing feelings, one moment later you can be delighted by their ability to get the conversation back on track.

How can you become attuned to a co-mediator you haven’t worked with before? I found that a well-thought-out feedback is a powerful way of getting to know each other and I wish I had taken more time to cultivate it.

I have noticed a shift in the way we have given each other feedback. After the very first sessions it was more confrontational: „No, we in country X just don’t do that in mediation!“. After a week together I felt it was more driven by sincere curiosity. Something like: „Look, I’ve been trained to do this in order to achieve that, what is your experience?“.

We have learnt to find common grounds, yet I felt that feedback was limited to assessing which degree of difference in style we would tolerate.

I think that, in order to enable personal growth, feedback needs to address specifically the work we have just done together in the session rather than evaluating one’s style in general. Being very honest, specific and clear (without nagging) while at the same time being helpful and showing that you care requires candor and kindness. In Germany we call it „Fingerspitzgefühl“.

Next time I will contribute more to creating an environment that encourages feedback in a candid, yet kind way.

It is always a pleasure to listen to Joe Lambert. A couple of weeks ago I attended a webinar from Storycenter on Digital Storytelling in Education. Since we are developing a Digital Storytelling workshop format for conflict resolution it was especially interesting to me to see how this concept can be applied in various contexts and what lessons can be learned.

The process of storytelling can have a powerful emotional impact in the daily lives of learners because it supports them developing a perspective around a subject, it promotes meaning and can bring clarity to understand complex topics.

I see many parallels to the role of storytelling in dealing with conflicts: The very process of unpacking one’s story and being heard helps reduce complexity and focus on each other’s needs.

If we think of Digital Storytelling as a way of documenting the transformation of a conflict, then digital stories become markers in the process. And since a digital story depicts the situation as it is perceived at the time the digital story is created, it fits perfectly as the starting point for a good conversation that leads to deeper mutual understanding.

Online mediation with an iPhone

Last week I found out that you can actually mediate with an iPhone: I participated in an online mediation simulation with Virtual Mediation Lab and I played the mediator’s role connected with my iPhone.

My experience with online mediation has been surprisingly good so far. The very technology that makes the online experience less “intimate” also enables a conversation that may never have taken place when the parties live on two different continents.

What I miss most in online mediation is mutual and simultaneous eye contact. When you look into the camera you look the other person in the eyes but you can’t see their face. When you look at their face on the screen it looks like you are looking somewhere else.

I’ve been wondering if I should train myself to just look at the camera so that the parties feel “looked at” but I’ve found out that I can’t go without looking at their facial expressions while we talk. It’s so important to spot a smile or a slight mood change when you can’t see how the parties interact in physical space.

Another factor is that depending where you put or how you turn your laptop/smartphone/webcam your position looks different on the screen. So you might happen to appear as looking towards your left while the parties appear on the screen at your right.

On the plus side, however, I think that it’s easier to perceive the mediator as a neutral party in online mediation as we are all “faces in a box on the screen”. A lot of subtle factors that may unconsciously influnce one’s perception like height, shape and the way you dress are just cut out.

Another big plus to me is the ease of switching from joint sessions to individual sessions. Normally I would have to go in another room with one party and leave the other one waiting, which is usually done later in the session when a certain level of trust has been established. In online mediation it is possible to switch at a click and the other party is left to wait in the comfort of her own apartment. I found that this feature speeds up the process as it makes it possible to check in with the parties confidentially and adjust the conversation accordingly.

Unfortunately the iPhone has a very small screen otherwise I could have also tried to see if it’s possible to write a memorandum of understanding at the end of the session with the on-screen keyboard. 
On the other hand the freedom of movement that the iPhone gave me proved very helpful, infact at one point I realized that my dinner was burning and I could just walk into the kitchen and turn off the oven while keeping the iPhone right in front of me without interrupting the conversation.

Well, next time I know: Before entering the (virtual) mediation room it’s important to turn off every single device that could disturb the process!