Managing the Mediation Process

ARC’s mediation team have diverse expertise and life experience. Our panel of partners and associates have backgrounds in family law, employment law,  financial services, construction management and engineering. I founded ARC with Dr. Roisin O’Shea in 2010 to provide a new kind of mediation service to clients in the South East of Ireland.

At the time I was working as a project manager and research engineer in the well known Telecommunications Software and Systems Group in Waterford Institute of Technology. Project management is both skill and art form as the successful manager must address the goals and objectives of the project, the logistics of getting those objectives achieved and the motivations/personalities of the project team. A good manager can do all 3 and I always strived to be a good manager.

When I first started mediating family issues in 2009 and workplace in 2010,  I realised that different clients had differing and indeed conflicting requirements of the mediation process. To some, it was very important that said process was clearly defined with checklists, tasks, milestones and some certainty about what would happen at each step. To use the parlance of project managers, they wanted to understand what was a “go/no-go” step which could terminate or postpone negotiations. Others viewed the mediation as a form of therapy where they got a chance to air their grievances. Some wanted both and that’s just fine. The mediator is in many respects, a skilled project manager. However, I felt that the burden on an individual mediator to have so much knowledge, insight and resilience was too great. There is also the dynamic of the relationship between mediator and clients to consider whereby a mediator must occasionally challenge a client on a position that doesn’t appear realistic in order to make progress. Even with patience and skill, this can strain the relationship between mediator and some clients.

We try to be innovative in the service we offer to clients.

  1. We match the skills of mediators into 2 or 3 person mediation teams that learn to function well as a unit. Almost all our family mediations use 2 mediators, in some cases 3, one chosen with expertise in business/finance calculations and others with a background in law and psychotherapy as required.
  2. We provide gender-balanced co-mediation wherever possible, something we’ve found sets most male clients at ease. Our mediation teams meet up to discuss cases regularly.
  3. We use time management software to help maximise our productivity and record the hours we work and charge for.
  4. We show clients that they are part of a well-defined process. We have checklists, template documentation and even flowcharts for those who want to understand exactly where they are in the process. This helps clients make the best use of us as facilitators in their negotiations and also the best use of their solicitors.
  5. We don’t give up easily. Every mediator in our practice knows that they must explain why a mediation didn’t come to agreement. We’re constantly trying to refine our process, our documentation and our skills to make things better. We arrange seminars and workshops with external experts to improve our knowledge of counselling, addiction, financial planning, family law etc.  We try to adopt the “kaizen” philosophy to management, emphasising continuous improvement.
  6. Our Partners and Associates are actively involved in mediation research, conducting empirical research into mediation models, writing about mediation theory and teaching relevant aspects of law (employment, family, contract etc.) or social science in 3rd level institutes.

This is why we maintain a success rate over over 90% while still taking on the most difficult cases. I’m not suggesting that no other mediation practice has these innovations but, in Ireland, we believe we are unique.

Clients often wonder whether mediation can help in their situation. They believe their conflict is intractable. Perhaps it is but we deal with conflicts that appeared intractable every working day. It’s our job to manage and resolve that conflict; to inspire confidence in our clients that we can succeed. Our confidence is forged in results achieved with hundreds of clients, each with their own unique stories, lives and expectations.

We are a business and must charge for the services of our professionals but, from our inception, we’ve aimed to help people. Objectively, we know that we have because many clients have told us so! That makes a demanding job worthwhile.