Conflict Resolution

Do they Want Training? Or Trust?

I’ve spent a good deal of time on both sides of the training “fishbowl” — being trained, doing training, observing and evaluating trainers.  Yet not a single disputant, when interviewing me to serve as a neutral, has asked me where I was trained.

They called me because someone told them I was good, or because I was listed on a panel whose quality they trusted.  And they wanted to get a sense whether I had the substantive background and professional qualities that they thought the dispute needed.

I wouldn’t argue that untrained mediators and arbitrators are just as good as trained ones.  But it’s not at all exceptional for disputants to seek an untrained former judge with gravitas, or for mediators with hundreds of hours of training not to be able to find enough work.

As the ADR community discusses certification, training programs, CLE hours, assessment schemes, professional associations whose members need to “qualify” and so on, it is also helpful to keep our eye on the ball: We sell confidence, trust, attentiveness, creativity, discretion and problem-solving skills, not our degrees or our diplomas.  While training fees are necessary to keep many reputable and valuable mediation and arbitration centers afloat, trainees do not become professionally equipped because they have taken those courses.

I am reminded of my friend from Burkina Faso who said that business disputes in her country have been resolved amicably for generations — not years, for generations — “under the Banyan tree.”  An elder was there whom the community would seek out, and with his help people resolved their disputes and moved on.  If he was not trained, I asked, how did you know which elder would help?  “Oh, you know,” she said.

And I bet you do, too.

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