the Bridge: 

News & Blog Posts From The Professional Mediators of Alaska
  • 14 Sep 2017 10:29 AM | Angela Hamann (Administrator)

    I know times are tough, the economy is rocky and spending money on training right now seems crazy when on a budget but honestly, I don't know how you cannot afford to attend a training that will help you/your business retain good employees, manage high conflict personalities in the workplace and limit the time and money spent on having to train new people.  The answer is you can't afford not to attend if you are stressed out about conflict in the workplace, be it with an employee, a client or regular customers.  Conflict is everywhere!  

    Conflict resolution in the workplace is different than utilizing mediation skills.  In workplace conflict resolution, the facilitator is not neutral because they have the best interest of the business at heart.  However, managing conflict in the workplace requires skill.  Sometimes skills that are contrary to how your manager is accustomed to handling employees.  As a manager, I was the one in control and whatever I decided was the answer but it didn't sit well with those I managed and for good reason.  I was not equipped with the skills that are necessary to manage employees fairly but firmly- at the same time.  

    I attended a training in San Diego (home to Workplace Symphonies) with Regina Schnell and was blown away by her confidence and efficiency.  Any excuse or negative response from the employee was met with a response that either diffused the conflict or left the disgruntled employee without a defense.  I'll include a video that outlines the steps to resolve conflict in the workplace.  I hope you'll consider joining us for the training on September 22, 2017 at the BP Energy Center.  Cheers!


  • 07 Apr 2017 10:43 PM | JP Ouelette (Administrator)

    At a recent meeting of mediators, the topic of pre-mediation and conflict coaching was addressed. Specifically, the question of whether it was possible for a mediator to coach both parties individually and maintain neutrality and objectivity. Mediators often find themselves working with parties and, due to a wide array of reasons, experience barriers to remaining neutral. Some of these include mediator maturity, unresolved past experiences, too much time with one party over the other, sympathy toward the values, character, and disposition of one party over the other…the barriers to neutrality can be as variable as the humans involved.

    If we were to be honest, we must admit it’s not possible to be completely neutral in any situation. This is particularly true when one party’s sense of right and wrong conflicts with that of another party, and our call to help them navigate this conflict is motivated by our own sense of right and wrong. (What a mess!) Can we really set aside our own values to work solely with what the parties bring to the table? Of course not, but we do our best not let our own biases dictate the outcomes of the parties’ process.

    This is increasingly difficult when the mediator is also coaching the parties as I tend to do in all my private cases. This becomes more necessary when relational dynamics are an obstacle to creating substantive solutions. In my experience, this is most mediated cases. 

    You spend an hour, or several hours, with one party coaching them through the mindsets that are keeping them from hearing the other party. How, then, are you supposed to present to the other party without your own sense of what “really needs to happen” for them?

    Mediator or Detective?

    I will say that our hindsight is always our best foresight. The more cases you mediate, the more you are aware that there’s always three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth.  Our first challenge in remaining neutral is forgetting our role as a mediator and taking on the role of a detective: getting down to what really happened. Don’t get me wrong, details are important, especially when mediating highly substantive matters. But the art of mediation, the true gift of a mediator, is not gaining agreement on the past, but helping them agree on the future. Remember that you’re getting their perspective of the facts; so note what you need to, but hold it loosely until it becomes relevant to reaching agreement later on.  You will get the other party’s perspective of the very same facts, and it could be that no one will ever know what the truth is.

    Coaching is about helping the parties envision an amicable future, and bring their most collaborative self to the table.  You develop rapport and trust by maintaining advocacy, not for the individual, but for the collaborative process that will serve the individual.  This can be a very delicate dynamic. Once you’re at the mediation table, you can discern which, if any, of the details regarding the past are important to nail down. I find that this is minimal in most cases.

    Mediator or Judge?

    The second challenge is confusing our role as a mediator with that of a counselor, or even a judge. We enter this field because we want to help people resolve conflict. And the longer we’re in the field, the deeper our collection of “ideal outcomes” becomes. It’s easy to envision how this could turn out, or “should” turn out based on what the parties have told us about themselves, each other, and the situation. Once we’ve filtered that information through our moral lens, it’s tempting to step into the role of problem-solver…and the parties would love for you to do that work for them. If/when we do, they may be impressed with our ideas (at least one of them may be) and we’ve gained an admirer…but we’ve not done our job.  In fact, we’ve made our job much more difficult than it needs to be.

    We must not take on the responsibility of solving problems for others. And they may never come to an agreement that looks as good as what we idealized, but it’s not our agreement. When we stick to facilitating the process and using our expertise to stimulate collaborative conversation, our biases are more easily kept in check. This is not to say that we should neglect to point out possible blind spots or future stumbling blocks, but, in order to maintain the neutrality that is essential to effective mediation, we must keep the burden of problem-solving on the parties. This not only serves you as the mediator, but increases the likelihood that parties will follow through on the agreement, because it was their idea.  The increased value for the parties, is that they experience resolving their own problems, which empowers collaborative engagement in the future. 

    Yes, it is possible...

    I believe it is possible to practice neutrality even after spending a substantial amount of time with each party in coaching prior to mediation. You’re not going to be neutral, you can’t be. But remembering your role as coach and mediator, not as an advocate, problem solver, or detective, will help you stay focused on the task at hand: helping parties think collaboratively, focus on the future, and produce their own solutions to their own problems. 

  • 28 Feb 2017 12:45 PM | Anonymous

    JOB VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT

    ALASKA STATE COMMISSION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

    POSITION: ATTORNEY-MEDIATOR

    SALARY: $5,011.00-6,541.00 per month, DOE

    (Range 18/20/22, Partially Exempt Position)

    LOCATION: ANCHORAGE 

    The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights is soliciting applicants for a full-time Attorney-Mediator position located in Anchorage. This position will be responsible for facilitating settlements in cases pending investigation and conciliation, performing outreach efforts to educate the public, employers, businesses, and community groups about Alaska Human Rights Law, and providing legal support for staff attorneys on discrete cases, issues, and projects pending before the Commission. Strong written and oral communication skills and graduation from an accredited law school are required. Experience mediating disputes and/or in employment, disability, and human rights law preferred. This position is an Attorney I-III; the salary range is 18-22 and commensurate with experience, training, and licensure. 

    Please submit resume, cover letter, and writing sample electronically to scott.damerow@alaska.gov or mail to:

    ASCHR

    ATTN: Scott Damerow

    800 A Street, Suite 204

    Anchorage, AK  99501-3669 

    The State of Alaska is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. Reasonable accommodation will be made available to individuals with disabilities upon request to the Commission office in advance.  

  • 07 Dec 2016 3:12 PM | Angela Hamann (Administrator)

    The 40 hour basic mediation training on November 18-21 was just amazing!  If you were able to attend, I think you will agree that it was time and money well spent, whether or not you're a professional entering the mediation field.  Even participants who were professionals in the field prior to attending the training were very gracious with sharing their expertise with all of the learners.   

    Dr. Clare Fowler came from Eugene Oregon to conduct the training.  She is a professor at University of Oregon, has her own mediation practice and is an editor for the website, www.mediate.com.  She conducted the in-person interactive training in Anchorage and then a follow up after the training, online, which was a great way for the attendees to gain some experience with how to conduct mediation online.  I think those who attended the follow up online will concur that mediation done online is not as easy as it sounds; however, Dr. Fowler, with her method of teaching, made this experience almost seamless.  

    Dr. Fowler teaches a SONAR approach to mediation.  SONAR is an acronym which stands for Statement, Opening, Negotiation, Agreement and Resolution.  To get more information about Dr. Fowler and her basic mediation training, please find her website at: http://www.clarefowler.com/index.cfm

    Everyone in the practice of mediation started somewhere.  Having a foundation to start from is a great way to build on knowledge and experience. Interestingly, many of the training attendees were not in the mediation business but rather see mediation training as a way to bridge conflict within their workplace and at home. It just goes to show how useful these skills are to just about any professional. 

    Mediation skills can also be used at church, at school, at a hospital, and in sales.  Please keep checking this website for current training opportunities in the future and if possible, we will have Dr. Fowler back again next year.

    Truly yours,

    Angela Hamann

     

  • 05 Oct 2016 10:19 PM | JP Ouelette (Administrator)


    When I and a partner set out to build a mediation practice, I think we purchased every manual, subscribed to every podcast, and attended every course under the sun to attempt what most professionals said would be impossible. In fact, the first instruction most seasoned mediators gave us was “Don’t quit your day job.” Well, too late, I’d already quit my job as a medical practice manager to pursue what I was born to do- mediation.  I jumped with both feet into a venture that would truly allow me to work at what I loved, but that was also going to demand a lot of growth on my part.

    I quickly learned that what makes me a good mediator does not make me a good business owner. You can’t be neutral, subtle, and painstakingly patient to run a competitive business. Mediators want to change the world using the unique gifts and skills we possess, and we’re good at it in our own special way. But that’s not enough to succeed in business. My partner was better at seeing this than I was, and I owe a debt of gratitude to him for pushing me to succeed and become established in my profession.  

    You must determine that it’s going to succeed, and that you’re going to do what it takes to make that happen, even if your Meyers Briggs survey says it’s impossible. Too much patience will leave you in the dust hoping that whatever you’re doing, or not doing, will eventually pan out if you just trust the process. In mediation, you help others get at what they really want. In business, your interest in what others want must lead to what you want…paying clients. We mediators have the hardest time digging down deep enough to say “I want to charge $X per hour, see X number of clients a month, and spend X number of days in Europe with my family every year.” We have to know what we really want (and why) in order to see this through.

    My specialty is family mediation. Here’s what I’ve learned about my clients. They are angry, hurt, and exhausted. Most of them have already spent their contingency fund on months, sometimes years of counseling or litigation. If they’d have known there was a quicker, cheaper option that brings satisfaction 90% of the time, they would have done it a long time ago.  It’s a much harder sell, now, though not impossible.

    Our empathetic heart wants to reach out and help. We cut our rates, even volunteer our time to show the world that mediation works! Then we go heat up our top-ramen while our clients go spend their PFD on a new snow machine. We want a good rapport with our clients, and can’t bear the thought of talking with them about how much we should be charging them, especially when they’re already stressed out. Ironic, isn’t it?  We teach people how to engage authentically in tough situations, and then chicken out when it’s our turn. You have to be confident about the impact you’re going to have on your clients’ lives, which will help you be confident about your rates.  It took a lot of training, soul-searching, and practice for me have phone conversations that left to my clients knowing that dropping a retainer on my desk is the best decision they can make at this point.

    Now, this is assuming people are actually calling and asking for your services. A very small (though a growing) number of people are actually looking for a mediator.  They just know they want the problem gone and still think mediation is when you sit in the park with your legs crossed and hum.  The golden silence we’re so good at leveraging does not work in the business world. We can’t wait for the market to speak up and ask for us. We have to tell them, tell them, tell them, what we as mediators can do to make their lives better. There are several ways to do this. In our experience, some work, some don’t.

    I learned that print ads don’t work in this business. Phone books, newspapers, magazines, coupon books…nothing. Radio ads weren’t worth the money either.  So how did we double our calls from one year to the next? The most rewarding effort was public speaking. I spoke every chance I got about the damage of poorly navigated conflict and the magic of well-navigated conflict, using testimony after testimony from my own case history. The message was always about imparting fresh perspective, hope, and tools to the audience.  And they got it. Not only were they grateful for life-changing material, they had brochures, business cards, a website full of articles and an email subscription to my newsletter (which I blasted all over social media) to get more. They knew where to turn when things heated up. Every speaking engagement lead to at least one new client, usually more. 

    How else did we do it? We went to the people who regularly see our perspective clients when they need us most. Pastors, counselors, litigating attorneys, accountants, bankers, HR directors… Who is seeing your prospective clients right now? We bought a lot of coffee and lunches, and made a lot of phone calls. At first I hated it, because I was trying to check all the conventional marketing boxes. However, when I realized that building relationships, which is what I do best, was actually the best marketing, I began to enjoy it and see much more fruit from it.

    Now, back to advertising, I already told you print and radio didn’t work for us. Did any paid advertising work? Yes! Google. Once we knew what our clients were searching on the internet, we built ads for dirt cheap to lead right to our name and number.  More and more people are asking Siri, or Google, or Cortana how to solve their problems. When you figure out what those problems are, you can direct them right to your contact page or phone number the next time they say “Okay Google...” This was, by far, our highest return on investment.

    By now you’re expecting me to tell you about my family’s annual trip to Europe, right? Didn’t happen. Our practice, like so many before us, didn’t make it.  What, why are you even writing this article?  Remember the first advice we got from seasoned professionals? Don’t quit your day job.  It takes most small business two to five years to settle in, which means you better have another source of income during that time. We went at this together for about three years before closing shop. We did a lot of mediations, and helped a lot of people. Looking at the trend in our financial statements, we most likely would have turned the corner within the next six months…traveling Europe within the next eighteen. Neither of us, nor our families, had another six months in us.   

    When your target audience, the people who need your services the most, are also the most resistant to hiring you to help them, it becomes about culture change. This is why I continue my public speaking, training, and relationship building. It’s also why I’m invested in this organization, Professional Mediators of Alaska. PMAK is building community connections and reaching out to the public in ways that are opening doors for professional mediation to become a primary means of dispute resolution in Alaska. 

    I still have judges, attorneys, pastors, counselors and past clients referring cases to me. However, I’m building my practice while relying on other valuable skills for predictable income. Many successful practitioners couple mediation with another professional service such as a law practice, consulting firm, or counseling clinic.  Very few mediators (that I’m aware of) live solely off their mediation work.  Even the best of the best are making a good portion of their income putting on training and speaking events, and offering online courses.   

    Does this mean you should give up mediation and just get a j-o-b? Hell no! If you’re a mediator, you’ll never be happy not using your skills to make the world a better place. Just know that mediation and business management/entrepreneurship rarely go hand-in-hand, it’s a tough market, and a soul-searching learning curve. So don’t deprive the world of your gifts, and deprive yourself of living out your purpose. Use the lessons I’ve learned to make it past those last six months.  Join me and many other professionals in building and promoting the field of mediation in Alaska. Together we are changing the world. Click here to learn more about PMAK and how you can get involved.

       



  • 03 Aug 2016 10:33 PM | Glenn Cravez (Administrator)

    It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Professional Mediators of Alaska website. Allow me to share a short story to explain why.

    The last time I represented someone in court for a contested custody case was nearly 30 years ago.  My client "won," and custody of his children was awarded to him and not to his ex-wife.  I glanced over at their children's mother, and she was devastated.  I looked at my client, and he didn't look any better.  That night I looked at myself in the mirror and decided, "Never again."

    That was the last time I ever represented someone in a court case over a family dispute. There had to be a better way than court to help families move forward.  I began learning about mediation and taking mediation trainings.

    Since then, I have devoted considerable energy to the development of mediation in Alaska.  I helped establish the Mediation/Arbitration section of the Alaska Bar Association, draft Alaska court rules recognizing mediation, and even teach mediation courses at UAA.  I have attended numerous mediation trainings and participated as a trainer, coach, and mentor to new mediators as well.

    And now I am happy to be involved in the establishment of the Professional Mediators of Alaska (PMAK). Through PMAK, Alaska's mediators are banding together to spread the word statewide about the benefits of using mediation to resolve conflict.  These benefits include:

    1. Helping people resolve conflicts for themselves while maintaining control over the outcome, rather than giving control to a third party to decide.

    2.  Providing a safe, confidential, and voluntary process for folks to work through their differences.

    3. Promoting a way to resolve conflict that can help to preserve, or even enhance future parenting or working relationships rather than damaging those relationships.

    4. Allowing for planning and conflict resolution at a reasonable cost and in a shorter time frame than is required for litigation.

    5. Creating opportunities for creative problem solving that takes into account the interests of all parties.

    I encourage you to explore our website, and please feel free to contact any of our Board members with your questions about mediation or our association. Again, Welcome! 

     Glenn Cravez is a mediator, arbitrator, and attorney in Anchorage with a statewide practice.  He is the President of the Professional Mediators of Alaska

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