This is the first of what’s going to need to be an occasional foray into this question of standards in mediation. It’s not a new question – over at least the last decade, various mediation governmental advisory bodies have sought to deal either with uniform standards or with more specific guidelines on elements of mediation practice and ethics (such as confidentiality, mediatory neutrality etc). The increased visibility and adoption of mediation – and its emergence, at last, from the “alternative” hideout – means that there is an understandable concern about competence. Leading this current push is the International Mediation Institute [http://www.imimediation.org/] – and in the interests of transparency I need to disclose that I’m a member of the Independent Standards Commission. In the further interests of same: none of these comments in any way represent the views of the IMI or the ISC.
This is just a bit of thinking out loud, and a hope that other mediators might chip in, especially from the parts of the world that typically don’t feed into the conventions and standards of mediation.
At this stage, I raise just one question about the idea and interpretation of “competence” – and in fact it’s a question of two parts. First, the inquiry into standards of competence is directed towards the quality and qualifications of mediators – understandably. But there’s another aspect of competence that seems central to mediation principles and philosophy – and that is the competence and capacities of the disputants. One aim of mediation – it seems to me – is to work with parties not only on the current dispute but also on their ongoing resources and capacities in disputing and problem solving generally. So, if we’re concerned with the question of competence in mediation, we might need to take in this wider inquiry. [Of course we’ve also met the pragmatic and ‘practical’ mediators who will insist that this is not part of the job – or at best is only an incidental side benefit of participation in mediation.]
The second aspect of the competence question is the more specifically cultural one: if, as seems the case, we’ve concerned to develop international standards of competence and quality control, what differences in cultural perceptions and priorities need to be taken into account? At the very least, we need to be aware of the distinction drawn by intercultural researchers between “acquired” and “ascribed” status and standing: for the first, competence is measured by qualifications and “expertise”; for the second, competence is derived from social standing, age, and perceived experience. These do not necessarily blend into each other.
This raises a third sub-issue – and one that will in due course be addressed by the IMI: the criteria of intercultural competence, as a specific aspect of the basic concern with mediator competence. On this, see a recent article by FonsTrompenaars and Peter Woolliams on transcultural competence: http://www.trompenaars.com/Articles/A%20New%20Unified%20Model%20of%20Trans-Cultural%20Competence%20(PW_FT).pdf. I note especially their comment:
“We thus begin to understand why there are numerous definitions of good leadership. You read Warren Bennis and you find it is all about vision, mission and transparency. You go to the French literature and read how great leaders are functions of their educational background. Compare with the Asian literature that suggest you should be male, senior and from the University of Tokyo.”