Last month I attended a conference where my silver hair was decidedly out of place. It was one of the most inspiring experiences for me in the thirteen years since I was introduced to the skills of mediation. The conference was in Dundee and it was a gathering of a hundred peer mediators from schools across Scotland arranged by Young Talk, Scottish Mediation’s initiative to build a network of schools which promotes the use of mediation amongst their students.
Having owned up to silver hair I might as well also own up to close to three score years and ten for reflections. Would I change anything? Not much. I had an enviable career working in the housing association movement through two revolutions: one in social housing and the other in the way we support older and disabled people in their own homes rather than institutional care. But one thing I would do if I could take a time machine back forty years is to take a mediation skills training course. The reason for wishing to do this early on in life is not that I would have wished to work as a mediator then but to be able to apply the skills of mediating in everyday situations.
So often in our daily activities, whether at work or at home, we set one set of ideas against another. We then put them (ideas and people) to the test of which, or more often ‘who’, is right. Win-lose is the name of most of the games of life! Mediation shows us there is a better way, not by asking who is right but by using our skills of listening and questioning to learn more and understand more so we can reframe the dilemma from all the parts of our new understanding and create a fresh, and often creative, way forward.
I now know that if I could have my career in housing and community care again there are many situations when I might have used a mediating way to advantage. It is not just the big challenges at work that would have benefitted from a mediating mind-set but all the small contacts about seemingly inconsequential issues. A work culture underpinned by mediating ways is not about making it a place of uncritical harmony. It is about putting difference, diversity and yes, even conflict to work more effectively and more creatively, where it can flourish constructively and not destructively.
So why was I so inspired by a conference about school students becoming peer mediators? I have been thinking for some time that we should be promoting a culture of mediating ways in our workplaces and particularly in developing the leaders of tomorrow. But this is far too unambitious; what the peer mediation conference demonstrated was that the place to introduce the culture of mediating ways is in our schools. In the words of one peer mediator she now “sees how other people think, their way and their perspective, what one person says and what another person says, and that not everyone thinks the same as you, and everyone’s different.“