Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Training: Mediation Curriculum

How recent advances in negotiation role play simulations can improve your mediation abilities

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In 2009, we collected many types of curriculum materials from teachers and trainers who attended the Mediation Pedagogy Conference.  We received general materials about classes on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as well as highly specific and idiosyncratic units like Conflict Resolution through Literature: Romeo and Juliet and a negotiating training package for female managers from the Middle East.

We have grouped the materials into three categories:

  • Course syllabi dealing with conflict resolution or ADR in general: These are broad in scope and review traditional methods like negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.  Most adopt a theoretical orientation.
  • Course Syllabi for mediation in particular: These are more training-oriented and support mediation certification (although many were provided by educational institutions).
  • Notes or outlines dealing with specific mediation exercises: These are often quite specialized.

Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


The Breadth of the Field of Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Processes

Based on our analysis of the materials we received, several themes have been identified that should be of interest to the readership of the NP@PON Newsletter.

Similarities and Variations

Scope: The syllabi highlight the breadth of the mediation field, covering divorce, business, community, human relations, environmental and public policy conflicts, often taking a comparative perspective.  Not only do they deal with micro-skills and mediation techniques, but they also address broader issues of communication, facilitation, and assisted negotiation.

The 40 submissions received demonstrate that negotiation educators rely on one of three pedagogical approaches: a theoretical analysis of conflict resolution, a skills-based focus on assisted negotiation techniques, or a combination of the two.  Very few syllabi were purely theoretical, which, from our standpoint, reflects the highly applied nature of the field in which we work.

For obvious reasons, the mediation curricula we saw differ markedly between law schools and non-law schools.  Most law school courses examine mediation through the lens of the judicial structure, highlighting the roles that litigators can play in mediation and focusing on mediation skills and frameworks rather than theoretical constructs.  Non-law courses concentrate on a much broader set of roles that various actors can play in helping to address public, private, and community disputes.  We noticed that courses taught outside the USA tended to compare mediation frameworks across countries, in addition to providing a focus on mediation skills.  Mediation ethics was a focal concern in almost all the curricula, but only a few assessed the limitations of mediation practice or emphasized how to determine whether a dispute should move into mediation.

Certain courses allotted a significant amount of time to preparing students for difficult situations.  One required students to receive concurrent trainings in diversity and domestic violence while another focused on power imbalances and cultural competence, asking students to examine simulations from various gender, race, and cultural perspectives.  Others focused on the psychosocial capacities of mediators, taking a restorative justice perspective and emphasizing transformative mediation theories.

In terms of the scope, the mediation syllabi we received were quite diverse, with the location of the training having a significant impact on the focus of the course.  All curricula aim to provide students with mediation skills in addition to a theoretical understanding of conflict resolution techniques.

How Hands-On Experience Improves Mediation Training

Classroom Experience: Teaching mediation and ADR tends to involve a highly participatory approach to education.  Teachers used a wide variety of formats, including lectures, discussions, videos, role-plays, and simulation exercises.  Role plays are the most common teaching tool – reinforcing the survey results from the 2009 NP@PON Mediation Pedagogy Conference (accessible in the 2010 Winter NP@PON E-Newsletter) in which 83% of the respondents viewed role-play as an extremely important teaching method.

Many curricula emphasized learning through professional experiences.  In certain courses, students were required to observe mediations in small claims court and watch experienced mediators in action before they were expected to mediate in class.  Other classes brought in professional mediators to “act out” a simulation. Students were given an opportunity to interrupt and discuss techniques and strategies with visiting professionals.  In yet another course students partnered with professional mediators in court, giving students both professional experience and guidance during their first mediation.  One syllabus promoted the use of “real life as text.”  The professor encouraged students to utilize their personal experience in an effort to enhance critical reflection and experiential learning.

To summarize, hands on activities, first-hand experiences, and professional guidance are used to enrich mediation and ADR courses.


Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


How to Use Mediation Role Play Simulations to Improve Communication Skills

Tools: Mediation and conflict resolution courses require learners to devote time to introspection and analyzing the multiple dimensions of social interactions. Almost all the course summaries we received demonstrated a commitment to helping students evaluate their capacity to manage conflict through an understanding of positions and interests, assessing BATNAs, analyzing barriers to agreements and the balance of power, and recognizing different styles of communication (see also, Mediation as a Problem-Solving Process).

Additionally, numerous curricula utilized tools to help students assess their personal stylistic or psychological predispositions, including: the Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument (Thomas & Killman, 1974) the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers, 1995), or the Mediator Classification Index (Riskin, 1994).  These courses also provided a framework for using such knowledge in mediation and negotiation.

We deduced from our review of these syllabi that communication skills and conflict analysis techniques are essential to competent mediation.  Many courses use specific negotiation exercises and simulations in addition to psychological assessment tools to prepare students for the challenges they will face as mediators (see also,
Examples of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): How Mediation Works).

Assessment and Monitoring: Quantifying Your Improve Mediation Abilities

Assignments: Assignments were designed to encourage students to develop their conceptual skills and to try their hand at mediation.  Common assignments included research papers on specific topics relating to mediation, graded simulations, mediator memoranda, journal-keeping, and analysis of specific mediations.

Some teachers relied heavily on video as a teaching tool.  Simulations were videotaped, enabling students to review their own and other students’ efforts and get further feedback from the class.  Other professors encouraged students to turn in video assignments or film their debriefing sessions, displaying their capacity to mediate or analyze a mediation.  Citing increased evidence of online platforms in business, one course had a significant technological focus, requiring numerous videotaped simulations and even conducted a mediation through an online meeting program.

Assessing a student’s success in a mediation course is not always an easy task, and subjective evaluation means are generally employed: students are given a variety of opportunities to portray what they have learned, whether through written assignments, hands on simulations, or analysis of other mediation performances.


Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Suggested Readings for Negotiation Courses and Negotiation Training

Literature: The two most common reading assignments were Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting to Yes (1983) (by far the most popular resource) and Mark Bennett’s The Art of Mediation (2005).  Almost every syllabus included readings on ethics in mediation as well as conflict resolution.  Readings ranged from articles on current events, case studies of actual disputes, psychosocial research, negotiation/mediation/conflict resolution theory, legal regulations and guidelines for mediation, as well as many other materials.  Additional readings included articles rooted in traditional social science fields, as well as specialized readings on community dispute resolution, public policy disputes, international conflicts, peer mediation, and other specific subjects. The readings assigned in the courses exemplify the commonalities and variance in the field of mediation.

Mediation Examples: Two Brief Cases

The course materials we received were prepared by a wide range of professionals in private practices and university programs including law schools, schools of social work, schools of education, and environmental programs.  Most courses reflected the educational objectives of their particular institutions; for example, the Conflict Resolution curriculum from the Florida Atlantic University School of Social Work was quite different from the syllabus for Conflict Management developed by the Centre for Forest Landscape and Planning in the University of Copenhagen.

The Conflict Resolution curriculum introduced conflict theories and focused on negotiation, mediation, and advocacy as they pertain to social work.  The course used a social justice framework, promoting the idea of the social worker as an advocate for social change who uses conflict resolution skills.  The Conflict Management curriculum was less focused on a formal mediation than on its elemental components including conflict assessment techniques and interpersonal awareness, linking such strategies to public and environmental planning and disputes.  The course was directed to natural resource managers.

Even with these seemingly different educational objectives and institutional foci, the curricula overlapped in numerous places.  Both syllabi focused on the role and uses of conflict resolution as a social practice.  They examined the personal dynamics and human dimension of conflict as it relates to social and environmental policy, concentrating on communication skills, conflict styles, and the importance of interests.  Both courses alert students to the emotions and values that emerge in conflicts within their professional world, highlighting power imbalances and cultural differences in public disputes.

Thanks to all the conference participants for submitting their teaching materials.

Written by Orlee Rabin, and taken from the Summer 2010 issue of “Teaching Negotiation”, the bi-annual e-newsletter for Negotiation Pedagogy at the Program on Negotiation (NP@PON), which can be found here.

Related Mediation Article: Arbitration vs Mediation – What’s Wrong with Traditional Arbitration?

What is an Arbitration Agreement? – How arbitrated agreements differ from judgments in litigation and negotiated agreements in mediation.

Mediation Techniques for Conflict Resolution – Using Online Mediation – Using mediation techniques online to resolve disputes at a distance presents different challenges than traditional mediation processes.


Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Originally published in 2009.

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