When someone described me as a ‘career mediator’ I smiled. He had hit the nail on the head. Indeed, when I walked out of my assessment in 1995 I was praying that I would pass because I knew that this was what I had always to do. My training had put a name and awareness to what I had been doing for a very long time.
I remember doing my first mediation aged about 5. It was a family mediation and the parties were my family! My father had been a Chief Prosecutor in the Kenya Police and my mother had been a senior operating theatre sister. My father spoke about facts, evidence and reason and my mother spoke about people, feelings and emotions. I learned both styles and spoke up in defence of each to the other. It turned out to be the best training ground for a mediator.
I mediate internationally and believe that mediation belongs at the heart of our businesses and organisations because it crosses borders, both cultural and geographical. Mediation is a process that can be flexed enough to deliver what people need in a way that the legal process cannot. Mediation is a natural companion to the legal system. My father taught me that through his many stories about going out into the African bush, talking to leaders and negotiating gun amnesties during the time of the Mau Mau uprising instead of arresting them and putting them on trial. He was well known, and unpopular back home, for pursuing negotiation before trial. His superiors wanted conviction rates, he saw an alternative and he was good at it.
Over a long business career I realised that my preferred working style has always been collaborative: In my early career years as a zinc metals trader and zinc sales manager, being creative without breaking the rules (anti-trust) was a real challenge but the satisfaction of achieving something original and legal was great and profitable. I worked with very clever people who had high self esteem and a willingness to try new things.
I was able to convince the company to install the first message switch in the country (a super fast broadcaster of faxed messages to multiple addresses) and I started a “blog” in 1982 which was originally delivered by telex and then by fax. I wasn’t at all sure that anyone read it until one day I was on holiday and there was no “blog”. When I returned I heard that the Chairman of RTZ wanted to know where his weekly report was. You never know who reads your musings!
When we couldn’t persuade the board to spend some money on new software to manage deliveries and foreign currency hedging my boss and I sat down and wrote one in dBase 2. It worked. It was also a very painful process with no Firebug! That stated my love affair with IT and telecoms which has never abated.
In my second career as a marketing director of a UK plc I experienced a quite different environment. The company had recently gone through an aggressive takeover. Shortly after my appointment, they became the target of an aggressive takeover. People at all levels were in fear of losing their jobs and that made it a toxic place to work for someone who was results orientated and innovative. Everything new was a war to be fought and being collaborative and innovative when your colleagues are scared to do anything that might rock the boat for them, is a tough call. I managed some fantastic projects but it very nearly killed me to get the results I did.
It is the unique comparison between these two experiences that has given me a real understanding of conflict, disputes and competence in business. One day, I was inspired to compare them in detail resulting in insights which have served me very well in supporting others to resolve disputes and approach business development ever since.
My practice covers a wide area of sectors and includes Commercial Contracts, Employment and Projects. In the early days of mediation in the UK there were no specialisms. We all did everything. I think that was a good thing. We came to realise early on that disputes were about people and the way they viewed the world informed their decisions. In my experience, commercial disputes have people issues and competence as a significant factor and employment disputes have commercial issues as a significant factor.
One of the best developments over the last 10 years has been the emerging science of positive psychology. Previously, psychology was all about what was wrong and focused on curing abnormalities. Positive psychology is about what is right about people and what works. The fields of neuroscience and psychology are important building blocks in our understanding of mediation and dispute resolution so you will find a good deal of material which owes much to those fields.
In my ‘spare’ time you will find me out and about with my camera and occasionally I might post images here which I think readers might find interesting! It is a small personal indulgence and of course if I get bad reviews I can always delete them!
I find photography very similar to mediation – it requires focus, editing, perspective, illumination (lighting), instinct and the ability to reframe the familiar in a way that is new and engaging.