by Jennifer Poole, CPM and IMA Director 2021-2022
A 2020 Gallup poll noted around one quarter of working Americans experienced burnout most often or always. We do not need another survey to tell us that burnout has greatly increased during the pandemic. If you have been a mediator for any length of time, you know it can be a challenge to not let the negative energy in the room impact you. One quality that can make or break a mediator’s long-term success is making sure to regularly get self-care. We have a professional obligation to make time for self-care including physical, psychological, emotional, social, spiritual, and leisure well-being to ensure we can focus and meet the expectations of our roles.
As mediators, we knowingly put ourselves in the middle of other people’s stressful situations and conflicts. While juggling different tasks and assisting others with their own problems, we can easily tend to ignore ourselves. Self-care is taken for granted even though it is crucial to our productivity. We need to take care of ourselves so that we may show up to work as our best versions. Ask yourself: What do you do daily for self-care? Have you added additional self-care during the pandemic? What self-care do you do before a mediation session?
Lydia Nussbaum, Associate Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution, William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, addresses how burnout increases because of the responsibility mediators carry for delivering a quality mediation process. This includes even “little details” like being aware of, and constantly regulating, the mediator’s own outward expressions to parties. A burned-out mediator might not be able to think strategically about which topics to pursue first in mediation or will continue to hammer for options on a dead-end topic instead of realizing the need to park the conversation and switch to another more fruitful topic. This can erode parties' confidence in the process and lead them to feel discouraged about the possibility of reaching resolution. A mediator whose cognitive abilities are com-promised by burn-out may not be able to do their best job of performing these imperative elements of the mediation process, and they could therefore do a disservice to the parties and undermine the parties’ chances of reaching resolution. A burned-out mediator is more likely to run the risk of delivering an ineffective and unfair process.
Sometimes the stressors of being a mediator are even related to how we are thinking in our work. Mediators are human beings. We each grew up in a certain cultural context that imbued us with ways of thinking and evaluating, and invariably we bring these with us when we mediate. It is important to check in with yourself before, during, and after mediation. Mediation is more likely to be successful with the mediator has centered and focused themselves prior to the session. Take a short walk, do a short meditation or even just take a few deep breaths before the parties arrive to help refocus yourself on the parties and their conflicts.
With a little practice, self-care can be done relatively quickly and can even be done during the session while you stay within the flow of the conversation. In just a few short breaths, you can turn inward, become aware of your thoughts, connect with your feelings and needs, and then turn back to focusing on the parties.
Self-care is important for everyone, and mediators need it more than most others so we can emulate a sense of being calm and focused to our parties. Take some time to schedule regular self-care for yourself – it will have a positive impact not only on your but on your mediations and the parties you help.Nussbaum, Lydia, "Mediator Burnout" (2019). Scholarly Works. 1223.