Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Mediation Skill Set

There are five concentrations at Graziadio for full-time students: Marketing, Finance (probably the two “big” ones), Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Organizational Change, and Dispute Resolution. Due to the fact that Dispute Resolution courses are managed through the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine Law School, very little is really discussed about this concentration. Not only is this a concentration, but students have the opportunity to pursue a certificate as well.

Throughout the Fall semester, I struggled with what concentration(s) to pick. Obviously, I don’t need to make that choice until Fall of my second year, but I wanted to make sure my coursework in general was on the right path. I looked into both entrepreneurship, leadership & organizational change and dispute resolution. I have decided to pursue a double concentration (yes, it can be done) of Leadership & Organizational Change and Dispute Resolution. Why, why would this crazy girl want to do that??

From my research, it is clear that if I want to pursue consulting, which is my end goal, then I need a tool belt that has a variety of applications. In consulting, there is no predestined industry, just to promise of knowledge to help that company with their problem. I interviewed Nancy Caplan, a divorce mediator and attorney, for her view point on how mediation skill sets could be applied to business. In addition, she runs her mediation practice, so her entrepreneurial skill set is equally as important.

In what ways do you feel mediation could be useful in business?

In every way by an exchange and debate of ideas to reach compromises, people learn from each other, gain an understanding of each other, they find out how their interests are joined in many situations. In mediation, the ultimate goal is to figure out how their goals are similar so that they can reach that point.

In the Graziadio program, there is sometimes a differentiation between the “hard skills” and the “soft skills.” If one were to learn a “hard skill” and dispute resolution, how naturally would these fit together?

Mediation is about subtle persuasion. It’s really about communication and being forced to listen to the other person and also about learning to express yourself, since both parties have to express themselves and listen. These are skills that cross all professional boundaries, every profession and in general people who need to communicate with others would benefit from mediation training. Anyone from a stay at home mom to the top of any corporate ladder would benefit from being able to keep an open mind to think about compromises to reach solutions in disputes. Whether you are dealing with children or with friends or business partners.

In business, leadership means understanding the perspective of people throughout your organization and resolving conflicts everyday. For those seeking management positions, what skill set can they expect to utilize on a regular basis?

It gives your back some control, having a background in mediation. You get to make choices, don't let life happen to you. Mediation is all about controlling your own choices and self-determination and learning to figure out how to settle your own problems. This can be very empowering to an executive, especially someone who owns their own business or works closely with unions.

Dispute resolution also has the added value of affecting the type of person you are, especially at Graziadio where values-centered leadership is highly prized, and in a world where corporate social responsibility is one of the top buzz words. How has being a mediator affected your personal life and relationships?

Being mediator means you are always looking at both sides of a conflict and being able to always see both sides let's me have better understanding of how you could have a different perspective of the same situation and that both sides have validity. This makes me less judgmental of other people's perspectives.

From Nancy Caplan, I learned that this subtle skill set, even when not paired with a legal background, can help to emphasize negotiations, listening skills, management-level conflict resolution, and just enhance the way you look at the world. It is often very difficult to get people to tell you the truth, trust in the fact that you will make a weighted decision or explain things in a way that makes sense. This can be extremely frustrating to a manager and often has the impact of shutting down completely and turning off to your employees. With a skill set based in dispute resolution, whether you do the concentration or not, having some of these skills in your tool box may give you the personal edge and confidence to tackle any problem.

Some of the courses available in the Dispute Resolution concentration, that based on conversations with Mike Beaudoin, a 2nd-year student pursuing this concentration, and talks with Sarah Gonzales, a program counselor at Straus, are some of the most applicable to any business student:

Cross-Cultural Negotiation- very applicable to those interested in international business
Environmental Dispute Resolution- interested in sustainability audits? Pursuing a SEER certificate? This might be good for you.
Communication & Conflict- a basic skill set for anyone interested in developing a problem-solving vocabulary
International Investment Disputes- great for a finance concentration student

And many more, too many to name. Contact Sarah Gonzales for more information about how to sign up at: sarah.gonzales@pepperdine.edu.

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