How do you introduce yourself? Career changers and evolving professional identities

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/07/how-do-you-introduce-yourself-career-changers-and-evolving-professional-identities/
When do you change your ‘introduction label?

What do you do?

The first time I introduced myself as a mediator wasn’t at in a business setting, or a networking event.  It was to my new dentist.  He asked me what I do for work.  I paused, before replying “I’m a mediator and conflict coach”.  This was the first time that I had said described myself by the field I was moving into. It felt significant.

I’ve worked in conflict for a long time.  But after years working overseas, I trained as a mediator a couple of years ago.  Since then, I’ve been working on building a mediation business. My focus is on workplace and community disputes – and, more generally, disputes where emotions are running particularly high.

When to change your introduction label?

As a career changer/pivoter, I found it hard to identify the point when it’s ok to label myself by my new role, without being disingenuous.  It’s the same when you’re starting out in your career.  I’ve heard of career coaches advising that you should use your ‘new label’ when asked what you do, rather than continuing in a box that you’re moving on from.

There’s a whole discussion over whether these labels are really helpful or not – and what using your work as your primary identifier means for you.  But I’ll leave a discussion of labelling theory to the psychologists.

According to Second Breaks, it’s important to reflect your new professional identity:

When you fully accept the shift in your professional identity, you project a level of self-assuredness that people around you pick up on and respond to.

For me, this came after I’d been a qualified mediator for more than 18 months, with several mediations and conflict coaching calls under my belt.  I’m not entirely sure why it felt right to tell my dentist that I’m a mediator. But it felt good and I’ve continued to introduce myself as a mediator since.

What’s your experience of evolving your pitch and how you introduce yourself?

10 Insights into Mediation Mentoring

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/06/10-insights-into-mediation-mentoring/

“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before”

J. Loren Norris

A common challenge faced by many newly qualified mediators is how to make the transition from training to working as a mediator. Discussions in mediation circles often focus on mentoring as one way to address this. Acknowledging that newly qualified mediators would benefit from mentors, and recognising their feedback, the CMC have recently launched a mentoring pilot. But what’s it really like to take part in mentoring? 

Roger Levitt is a Fellow of the CMC, solicitor for 37 years and has over 12 years’ experience of conducting property and commercial mediations. Philippa Brown (Pip), is a junior mediator who worked together with Roger as mentor/mentee. We’d like to share our top 10 insights about the arrangement and its benefits.

A mentor can help you navigate your early days as a mediator

Pip

1. Transition

Roger helped navigate the blue water between completing mediator training and starting to work as a mediator. Having made the most of CEDR’s webinars (including an excellent session from Andy Rogers on marketing yourself as a mediator), I made some initial steps but was stuck and unsure what to do next. Roger helped me with an action plan and gave me the advice and encouragement I needed to get going.

2. Applying my experience and skills

Having an external perspective was helpful to draw out and apply my relevant experience and skills to mediation; it can be easy to miss those when they are your own. Working across cultures is a core element of my international work, but I overlooked the practical point that I am accustomed to working with interpreters, which can also be useful in mediation. 

3. Mediation sector knowledge

A mentor can help you grow your skills and experience

Talking to Roger gave me a better understanding of the mediation sector and markets for mediators, which is not intuitive. Getting the ‘view from inside’ the sector was invaluable and allowed me to understand better where the opportunities lie for me to seek clients.

4. Coaching approach

There are similarities between the mentoring approach and that of coaching. It’s not a case of being told ‘the answers’ to the challenges of starting out as a mediator. And it’s crucial to have the space to develop one’s own personal style and approach. Also, being able to observe different mediators has been difficult during the pandemic but is valuable as a complement to mentoring.

5. Where to start

Roger’s practical support and advice helped me get my action plan off the ground. I developed a training plan as a requirement for my CEDR training, but working out how to put it into practice was the challenge. Roger and I worked on our own action plan, which I have followed up over the last 12 months. I am pleased with the results I’ve achieved so far, in a relatively short space of time – entirely during the COVID restrictions. And, as in other coaching style arrangements, the sense of accountability to work through the actions made a difference.

Roger

1. Identifying the need

When I qualified as a civil and commercial mediator over 12 years ago, there was no programme for mentoring. Once I had been qualified for 10 years, I decided the time was right to provide a one-to-one mentoring service to satisfy the need that I saw.

It’s important to be practical in your early career

2. Passing on what I’d learnt

I wanted to pass on the knowledge I’d gained, in many cases through tough experience, in a practical way that the mentees could appreciate and work with. 


3. Mentoring Style

My mentoring style is collaborative and consensual rather than didactic. So I hope that this enables the information to be passed on more easily. 

4. Establishing Rapport

I chose to work on a one-to-one basis rather than in a group as I felt this would help me to establish rapport quicker. I’m pleased to say that I have maintained long term relationships with nearly all of the mentees I’ve worked with. 

5. Being Practical

I devised an action plan which I felt covered the key areas that needed to be worked on in the early years of the mediator’s career. It contained steps that I’d taken, but over a longer period than I would now advocate if full time and attention can be given (for the first 9 years of my mediation career I continued with my commercial property work as a solicitor, alongside developing my mediation practice).

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”.

Oprah Winfrey

The Authors

Roger is a CMC Fellow, and member of the CMC Board. Roger has also been the Lead working with the CMC to develop their approach to mentoring. He is available at . www.rogerlevittmediation.co.uk

Pip continues to build her mediation experience. She provides mediation, facilitation and conflict coaching services to a London housing association and works as a voluntary mediation with the Brighton and Hove Independent Mediation Service. She also consults on international conflict issues.  Pip would be happy to talk to any newbie mediators considering working with a mentor. www.ConflictInsights.co.uk

Neighbour Disputes: When Your Home is Anything but a Sanctuary

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/05/neighbour-disputes-when-your-home-is-anything-but-a-sanctuary/

Have you been experiencing issues with your neighbours?  With so much time spent at home, it’s not unusual to find that issues are becoming more challenging.  

6 Top Areas of Dispute

Noisy neighbours can be a significant source of stress

The Times recently covered Britain’s top six areas of disputes (according to a survey of six law firms:

  1. Fences and boundaries
  2. Noise/nuisance
  3. Pets
  4. Shared driveways – right of way
  5. Trespass (mostly involving boundary disputes)
  6. Trees and hedges

Options to resolve the issues without going to focused on practical ideas: “Far better to find practical solutions than legal ones.  If a neighbour is invading your privacy, buy specialist tinted glass… if the washing line is bothering you, erect a higher fence.”

But there are more ways to resolve neighbour disputes than going to court or putting up a big fence.  

Managing Disagreements

The Brighton and Hove Independent Mediation Service share these 5 excellent tips to improve difficult relations between neighbours:

  1. The more understanding the better – it may seem hard, but if you can show understanding towards them, they are much more likely to show understanding to you.
  2. Take a moment – take time to calm down and reflect before contacting the other person
  3. Explain your concerns – explain why you are finding it difficult and request a change that would help (eg “I finish work at midnight so when I get woken up because you put the TV on at 6am, it means I don’t get enough sleep. Please keep things quiet until after 8am.”)
  4. Offer to listen to the other person’s point of view – people are more willing to compromise when they feel their point of view has been heard and understood.
  5. See if it’s possible to agree a plan – or some changes – that would work for you both.

Bringing in a third party to facilitate a discussion can also be helpful and give you and your neighbour a chance to put the stress behind you and move on. Get in touch to talk through the options – you don’t have to do this alone.

“I get so emotional, baby”: Working with emotion in conflict

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/04/i-get-so-emotional-baby-working-with-emotion-in-conflict/

Emotional response to conflict

An uncommon response to conflict

Lots of us have an emotional reaction to being in conflict.  The heart starts to race, breathing shallows and blood rushes to the head.  For some, the red mist descends, and they are in fight mode. This is often seen as a negative and they are told not to be ‘so emotional’.  There’s a perception that when someone is considered to be controlled by their emotions, they are not rational.

But is it such a bad thing to be emotional? What happens if we accept emotions are a natural part of conflict?  

It’s natural to experience an emotional reaction when dealing with an issue where you are in conflict with someone else.  Surely, it would get easier to talk about the difficult issues without the added stress of feeling ashamed about our reactions?

Working with your emotions

In a great talk recently for the Harvard Programme on Negotiation on leadership, Professor Rob Wilkinson discussed emotions.  He acknowledges that it’s understandable to take challenge personally, especially when you feel committed to what you’re doing. That challenge may trigger an emotional reaction.  Beating yourself up about that is unlikely to help.

His advice – it’s ok to recognise that you are experiencing emotional response; human beings have survived because we have emotions.  So, after accepting this is normal, what next?  

There are lots of techniques that can help you to regulate your emotions – simply shifting your focus to your breath is often recommended and can be very helpful. Thinking about managing your inner chimp works for many.

Conflict Coaching

If you find that your emotions are getting in the way of managing a conflict, perhaps it’s time to try something different.  Conflict coaching can help you to manage your emotions and even use them to your advantage.

3 Conflict Insights: from war-zones to mediation

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/01/3-conflict-insights-from-war-zones-to-mediation/

Working in Helmand or Mogadishu looks very different to working in London or Hove, where I’m now based. But conflicts often have much in common. Here are three insights from my time working in international conflict environments that are relevant to mediation, and more broadly.

Conflict and crisis can be useful.

This needs a nuance before starting – it isn’t always the case. Not for the millions of people worldwide who suffer the consequences of violent conflicts. But often, to quote Einstein, in the midst of every crisis, opportunity. 

A delay in delivery of critical farming supplies for the programme that I worked on in Helmand meant that it looked like we would miss the planting window. That could have meant a significant loss of credibility for the local government, who we worked with. Being that close to failing was useful. It opened up an opportunity to be bolder, braver and more creative as we worked in different ways and considered ideas that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We came out stronger.

I strongly believe that conflict can be an opportunity. It can lead to fresh thinking, flushing out issues and making changes that could have otherwise taken years to work through iteratively. Obviously, the challenge is having the skills to manage that conflict constructively. That’s where mediation and conflict coaching can help.

Clarity about what really matters is crucial.

Conflict can feel dramatic; the he/she/they said accounts can be very compelling. But that the drama may make it difficult to lose perspective and/or what really matters. 

The pace and pressure made it hard to prioritise when I worked in Helmand. It often felt as though everything was important, because so much really was. To focus on the core mission, my military colleagues defined their ‘main effort’. That means that, of all the actions that are taking place within a command, main effort is applied to the single one that is recognised as the most critical to success at that moment. It’s logical, if really challenging to step back and consider what is the most important objective. It’s worth it because the clarity this gives is invaluable.

Skilled mediators have an ability to flush out what really matters to the parties. It may not be the first issue presented. But it needs to be at least acknowledged and, most likely, addressed for an agreement to be reached. An external actor to a conflict has a different perspective and can help to identify what really matters to each party.

Understanding whose conflict this is – and my role.

There may be (many) more people involved in a conflict that those at its core, who ultimately have the power to reach an agreement.

I worked in Somalia on the agreements for the shape of the security sector and extent of donor support. One significant risk was that the interests of the donors and imminent timing of a big international conference would drive the agreement. But sustainability depended more on the agreements between myriad Somalia stakeholder, plus the popular support from affected communities. They were the main protagonists in the conflict.

Thinking about whose conflict is it really is also more relevant broadly. A mediator creates the space for discussion, manages the mediation process and listens out for the issues that really matter. They don’t ‘own’ the dispute, nor are they responsible for reaching an agreement. The parties are responsible. But, as in international conflicts, it can be beneficial to have that external actor present. They can provide a framework for the discussion and help the parties reach an agreement.

If you’re affected by a conflict and would like to explore your options then I’d love to talk to you.

Copyright protected, please do not copy.

10 Top Tips From a Multi-party Zoom Mediation

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2020/10/10-top-tips-from-a-multi-party-zoom-mediation/

A recent online Zoom mediation with three parties and 12 participants gave us a chance to reconsider some best practice when dealing with multi-party, multi-participant mediations.  

Roger’s mediation didn’t have quite so many participants, but yours might. 

(Photos: Shutterstock)

These are our 10 top tips:

In preparation

1. Supporting the parties from well before the mediation date to prepare in detail for the mediation can set up a more productive session on the day. This could include a briefing note to set the scene, explain how the process works and ask the parties to consider in advance different potential scenarios for settlement, including their WATNAs (worst alternative to a negotiated agreement) and BATNAs (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)  

2. Ideally, the parties feel comfortable with the Zoom technology; but it’s still useful to avoid making assumptions about Zoom skills and instead we suggest arranging a pre-mediation Zoom meeting with each party. This gives a chance to practice using the Zoom technology and you can share some practical guidance in advance. (https://rogerlevittmediation.co.uk/online-mediation/) This session can also be used to answer any questions on the briefing note and to help prepare the approach for the mediation date

3. Pre-allocating the breakout rooms can save hassle and time on the day, including a separate breakout room for the mediator and observer. It’s also worth considering setting up a couple of spare rooms to give you flexibility, e.g. a separate discussion with lawyers from each side. If everyone knows in advance which breakout room they’ll be in, that gives them the comfort of knowing where they’ll be, which is an advantage you’re unlikely to have in advance of a face to face mediation meeting. 

4. It’s important that everyone knows in advance who will be attending so there are no surprises, and so that the break out rooms can be allocated with certainty. This means that each party should also confirm there is no-one with them, off-camera

5. Checking your own IT is crucial – sound, position of camera, background (most people choose bookshelves or pictures – not a bright window), WIFI strength, and whether your laptop has an overnight software update scheduled that needs 60 minutes to conclude on the morning of the mediation.

On the day

6. Working collaboratively is crucial and the mediator has the scope to set the tone of the mediation with this principle (also helped in the preparation above). This takes some time, but can make a huge difference throughout the day.

7. Patience is also needed – the mediator has the challenge of managing expectations both in advance and during the mediation. Checking in with all parties periodically while discussions are ongoing to provide updates is particularly important with multi-party mediation, where the time spent waiting for the mediator may feel extensive.  Even where negotiations may be progressing slowly, parties really appreciate an update on the process to let them know what is happening.

8. Resilience – online mediation, as with face-to-face, aims to conclude on the day of mediation and it’s not unusual to continue working until late to achieve a settlement agreement.  Roger’s recent mediation lasted 12 hours, which is a long time to be on Zoom. Regular breaks are advised, but not always taken.

9. Travel worries disappear. For multi-party mediations in particular, Roger has found it is hugely beneficial to meet by Zoom compared with face to face. The pain of juggling the travel /location logistics disappears in an instant. It is also often easier for people to share the same screen remotely, when they would not share a room

10. Last and definitely least – don’t conduct a mediation on your birthday! Roger was fortunate: he was able to get away in the nick of time at 8pm. Others might not be so lucky.  

Six Counter-Intuitive Conflict Lessons from Somalia

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2019/12/six-counter-intuitive-conflict-lessons-from-somalia/

Conflicts in Somalia continue to cost lives, draw in funding and demand attention from the international community. Somalia has evolved from ‘stateless’ and ‘failed state’ but the high levels of violence and conflict continue their tragic impact on people’s lives. I have worked in and on Somalia since 2013 and there are six characteristics of the conflicts that seem to be counter-intuitive, yet I notice that they occur often. They are not unique to Somalia, but often Somalia seems to demonstrate conflict lessons particularly starkly. This article describes the conflict lessons and their implications for delivering support in Somalia today.

1. There is a conflict equilibrium

Somalia is unstable, but there is a stable instability: balancing the risks and opportunities that could arise if there were a shift to either more conflict or less conflict. Less conflict would mean a reduction of donor funding, more regulation and greater expectations that Somalia should conform to international rules and norms. Greater conflict would be disruptive for business and aid flows. My sense is that this is not a coincidence, but rather a delicate balance between the various interests and power bases – political, business, clan, criminal. A war economy, covering socio-political interests.

That is not to understate the violence or its impact. Tragically, high numbers of civilians are killed in Somalia – 982 between January and September 2018, down on the previous year’s figure of 1,228 civilians killed in the same period. And there have been significant attacks on international community targets.

But, to flip this around, why aren’t there more attacks on the international community in Mogadishu (and elsewhere in Somalia)? For all the security provision, there are numerous ‘soft’ targets for those wishing to disrupt the fragile peace. Of course, attacks take place, but they could be happening a lot more.

2. We are not asking ‘why?’ enough; it isn’t chaos, but we assume it is

“It’s complete chaos!” – I’ve heard that phrase a lot and it is, perhaps, most common misunderstanding that internationals make about Somalia. Bluntly, it isn’t chaos. There is a system that functions.  But it doesn’t function as we expect it to or think it should.

It’s common for people arriving to work in Mogadishu with experience of other conflict-affected countries. We try not to make assumptions but also try to apply what we have learnt from other contexts. We inevitably fall into the habit of making assumptions about what we are looking at and we look for positive reinforcement of we know. Those assumptions limit the scope of our understanding about what is actually happening.

The best advice I received was to take an anthropological approach and keep asking ‘why?’(always a useful starting question): Why does it work like that? Why is that happening? Why is that not happening? What are the reasons behind this? What are the interests of those involved? Who stands to lose out from this happening/not happening? 

When I forget to ask ‘why?’, Somalia becomes much more straight-forward, easier to understand. That is the warning sign that I am viewing things simplistically, because the situation is complex and it is challenging to know what is really happening. The simplistic interpretation usually misses the point.

3. Al Shabaab may not be ‘The Enemy’

Al Shabaab is often presented as the primary driver of conflict in Somalia but the picture is more complex than this binary description: there isn’t a ‘good’ side and a ‘bad side’ (see the previous point on the dangers of over-simplifying).

Firstly, there are multiple conflicts, not just one and those conflicts are multi-layered. Social conflict and marginalisation is expressed through conflict between clans. There is a high degree of political conflict across the whole country at various different levels, including inter-state (e.g. Somalia vs Somaliland, depending whether you accept Somaliland as a separate state), intra-state (e.g. Jubaland vs Federal Government), and localised conflict. 

Secondly, there are many conflict actors involved, including criminal interests – it’s not just the Federal Government, Federal Member States and Al Shabaab. And conflict is business, e.g. for the proliferation of private security providers in Somalia. Some of those conflict actors have an active interest in perpetuating the conflict because it provides work and resources.

And thirdly, referring to Al Shabaab as ‘The Enemy’ also makes the flawed assumption that the group is a single homogenous entity. There are different factions, with different attitudes and intentions to deliver their aims.

So, why do people focus on Al Shabaab? They are a major and active conflict actor. But there may be other reasons. Maintaining the focus on Al Shabaab as ‘The Enemy’ is useful for the Federal Government to justify enhanced and flexible security, and the removal of the sanction regime. The international community endorses this presentation of the conflict through its focus on Al Shabaab as the driver of instability in Somalia, rather than using a broader perspective of the various Somalia conflicts. This presents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the conflicts in Somalia.

4. It’s the resource, stupid

Securing and controlling resource is critical for power – this is true everywhere, not just in Somalia. The priorities for the FGS have been for some time: 1) retaining power, and; 2) securing debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative. Holding power provides the primary position to acquire and control resources; the delayed parliamentary and presidential elections mean a longer stint in this position for the current incumbents, at least most of them. Securing HIPC debt relief was widely considered a triumph for the existing administration as it opens the scope for new international lending to Somalia, which also presents new challenges for accountability.  

And conflict (within acceptable limits, as noted above) means money – money for those fighting (AMISOM and Somali security forces), control of sources of money (ports and transit routes). As elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, the instability allows leaders to operate a business model, securing funds for their ‘political budgets’, to rent the provisional allegiances of army officers, militia commanders, tribal chiefs and party officials at the going rate. No-one has the monopoly on violence in Somalia. There is instead a marketplace for this, as other commodities.

Resources drive decisions in the international community too. For many of the troop and police contributing countries, the income generated by involvement in the AMISOM brings welcome revenue – note the reaction from Uganda and Burundi when asked to reduce their troops numbers in AMISOM. 

Understanding the resource implications of the current systems and consequences caused by any changes is critical to understanding what is happening and why.

5. We are all protagonists

The international community has its interests in and is, therefore, a protagonist in the Somalia conflicts – overtly in the form of AMISOM, and less overtly in the form of the political, diplomatic and programme delivery. Although striving to Do No Harm, any intervention, or non-intervention, in a conflict necessarily means that the interests are affected, which influences the conflict dynamics.

AMISOM provides the AU with a high-profile mission that demonstrates the value of a multi-lateral African peace-keeping operational capability, funded externally.  As well as the resource generated, the deployment of AU troops in Somalia means that they are not at home, perhaps posing a threat to their home governments. Somalia also hosts a high-profile UN mission where staff on lucrative contracts can demonstrate their field credentials, allowing a good move into their next role or promotion. There are incentives for a HIPC deal in the international community too – for the World Bank and IMF, Somalia would become a client again and a new market for loans; for donors they can demonstrate that they are a friend to Somalia by supporting the deal. And donors have other interests, including continuing disputes from elsewhere with proxies and striving to demonstrate the success of the policies and programmes. As we have seen elsewhere, donor funds can have a negative impacts on the country they are focused on.

It is hard to find a genuinely neutral party in Somalia and all of these dynamics have an impact on the conflicts in Somalia.

6. Time to talk

In Somalia, as elsewhere, military solutions are very unlikely to be successful on their own. Political efforts are currently mostly focused on encouraging the FGS to agree the election model and commit to timing. But, given power and influence has been captured by various Somali elites, this is unlikely to be representative. It is not in the interests of those elites to consolidate peace and deliver good governance because they would need to surrender some of their power and control of resources. It is likely to be a long time before a more representative form of government is in place.

Other approaches to end the conflicts have focused on encouraging Al Shabaab defections and de-radicalisation centres seek to undermine Al Shabaab through incentivising additional disengagements.  Encouraging defections could be useful element of as part of a comprehensive strategy, but it’s not clear that is in place.  And there is a risk that defections leave only those steadfastly opposed to a negotiated solution to the conflicts in Al Shabaab.

Like others, I believe that a peace deal with Al Shabaab and other armed groups (ASWJ) and a political settlement are needed to agree an end to the conflicts. The prospects for that look limited, because those who currently hold the power would hold less if that were to happen. Is Somalia stuck?

Copyright protected, please do not copy.