I have a master’s of social work from the University of Toronto and I worked as a social worker for a number of years, both full- and part-time. Then I went back to school to do a certificate in alternative dispute resolution at York University.
In all areas of my work, I have always been somebody who acted as a mediator. The idea always appealed to me of bridging differences and getting people to come to a resolution. Whether family or organizational, there’s always a need for someone to help parties who disagree and I’ve always been the one to do that.
People often ask, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I want to reframe that question and ask, “What interests you and what direction do you want to go in?” That makes more sense. Social work is extremely broad, and continuing education certificate programs allow you to hone in. You don’t have that kind of insight when you’re younger. When I discovered the Alternative Dispute Resolution program, it really appealed to me.
In order to become an accredited family mediator, you have to meet educational requirements and do an internship. York helped me get those course requirements and gave me a combination of the theory and practical information I was looking for. You’re not looking for an academic PhD professor in adult education you’re looking for somebody who is able to understand how theory applies.
I work with families who are separating, and my area of specialty is children. Our legal system can be quite adversarial, and mediation is a chance for two parties to understand how they can continue to co-parent. The most challenging aspect of the job is seeing people in pain. Often you see quite a dark side and, if not dealt with properly, that pain can prevent you from growing.
A combination of life experience, personality and school prepared me for this work. I did a lot of research that equipped me to do a better job, but I’m constantly in school. I attend every conference possible. This is not the kind of job where you can know everything.
The best mediators are learners, self-aware individuals and open. You have to suspend judgment. Whether you agree or disagree, you have to understand why people do what they do in order to understand how they see the world. If you can do that, they feel understood and allow you to work with them. If you go in with judgment, they will know. And to be honest, it may take me 10 minutes to suspend judgment, but once I have that understanding, it’s amazing what can happen.
That’s the most important skill as a mediator.