When a mediation session ends and the clients have gone home with an outcome to their conflict, the work for the mediator doesn’t stop. Besides the paperwork that follows, mediators may take time to reflect on what occurred during the mediation process and their role in the outcome. It is best practice to do this by attending mediator debrief sessions.

At SHAW, we are pleased to introduce Laurence Boulle, a highly experienced and respected accredited mediator with the National Mediation Accreditation Standards (NMAS), who will be conducting the mediator debrief service for our SHAW mediators. We believe that Laurence’s experiences and expertise will play an important role in guiding our practitioners in their professional development, translating to better services for our clients.

We caught up with Laurence on how he came about to becoming a mediator and why having mediator debriefs are both important and beneficial:

Q: Can you briefly tell us about your background in dispute resolution, particularly mediation?

A: It all started with rearing four children, then the move onto easier matters that resulted in an evolving 25-year practice (and continuing) in disputes. The result of all this is experience in handling all sorts of disputes: community, family, workplace, native title, commercial, organisational and public interest cases.

I teach, train and write extensively in the field, providing both the perspectives of a practitioner-academic and an academic-practitioner. Just last year, 2015, I began conducting structured individual professional development and debriefing sessions.

Q: What is the purpose of a debrief session following mediation and what are the benefits to it?

A: Generally, debrief sessions are designed for mediators to help them in their professional development. Sessions are meant to refresh the jaded and to provide support for the novice.

The three major functions and benefits of a debrief session include:

  1. Examining particular cases in terms of what went well and what could have been done differently – applying the theory of ‘reflective practice’ as a basis for continuing education.
  2. Greater professional development focus in dispute resolution theory and practice – moving beyond the individual cases and onto relevant themes in the dispute resolution literature and in related disciplines.
  3. Care of self through supervised reflection – an increasingly important imperative for dispute resolution practitioners faced with difficult ethical dilemmas, high emotion, burnout or self-doubt.

Q: Who is involved in a debrief session and how formal/informal is it?

A: The main people involved vary across cases but would overall include the dispute resolution practitioner, the mediator, or both co-mediators, the conciliator, and the adjudicator.

Sessions are informal, and are conducted through appropriate distance communication systems on a confidential basis with no reporting to employers or other interested parties. At the practitioner’s request, the session can also be structured around key themes, skills or ethical conundrums but it is essentially an informal process that I will facilitate.

Q: What is the typical timeframe you suggest between the joint mediation session and the debrief session?

A: I would suggest that the debrief session be done within two weeks of a dispute resolution event. The sessions would require a 30-minute time commitment, which could be extended at the request of the practitioner. A very small amount of preparation is required for the session.

Q: Is there anything you have learned or taken away from past debriefs that you can share with us?

A: Two things stand out for me. The first is the high extent to which professionals in conflict management face common issues and challenges. Regardless of whether it is mediators in private practice or conciliators in statutory tribunals, a frequent concern relates to practitioners wanting to contribute value to the efforts of their clients. 

The second is the enormous variety in the circumstances of dispute resolution practice requiring adaptability, responsiveness and variation by practitioners in ways which formulaic thinking cannot provide. I would add another lesson learned, namely that for many practitioners, dispute resolution is a lonely occupation and supervised debriefing is a welcome respite.

We hope the above interview gave you interesting insights and a better understanding of the importance of mediator debrief sessions, as we believe in providing quality mediation services to all our clients and the opportunity for continuous learning and improvement for all our mediators. We would like to thank Laurence for his time and for generously sharing his experience and are definitely looking forward to working with him.

Laurence Boulle is a fellow with the Australian Dispute Resolution Association and an accredited mediator with the NMAS. He is director of the Mediator Standards Board and was a LEADR Fellow from 2014 to 2015. He is currently an adjunct professor at Bond University in Queensland.