There are three common questions I am asked when people find out I am a mediator.
“Are you a lawyer?” No.
“Are you a psychologist?” No.
“Well, what is your background?” by which I believe they are politely wondering, ‘What makes you qualified to get in the middle of people’s problems?’
Law and psychology are two common paths to mediation. Many of the professional mediators I know come from those fields. But other professions offer opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be a successful mediator. My work as a teacher and writer led me to conflict resolution.
One of my first jobs was teaching sailing. If you want to see how people deal with stress, get on a boat with them. On water, things move along calmly, until they don’t. I experienced more than one newly married couple setting out on the adventure of learning to sail together only to have Captain Bly start shouting commands to his lovely new bride. I had to figure out how to speak with enough authority so the captain-to-be would listen to me, a kid, half his own age, and with enough deference so as not to challenge his status in front of his shipmate. It was a tricky balance to learn, and one that serves me well at the mediation table when needing to acknowledge various types of status or balance power between parties.