Mediation and negotiation used to be something that happened in the background, out of sight. The process was often clumsy, with many companies and organizations lacking staff who were formally trained, and the results weren’t always positive. Especially when managers who had no background in conflict resolution or transactional negotiation attempted to sit down at the table and bargain with unions that employed professional negotiators.
The entire process is far more visible today and there’s a growing awareness that to do it right —whether “it” is salary or contract negotiation, resolving conflict between opposing groups, disputes over professional relationships, misunderstandings based on intercultural communications, negotiating favorable terms with a supplier or resolving a dispute with a government agency— formal training is required. The gold standard when it comes to upgrading credentials to support a leadership role in negotiation is the Master of Science in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, a specialized degree offered through some of the country’s top tier colleges and universities. While most professionals and corporate leaders recognize the value of obtaining a graduate degree in the field in order to be the most effective negotiator possible, there are still a few myths about mediation that haven’t entirely died out.
1. Lawyers Make the Best Mediators
It is not unheard of for a trained mediator to be a lawyer as well; adding a M.S. in Negotiation to a law degree is an excellent strategy that opens all sorts of career doors. However, not all mediators are lawyers and there’s nothing to say that lawyers make the best mediators. The best mediation degree programs are interdisciplinary (including elements from other faculties) and courses through a college’s Law faculty are often part of this approach. But so are courses offered through the Psychology, Communications, Sociology and Business faculties. Straight out of law school, most lawyers have little or no formal training in negotiation and the idea that they are somehow better equipped than other professions to assume mediation responsibilities has resulted in many seemingly straightforward negotiations extending into bitter disputes.
2. A Weeklong Workshop Is Sufficient Mediation Training
Mediation is a profession, not simply a quick, add-on skill. A person can become very proficient in using a computer spreadsheet during an intensive, weeklong course. They can learn how to drive an automobile or may be able to earn accreditation for a specific area of financial expertise. Mediation is something that requires a wide range of courses, each building on the other, in order to gain any degree of proficiency. It requires interaction and practice with classmates, as well as the guidance of highly experienced faculty. The reason a Master of Science in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution is considered the degree of choice for those seeking to hire a mediator (and those interested in pursuing a career in the field) is that only an advanced degree provides the foundation, advanced concepts and practical experience needed to be successful at mediation. Any weeklong workshop —no matter how intensive– might serve as an introduction to negotiation or conflict resolution, but it certainly won’t qualify an attendee to work as a professional mediator.
3. Technology Has No Place In Mediation
People who push this myth seem to be stuck in the days where mediation was conducted around a large wooden table, with participants arranged face to face, locked in a room to verbally spar until they had settled whatever was under dispute. Technology has a huge roll to play in mediation and has transformed the field in many ways. With laptop computers, projectors and tablets, negotiators have far more information than ever available at their fingertips, reducing time needed to lookup and display important statistics. Thanks to technological advances such as video conferencing, many negotiations are now conducted entirely online, significantly cutting transportation and facility costs while reducing time requirements.
The education of mediators has also been radically transformed by technology. Now that leading colleges and universities offer mediator training online, earning a Master of Science in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution is within reach for almost anyone who wants to further their education and gain entry into a highly challenging and potentially lucrative field. Web-based programs eliminate the requirement of living close enough to a college campus to physically attend classes and provide the opportunity to complete assignments or view lectures during downtime. The convenience makes an educational upgrade with formal mediation training an attainable goal for more people than ever —something that improves the field while providing advancement opportunities.