Everyone reading this column has had a dispute with another person. Some of them are serious — maybe your ex won’t pay child support — while some are slightly less so, such as a confrontation with a roommate who whistles constantly or a housemate who hoards the Doritos (you know who you are). Unfortunately for us, conflicts are everywhere. Although some people — myself excluded — can apparently resolve these conflicts in mature, calm ways, even the most level-headed people sometimes need outside intervention to deal with the big stuff. In this lawsuit-happy culture, our first instinct when things don’t go our way is often to take legal action. But lawsuits are expensive and require the kind of time and money most Americans simply don’t have in this economy.
And that is where this week’s topic, the professional mediator, steps in.
With the legal system as overloaded and inefficient as it is, more people, companies, organizations and even countries are seeking out mediation as a way to resolve problems without going bankrupt in the process. As a professional mediator, you would provide a less expensive and arguably more effective method of conflict resolution than the American legal system allows. A mediator also offers a different type of resolution than a judge — whereas a judge will hear lawyers present the two sides of a conflict and deliver a verdict, a mediator works in a more hands-on style, interacting with the parties directly to help them reach a conclusion that will make everyone happy. And as an added bonus, you can mediate in your regular clothes, instead of having to wear one of those shapeless black robes that do nothing for your figure.
Becoming a mediator isn’t as difficult as you might think — the only real requirement is the completion of a training program in mediation, as well as the ability to listen, problem-solve creatively and remain unbiased through the course of a negotiation. A successful mediator also tends to come from an educational background in public policy, law or another related field. A legal degree is not necessary, but depending on the type of mediation work you will be doing, it might be useful. Basically, this means you could have a job right after graduation, no graduate school necessary. You’re welcome.
One of the best aspects of Alternative Dispute Resolution — a fancy umbrella term for mediation — is that as a mediator, you can choose what type of conflicts you want to mediate. Some mediators focus on international relations issues, working closely with politicians and diplomats to help effect change on an international scale. Not surprisingly, studies show this is the least effective form of mediation (hello, Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Other mediators choose to work on environmental issues or business disputes, but the most common form of mediation is in interpersonal conflicts, such as custody battles and divorce cases. Lastly, celebrities are turning to professional mediators more and more as a way of avoiding negative publicity, so if you don’t really care about helping people but you do want to meet Charlie Sheen, you could always focus your career on this subset.
Excluding those mediators who are just in it for the famous people, it takes a very specific kind of person to want to spend their life making stubborn people agree, but in the end it can be incredibly rewarding. You will get to meet people from all walks of life and, especially if you work in international mediation, you will get to travel a lot — most often on someone else’s dime.
In addition to being a lifelong, fulfilling career, professional mediation can also function as a stepping-stone to other fields. Some people choose to work in mediation for a year or two before going to law school, while others use it as a way to get into a career as a diplomat or politician. Regardless of what career path you take, the ability to successfully mediate a conflict is an important skill to have and will serve anyone well throughout life. And who knows? You just might be the person to solve all of the world’s problems.
Amanda really hates it when people hoard the Doritos. If you want to share your Doritos with her, let her know at [email protected]