Scottish Mediation’s annual conference has always been a time I look forward to and even more so this year. After three years meeting on Zoom we hosted our event in person this year and in the run up to the event so many people told me how much they were looking forward to seeing people in person again.
One thing I hadn’t remembered is that running an event in person involves a lot more than the online version; IT, room set up, food, badges and programmes all have to be arranged. Add in the worries about transport because of the rail dispute and making sure people know how to navigate the Edinburgh roadworks mean it was all quite a challenge.
Our first theme was listening and there are few better people than Kathryn Mannix to lead a session on that. For mediators listening isn’t just a skill; doing it effectively is at the core of work that we do. Many of the disputes that come to us are as a result of a lack of, or poor, listening and more critically, as Kathryn pointed out, involve people who strongly feel that they haven’t been listened to. One of the key tasks we learned is the need to listen without preconceptions and then exploring what we have heard in a way that allows more of people’s stories to surface. Sounds simple; but it’s really not and Kathryn’s session was a reminder that we need to constantly work at being better listeners.
In the afternoon we considered how equality and diversity and mediation intersect and the need for the mediation profession to better reflect the diversity of our Scottish communities. Our keynote speaker Dr Gurchathen S Sanghera drew on his research and experience of working with a variety of communities to highlight the conflict that exists between and within communities across Scotland and how mediation and mediators can play a positive role in creating safe spaces to allow discussion around these conflicts. That hate crime is a reality in Scotland for many people underlines the need to engage positively in these discussions. If the underlying issues of conflict are not aired and addressed it will be difficult to move forward positively.
Part of the learning at the conference was around areas where mediation has the potential to play a greater role. That included the construction industry where we heard about the Conflict Avoidance Protocol, In education we heard about the work being done across all the schools in Fife teaching the skills of mediation to students and teachers. We also heard about the experiences of using mediation on the streets when COP 26 was held in Glasgow last year.
There was also chance to reflect on our skills as mediators; on how we adapt our practice to different situations; how we break through conflicts that are seemingly stuck and, we also learned how we can make a positive contribution on climate change by being aware of our impact as mediators and what we can do better to reduce our carbon footprint.
The final theme of our conference was “connecting” and it was great to see our member again face to face and to meet people who had joined Scottish Mediation over the past three years whom I had only ever been able to meet online.
All in all our conference was a great opportunity to be a part of International Mediation Awareness week and to allow Scottish mediators to do a bit of listening, learning, reflecting and connecting as they go back into their sections of Scottish life spreading the beneficial influence of mediation in these difficult times.