Baby, Don’t Forget My Number (My Mediation Count)

Back in the day, signs posted outside McDonald’s would list the number of customers they had served. While the fast food chain stopped this practice years ago, some mediators are still doing it. My question is why.

What Does the Number of Mediations a Mediator Has Conducted Tell Us?

When it comes to the mediator’s skill and competence, Elton Simoes, President of the ADR Institute of Canada, does not believe a mediation count tells us enough. Simoes says it is important for a mediator to be aware of which types of cases they can be effective in. Not every mediator is best for every case; it is about finding the right match. A mediator’s self-awareness should then extend to recognizing when the dynamics of a dispute may not be well-suited to their particular style, subject matter expertise, or perhaps even a collaborative process altogether.

It may seem counterintuitive, yet this suggests a good mediator would not just rack up their mediation count at every opportunity. So, what does a mediation count mean then?

A Sign of Capability or a Tool to Build Trust?

It was almost 20 years ago now, but I still remember a prominent mediator sharing that they were asked how many mediations they had conducted during their very first mediation. A nightmare come true for anyone aspiring to gain that elusive mediation experience!

Surely, an honest answer would not instill confidence; but is deceit right?

The confidential nature of mediation could make it tempting for a mediation count to be manipulated, particularly if one takes liberties with what exactly qualifies as “conducting a mediation” or does not voluntarily bind themselves to national mediation standards and related ethical obligations.

Same as it ever was

If offering a mediation count is done to instill confidence that the mediator knows what they are doing, should that confidence waver if the number does not change as the years go by?

Consideration of the currency of mediation counts might be a way to help level the playing field for up-and-comers; particularly if contemporary experience mediating online is important to live up to any confidence instilled in the mediator.

Also, Mediation counts always seem to be nice, round figures. Is there a standard practice directing dispute resolution practitioners to round up or down, or which apprises them as to at what point they can stop counting?

I poke fun, in part, because I have seen some mediators boast about their mediation counts as though indicative of their sexual prowess (also something that cannot be confirmed by counting, by the way).

The fact is, a mediation count need not be a precise figure, recent calculation or even fall within a universal definition to be meaningful. Mediator Mitchell Rose lists the number of mediations he has conducted on his website. This is not an exact number and is accompanied by light-hearted reference to the number of rounds of golf he has played… Mitch does not golf.

In his capacity as a lawyer and settlement counsel, Rose acknowledges the number of mediations a mediator has conducted doesn’t mean much. While keen to work with experienced mediators, Mitchell appreciates a mediation count does little to confirm a mediator’s relevant experience. This is particularly so when the nature and needs of a specific case are considered against a general tally of mediations.

Yet, Rose admits that he himself referenced having conducted hundreds of mediations in a bio for an event just recently. Most in attendance did not know him, so Mitch offered his mediation count to communicate having experience.

Especially when you consider having limited opportunity to convey an introductory message of being experienced, the failure of many to appreciate all a designation stands for and that keeping count appears to have worked well for McDonald’s, it seems hard to compete with mediation counts. Even if just for promotional purposes.

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so…

Back in 2012, Carly Rae Jepsen raised the question of what you should do when someone gives you their number. Apparently not asked in the context of counting mediations, applying the question here is nonetheless thought-provoking…

What Should You Do When Offered a Mediation Count?

Considering the thoughts of Simoes and Rose, it would be best to keep the mediation count in perspective. While the count could demonstrate commitment to the field and some degree of experience, it may also be appropriate for overly high counts to render the same hesitations as overly low mediator rates – a warning sign to conduct further due diligence into the mediator’s credibility and experience because something ain’t right on a surface-level.

Keep in mind, a mediation count only tells you the mediator got mediations. It offers no indication of client satisfaction with how the process went – especially when unclear if those great number of mediations came to the mediator through autonomous party selection or automated roster assignment. This sentiment is reminiscent of that classic Seinfeld scene where a car rental company excels at taking reservations but struggles to hold them, which really is the most important part! (Season 3, Episode 11 – The Alternate Side, 1991)

Lauren Winkler, the founder of Tewatate:ken (All My Relations) Indigenous Dispute Resolution, does not see keeping count of the number of mediations conducted as aligned with her work. It could indicate the mediator has ulterior motives. For someone focused on working through the root of issues and restoring balance in a community, mediation counts do not make sense. Lauren’s qualification and experience is reflected through her values and reclamation of approaches not embedded within colonial legal systems.

Lauren Winkler is Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk); she uses circle and other Indigenous peace-making methods to focus on building peaceful, reciprocal relationships. Winkler is inclusive of the non-Indigenous. She views all participants as equals; shedding hierarchy, roles and labels to promote achieving a balance. This calls upon all involved in mediation to be humble, a notion incongruous with boasting one’s mediation count.

An Inkling Into the Value of Mediation Counts

I have long viewed counting mediations as like counting tattoos. My analogy captures the shortcomings of the practice also noted by Winkler, Rose and Simoes…

Consider someone who gets three small tattoos over the course of a single inking session of 45 minutes. They then say that they have three tattoos.

Consider another getting a large tattoo which requires several sessions totalling twenty hours. They refer to it as “a” tattoo, implied to be singular.

Who presents a higher tattoo count? Who has more ink-related experience? Why?

Do you have enough information to be sure?

Does the nature, style or placement of each person’s tattoos matter? Is that your business?

How about the reason why we are even considering who has more experience; the nature of the experience we are seeking?

Counting mediations is like counting tattoos; neither really allows for an apples-to-apples comparison between counts. A variety of factors, contexts and considerations instead give us fruit salad.

This is a good thing! The beauty of mediation is its flexibility. The process is well-equipped to appreciate and accommodate all that is unique about each dispute and individual involved in it. While this complicates endeavours to fit conflict dynamics into fields for data analysis or squeeze the mediation process into a box, that is kind of the point. There can be humanity in mediation! Maybe, then, mediations and those who participate in them should not be reduced to a number.

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