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Reader’s Review, April 2013

By John D. Baker

The Mediator’s Handbook: Revised & Expanded Fourth Edition

Jennifer E. Beer, Caroline C. Packard with Eileen Stief
194pp. Gabriola Island, B.C., Canada: New Society Publishers, 2012
Paperback (USA) $19.37

This fourth edition of The Mediator’s Handbook updates and refreshes one of the true classic works in the field of mediation. Originally conceived and developed to capture the experiences and hands-on lessons learned by volunteers engaged in conflict mediation in the Friends Conflict Resolution Programs, the work has long been sponsored by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Now, in the care of New Society Publishers, the new edition remains an organic work with both an attitude and a living heritage.

This volume’s contributors include Eileen Stief who began the Friends mediation program in 1976 and led it for many years. Ms. Stief has been and remains a major force in ensuring that the core practicality of both the program and its publications continue to be central to their efforts. This point is well-illustrated in later years when some volunteers insisted that the mediation process was a fixed procedure. Ms. Stief was the person who put the process into perspective when she explained: “We just made it up!” (p. 187). And so they did and continue to improve the process as innovators do.

Jennifer Beer, another of the authors, wrote the first handbook in 1982 and has led the writing of each subsequent edition. Dr. Beer holds a Ph.D. degree in cultural anthropology and teaches negotiation at Wharton (University of Pennsylvania). Ms. Beer is both a scholar and an active community mediator.

The third author, Caroline Packard holds a J.D. degree from the New York University School of Law. Ms. Packard is a former corporate litigator who has turned her attention to conflict resolution mediation and mediator training.

Unquestionably, through their training and their rich and lengthy experience as mediation practitioners, the authors are experts in their field. There is no doubt that this revision of the handbook further strengthens it as a standard guide and reference manual for all mediators, regardless of theoretical persuasion.

The approach of this work is facilitative mediation in which, the authors state, “mediators guide but don’t decide” (p.6). This is a style of mediation in which the mediator’s role is keeper of the process who assures that two essential elements exist:

A structure for conversation to help people talk, listen, and think.
Caring impartial attentiveness to people, process, and concerns” (p.6).

Having defined the essence of the mediator’s role as an impartial guide, the authors address the process in detail. The manual provides thorough and well-considered descriptions of each of the steps in the mediation process (the “what to dos”).

The process section examines such basics as determining the viability of a matter as a viable candidate for mediation, selection of the mediator, obtaining participant buy-in and even picking a site. From the first steps, the authors lead the reader from the opening session through the various and necessary steps such as choosing of topics for the mediation, such as managing the interchange process and into the concluding steps of the process. Included at the very end is a participant evaluation step and suggestions on methods for accomplishing it. It is, therefore, truly a total package of the “what’s” in mediation.

The last and major portion of the manual turns from the “what’s” to the “how’s” of mediation. Termed the “Toolbox,” this section provides detailed suggestions on how to accomplish each of the “what” steps in the process. Here the reader learns the techniques and skills of the mediator as guide.

Hands-on author advice and an abundance of instructive anecdotes then continue to lead the reader through the plethora of emotionally laden encounters, successes, and possible traps in conflict resolution exchanges. The reader learns how-to discover interests, support individuals, hear as well as listen, deal with silent “participants,” end shouting matches, and even deal with unexpected guests. The listings and the methods suggested are invaluable. The result is a thorough and well-illustrated primer and that every mediator will welcome.

This book is an ideal guide to the process and the practice of mediation. It is ideal for the new mediator, the experienced professional and the “unsung” volunteer in dispute resolution. The Mediator’s Handbook deserves its place as a true classic in its field and a copy belongs on every negotiator’s bookshelf.

Highly Recommended.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine  April 2013 Copyright © 2013 The Negotiator Magazine