This document reflects the experiences shared by many mentors and mentees. Mentors should review Section 3 & 4 Mentorship Guidelines, which contain the expectations of mentors and mentees and suggestions for providing effective feedback during mentoring. This material supplements those sections and should be discussed as part of the training for mentors.
Debriefing and evaluation after the mediation session;
- Take a short break after the mediation session and before the debriefing to refresh and refocus. The mentor can use this opportunity to organize his/her thoughts. Mark the transition psychologically by changing something – take your coat off, arrange the seats differently, etc. Reintroduce the purpose of the debriefing, your respective roles, and confirm you are in agreement about the time available. Often, mentor and mentee may need a little time to decompress from the mediation – which may provide an opportunity to move into specific elements of the debriefing. If the mentee appears at all apprehensive about the debriefing, acknowledge that evaluation is difficult but valuable experience for everyone, particularly in the mediation process, where as mediators we need to anticipate and welcome constructive feedback in one form or another throughout our professional lives.
- A good general principle about feedback is to focus on the behavior, not the person. You want to make it easy for the mentee to hear you and to heed your input, and it helps to reduce the mentee’s personal defensiveness
- Generally, start with the mentee’s own experiences (and your own encouraging observations), building toward your constructive feedback. Illustrations: “Kamau, what in particular went well for you? ” “I noted how well you handled that transition when ….” “I was impressed with how you responded to the question on confidentiality . . . .” Frequently, that encouragement makes it safe for a mentee to move forward. If not, you might ask: “Was there anything in particular that you felt uncomfortable with? ” Often, the answer will reflect something you may have noted for feedback purposes yourself, and you can use the mentee’s own statements as an entry for your critique and developmental discussion.
- Generally, the mentor should prioritize and carefully select learning points (or themes) for feedback – perhaps no more than three to five primary subjects of feedback per mediation session. A long and scattered list can dilute the importance of priority items and may not be remembered or learned as well by the mentee. Briefly outline your overall themes at the outset, so the mentee has a sense of context and limits.
- During feedback, the mentor should identify the action or behavior in question as specifically as possible, linked to context. This helps avoid ambiguity and confusion about what happened, and reduces the opportunity for defensiveness on the part of the mentee. You can then proceed more directly to productive discussions. To do this well, you must be able to frame events accurately, which underlies the importance of good, just-in-time note-taking.
- Rather than (or before) challenging an action of the mentee per se, start by asking the mentee for clarification or perspective on the event. For example, assume a mentee interrupted the parties’ exchange at one point, and you want to use this event to discuss when and how to intervene. You might try the following: “Do you remember when Juma was talking about [x] when we were discussing [y]? You responded just then by asking [z]. I think it would be useful to discuss that interaction. What strategy did you have in mind at that moment? ” Or, if you had had to step in at some point to recover a mediation veering off because of a question or action of the mentee, you might say: “You probably remember when I stepped in at [x point]. What is your perspective on what was happening there? ” Generally, mentees learn better by being integral to a developmental discussion where they help lead themselves to new perspectives, rather than merely being subjected to “mini-lectures.”
- Do not evade your responsibility to telling a truth just because it is difficult. As in mediation generally, it is how you say something, not whether. Mentors have a responsibility to mentees, to the public, and to mediation generally, to assure that difficult topics are dealt with and that mentees who have trouble “getting it” are well-directed toward the best path – whether that means further training or an evaluation that recommends additional practice, In these instances, it is particularly important to identify objective behaviors and context. Sometimes, setting up the seriousness of the subject is the psychological key – e.g., Ombati, I believe we need to debrief carefully around one exchange: the one where Nyaguthie said she didn’t know what to do about [x] and you stepped in to give her some very specific options. As I believe you know, the aspect of self-determination is key, both legally and as a matter of the core values of mediation as we practice it here. There are ways you can help a person develop or obtain ideas and perspectives on options without giving advice.
- Use stories and humor. Adults learn well from (one or two brief) stories about mediation events that happened to you or others and illustrate things that went wrong or right. These stories connect you with the mentee on a human level and give you the opportunity to provide a memorable, even enjoyable lesson linked to a subject in the mentee’s just-completed experience. You can soften critiques with humor, particularly at your own expense as part of a story — e.g., “I remember a case where I got so interested in a party’s story that I interrupted it, and I got just the kind of reaction you experienced today!”
- If a subject is important enough to critique, it is important enough to critique with some detail. It is insufficient to merely say, “I want you to work on your reframing.” In addition to using the specific contextualizing discussed above, give examples of alternative approaches, touch on underlying theory, ask the mentee to suggest how they might have done it differently, etc. Parsing the issue from several different angles, if you can. You might suggest further reading or revisiting a basic training manual, or you might set up a mini-role play during the debriefing to test different ways of dealing with a subject, or suggest phrases you and other mediators use to clarify, reframe, and transition.
- Use comparisons of actual and hypothetical options and comparisons of ideas on how to approach a specific interaction.
- Make “lemonade out of lemons” by stating negatives as their obverse positives – e.g., instead of “You may be too passive” say “There are ways you can be more active.”
- Avoid absolutes such as “always” and “never.” With rare exceptions there are few things in mediation that are not situational. Further, there probably are things you may do or avoid that other competent mediators engage quite differently. Thus, if you wish to state a stylistic choice you prefer, try to relate it to a broader theoretical basis so the mentee can reflect on a range of possible choices.
- If a mentee appears frustrated or defensive, take time to discuss those feelings, clarify the debriefing process, and adapt the evaluation process to the results of the discussion.
- Invite the mentee to ask questions about your performance. He or she may be afraid to question something the “master” did, but if a question arises, it deserves an answer and may start a discussion or be a valuable learning point for the mentee. If you made a mistake, it can be useful to acknowledge it and make the point that mediation is so complex that no one can ever do everything perfectly – and that if you mediate a thousand cases, you will learn something new on the thousand-and first.
- End the debriefing on a positive note. While mentors have a “gatekeeper” role, our basic stock-in-trade is guiding, coaching, and developing neophytes in the pursuit of excellence. Look for a closing opportunity to reinforce the mentee’s own sense of value, achievement, and opportunity for growth.
- Touch on next steps. Finally, help the mentee be clear on the next steps and where to go for more information.