Mediation and the Artisan Mindset

By Douglas Katz – 03/03/23

Conflict is part of the human condition.  Be it due to limited resources, different view points or both, we humans like to fight and we seem to always be able to find new ways to do so.  Whether in our relationships, work lives or our daily interaction with the world around us, conflict is everywhere.  The good news is that as rational beings we try to find new and better ways to reduce conflict.  One which has gained a lot of momentum in the world of alternative dispute resolution is mediation.  In a nutshell, mediation is about using a disinterested 3rd party to help parties in conflict to work together to create and agree upon an outcome which is acceptable to all parties and which, most importantly, ends the conflict.  While generally associated with divorce, mediation is a broad field that covers resolution of all types of conflict.

This is the fifth in a series of articles that I am writing about considerations while selecting a mediator.  I see too many people neglect this most important part of a mediation and all too often this can hinder outcomes.  Not all mediators are created equal and that is actually a GOOD thing.  Every mediation is different and the parties are different which definitely shapes the best selection.  I recommend deciding what kind of mediation experience that you want and interviewing/selecting a mediator based on their personality as well as a set of skills that match your needs, wants and preferences.  Hopefully my insight on some characteristics and mindsets will help you make the right selection.

Wait – There are still artisans?

The simple definition of an artisan is a skilled craftsman or craftswoman who creates handmade items using traditional techniques and tools. Artisans typically have a deep understanding and expertise in their chosen craft, whether it’s woodworking, pottery, weaving, metalworking, or any number of other artisanal practices. They often produce unique, one-of-a-kind items that are highly valued for their quality, beauty, and craftsmanship. In many cultures, artisanal crafts are an important part of the local economy and cultural heritage, and artisans play an important role in preserving traditional techniques and passing them on to future generations.

I want to stress that the medium does not matter.  It is the outcomes in the person and the application of skills to their life.  Personally, forge blades and make knives as my artisanal outlet.  The blades will not win any awards and I will not be the Forged in Fire champion in the foreseeable future, but that is not the point.  Aside from the sheer enjoyment factor, the intent for integrating a hobby into my life that provides a certain outlet was never to create a business but to make me better at everything else and I have seen and taken advantage of the opportunity to cultivate and refine some of the skills I already had as well as the chance to develop and nurture new ones.  This has not only benefitted me, but my clients as well.

What can an artisanal mediator do for me?

Having an artisan as a mediator can bring a unique set of advantages to the mediation process. This is by no means all inclusive and the range of artisanal endeavors can cover a wide variety of activities, but the core skills and benefits a quite similar across that range.  Some observations in my own practice that I have seen include but are not limited to.

Creativity

Artisans tend to be creative and imaginative, which can help them come up with unique solutions to problems. In mediation, this can be particularly useful when parties are stuck in a particular mindset or unable to see beyond their current positions. An artisan mediator may be able to help parties think outside the box and generate new ideas for resolution.  In my blade work, I try to integrate as much recycled material as possible.  From the steel for the blade to the wood for the handles, I have cultivated using throw away items to create something both functional and beautiful.  If it sounds a lot like something that would benefit your conflict resolution efforts, you get it.

Flexibility

Artisans are often adaptable and flexible in their approach to problems. They may be able to pivot quickly if a particular strategy or approach is not working and come up with a new approach that better suits the needs of the parties. This can be helpful in a mediation context where parties may need to change course or explore different options to find a resolution.  I myself feel like I have an issue on almost every blade and have learned ways to identify and negate problems quickly, even if it means deviating from an initial plan.

Artisans often have the flexibility to also try new things when faced with a challenge.  Fortuitous mistakes happen in almost every type of artisanal activity and the ability to learn from and apply the lessons to future efforts is a hallmark of a good maker.  Since life is a series of situations that don’t go according to plan, this ability has huge value, especially in conflict ridden situations.  After all, the mere presence of the conflict means that something did not go as planned and there is an inherent need for problem solving which is unencumbered by rigidity.

Communication and Listening Skills

Artisans are often skilled communicators, whether through words, images, or other forms of expression. They may be able to help parties better understand each other’s perspectives by finding creative ways to communicate complex ideas or emotions. This can be particularly important in mediation, where miscommunication or misunderstandings can be a major obstacle to resolution.  They also have the ability to boil a vision or other abstract concepts to a practical and digestible form for the parties.

Communication, however, is a two-way process.  Artisans, especially ones who make items or art for sale or gifting, are observant to the input of the intended user.  Whether through deliberate discussion or just observation of the part of the maker, artisans understand that what they create needs to have appeal beyond their own preferences.  The understand how to take the data from interaction with others and turn it into information on how to communicate effectively with them.  This is invaluable during a mediation when communication can make or break the possibility of resolution.

Prioritization Safety and Wellness

A lot of equipment used by artisans is inherently dangerous.  Whether using fire, sharp tools or caustic and toxic chemicals, many endeavors involve things which can hurt the user or those around them.  Even simple hand tools can represent a threat if used unsafely or improperly.  I have some nice scars to show you if you have any doubt.  This carries over to mediation where the safety of the conflicted parties needs to be of the utmost priority.  I do not mean life and limb safety but rather the emotional and psychological safety and security of those involved.  When in my workshop, for example, I consider how the use of every tool could be dangerous and I take steps to minimize or eliminate them.  I also do this in my mediation practice where the dangers of trauma to an individual or just the failure to reach an agreement depends on the parties feeling safe and having trust in the mediator and the process.

The Maker Philosophy

This benefit is a bit esoteric but no less important than the aforementioned benefits.  When I first got into making knives, I watched a lot of videos.  There was one particular personality who constantly and consistently integrated discussion about being a maker into his videos.  The concept of using all of your skills and resources together to create something better than when you started is compelling and I personally feel that everyone, from mediators to homemakers, need something in their life that involves this philosophy, but, in my work, I see it as essential.  I need to go into my mediations with the belief that I am solving conflict by creating solutions as opposed to a referee just managing the positional bargaining of angry and deadlocked parties.  That is why you need a maker in the process.

Conclusion

Of course, it’s worth noting that not all artisans will possess these qualities to the same degree, and not all disputes will benefit from an artisan mediator. The most important factor in choosing a mediator is finding someone who has the right skills and temperament for the specific situation at hand.  I have discussed many that I see as important or beneficial, but the selection process is and frankly should be a personal one on which you interview prospective candidates for your mediation for this and other skills that will enhance the probability of successful resolution.