One of our exceptional Edwards Mediation Academy instructors is Rebecca Westerfield. Rebecca has been mediating for over 22 years and has settled and arbitrated over 2,500 cases throughout the United States and internationally. One of the qualities I most admire about Rebecca is her wonderful way of making people feel comfortable and understood.
On becoming a mediator
Before becoming a mediator, Rebecca had been a sitting judge. What made Rebecca decide to become a mediator was her genuine desire to help people. Rebecca believes that our legal system sometimes creates obstacles and barricades to the exchange of interests and information that could create a much more satisfying resolution for everyone. Mediation helps cut through these barricades and enables the parties involved to determine their own outcome. What Rebecca brings to every mediation is her real desire to want to serve.
Slowing things down
Rebecca believes that hospitality is a very big part of mediation. She spends a lot of time trying to create relationships and connections, and that means slowing things down from the beginning. Rebecca wants people to become completely comfortable with her and the mediation process before delving into it. She creates a rapport and a personal connection with her clients that helps her to see them and their case in a unique way – not just another case, as usual, but their case.
One of the ways Rebecca approaches this “purposeful deceleration” is to, in the cadence of her voice, slow things down. She invites people to be engaged in conversation. She tries to find out things about them – who they are and what is important to them. She asks very open-ended questions and tries to find common points of interest. It might be travel, it might be a favorite book, it might be a movie they’ve seen, and she builds on that.
Rebecca understands that different people need different things to help them become comfortable with the mediation process. For example, she had a case involving a family member who was badly injured in a major catastrophe. She went to the family’s home on a Saturday morning to see them in their home environment, and to give them an opportunity to show her what their everyday life was like.
She took flowers, and they served her tea. They had a lovely conversation. She found that she was able to fully appreciate what they were living with, due to the injuries. The family realized that Rebecca understood what they were living with and respected what they were going through. They knew she understood their situation in a way that wasn’t artificial. As a result of that visit, Rebecca was able to be much more responsive to their real concerns and interests during the mediation process.
Envisioning the future
Rebecca invites her clients to envision the future they want, one that is beyond the anger or pain they may feel in the present moment. She will ask the parties to share with her what they want their life to look like a year from now. What do they want their business to be doing a year from now? Do they want to make their business a lawsuit, or would they rather be producing widgets and marketing them. She finds that these types of discussions often help individuals move through their emotions to a satisfying resolution.
Susan Franson Edwards co-founded Edwards Mediation Academy with Bruce Edwards in 2014 in an effort to deliver the highest quality mediation training to a worldwide audience.