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Mediation skills depend on a knowledge of the underlying subject matter and specific training in negotiations and conflict resolution. The specialized training can be obtained by taking college courses in topics related to dispute resolution or by enrolling in a mediator training program with a targeted curriculum. Success as a mediator also depends upon the development of certain soft skills.
There aren't nationally or internationally accredited courses of instruction or undergraduate degree program available for mediation professionals. Although alternative dispute resolution has enjoyed increasing popularity throughout the world, the establishment of universal standards has lagged behind the demand for services. The skill requirements for mediators differ depending upon the jurisdiction and context of the disputes.
You can develop initial mediation skills by taking any class relating to negotiation or conflict resolution at a college or university. These classes tend to be part of the overall curriculum for academic majors, such as business, the social sciences, law, and humanities. Law schools, in particular, will generally offer one or two specialty courses in alternative dispute resolution since this field has substantial legal underpinnings. You don't have to go to law school to be a mediator, however.
The primary way to develop mediation skills is through continuing education and training options offered outside of the university context. There are training programs available by specialists and various industry organizations in nearly every jurisdiction where mediation is practiced. Courts will also sanction certain courses for mediators as an eligibility criteria if the mediator wants to work in that court's system. Skill development depends not only on taking these courses once, but rather on continually taking courses to keep up to date on developments in the field.
You can also develop mediation skills by working as an intern for a more seasoned professional. Many organizations that use mediators require you to have a certain number of supervised hours with a veteran mediator before you can handle cases on your own. This is the best way to gain practical skills in a real world environment.
There are also a handful of prestigious mediation programs around the world that are offered by major universities as part of advanced studies for executive education. In the US, Harvard University has established the Harvard Negotiation Institute and the Program on Negotiation. This training program is designed for seasoned executives that want to add alternative dispute resolution techniques to their repertoire.
Mediation skills are also dependent upon a soft skill set that has to be developed and nurtured. Poise, composure, and a neutral countenance are all required of a mediator to create a comfortable atmosphere for the parties to a dispute. These types of skills can often be gained by involving yourself in extracurricular activities in a leadership capacity.
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