Towards the end of March this year, for a period of five days from 22 to 26 March 2021, I – together with sixteen (16) other fellow students from South Africa, Namibia and the United Kingdom – embarked on a mediation course presented by the Society of Mediators (London).

It was a most insightful and beneficial experience, which certainly opened my eyes to the remarkable processes implicated in mediation.  Before the mediation course started, thoughts flashed through my mind as to what I, a legal practitioner of some 47 years’ experience, might learn from this course.  These thoughts were soon answered, and any lurking doubts dispelled, when Jonathan Dingle, a leading barrister, mediator and internationally experienced arbitrator, introduced himself as the course leader to the students via the Zoom software platform at 09h30 on Monday morning, 22 March 2021.

Jonathan, an innately friendly and accessible person, with remarkable communication skills, immediately endeared himself to all the students.  This was no doubt going to be one of the very best educational experiences of my lifetime.  And so it was too.  Jonathan, and his co-presenters Andrea Barnes and Zoey White, both of whom have solid South African connections – Andrea, a senior barrister, who is married to a South African from Johannesburg; and Zoey, a family justice, whose family originally hails from the port city of Durban – and both of whom (like Jonathan) are masterful communicators, succeeded in skilfully navigating us through the huge mound of course material, including: (i) Jonathan’s co-authored book on ‘Practical Mediation’ (Second Edition), (ii) ten (10) case studies, (iii) the art of writing an opening brief, (iv) appropriate content of mediation agreements, (v) the vital mediation rules, (vi) a code of conduct for mediators, as well as hands-on guidance in relation to the ‘art’ of keeping the ‘conversation’ between the participants flowing while it moves forward to finding a joint-solution to their problem.

A huge ‘Thank you’ to Jonathan, Andrea and Zoey for this most enriching experience.  It certainly was not easy, but their dedication, devotion and good spirits were bound to make it a very pleasant experience.  Our group of students certainly learnt something most valuable from them during, and through, this course.

Because of its universal application, I would recommend this mediation course to everybody – and not only to would-be mediators – because it teaches one vital skillsets that can gainfully be employed in almost any human activity.  Yes, and I believe that it undoubtedly will be beneficial to judges (whether retired or not), advocates and attorneys too.  The skillsets referred to include, among many others, the art of asking carefully ‘open-ended’ questions, free from any perceived bias; and the importance of listening and hearing, while studiously observing (without any betrayal of disapproving emotional expression) the multifarious facets of psycho-dynamics at play in human interactions.

To Jonathan, Andrea and Zoey, one last word: Thank you for teaching us to, as it were, ‘Go to the balcony’ (with apologies for this slight corruption of the phrase to Ronald Heifetz and William L Ury ‘Getting Past NO’, Bantam Books, Revised Edition), thereby urging us to metaphorically take a step back and to get some perspective about the bigger picture.

Adv Eric Dunn SC
18 May 2021