Q1: How did you get started in mediation?
After leaving my teaching position, which I enjoyed for a good 17 years, I embarked upon the next stage in my life, volunteering in the areas of counselling and mediation. I enrolled in training courses to prepare myself for this new beginning.
I first began volunteering with the Eagles Mediation & Counselling Centre (EMCC) in 1998 and learned a lot from the professionals there. I started volunteering with them since their inception in 1998. It is here where I piqued my interest and love for mediation.
To sharpen my mediation skills, I undertook the Negotiation summer course at Harvard and a divorce mediation program in Colorado Springs, USA. This formal training and on-the-job learning honed my skills as a mediator and enhanced my voluntary service.
Over the years, mediation has become so much more than something I do as a volunteer.
My enthusiasm some say is tangible!
As a former teacher, my love for teaching has never waned, and I continue to appreciate the opportunity to share my knowledge with others. I am glad to be able to support educational programs such as the Peacemakers Conference, which I have been a part of for the past 10 years. I value the experience because teaching and working with students is very much at my core.
Both my late-husband, Chia Kok Leong, who bolstered me with support, and the EMCC, which educated me when I was just starting out, are the two important foundational blocks of my mediation journey.
Looking back, I am both humbled and grateful indeed for the many wonderful opportunities, mutual learning and support, and for the forging of strong bonds with like-minded mediation volunteers and experts.
Q2: As a mediator, what are some of your most gratifying moments?
There are too many moments to count. Every time I participate in a mediation, I believe that something special happens. This does not necessarily mean the case is settled, as this is just one way of measuring success.
To me when people find moments of clarity or resolution, these are the moments that I feel most privileged to be in their lives.
Dealing with families has been one of the most exhilarating part of my work as a mediator. Also, being a Christian, I personally feel that my faith, the set of unspoken values and ethics that I bring to the mediation table, often helps the process yield amazing outcomes.
When members of a family dawn upon their moments of clarity by moving past their quandaries and back on track – this is what I find most fulfilling. I cannot agree more with the Bible truth that "it is more blessed to give than to receive".
Let me share an example – I had a case involving a pair of twins and their parents. The relationship between twins and mum were strained for many years and mum eventually filed a petition for maintenance. The twins specifically instructed the staff that they did not want to meet their mum in person and hence, the two parties were placed in separate rooms.
With no wish to shuttle between the two rooms, I gently but firmly held the hands of both twins and coaxed them: "Come and march in with Mrs. Chia to see your mother."
Though both were apprehensive, I am glad that they chose to put their trust in me; and it was most gratifying to witness the ensuing decent conversation between mum and twins over the mediation table.
Like I said earlier, I consider such moments of joy my reward as a mediator and count it as a blessing.
Q3: What are some of the challenges you have experienced?
There are so many – every case is a unique challenge on its own!
A central challenge I find involves the theory on the "Four Stages of Competence". It talks about the four stages we all have to overcome when learning something new and I think this applies to mediation quite well.
The theory goes first, when experiencing something new, we are unconscious of our of incompetence. Then, we move to being conscious of our incompetence. In the third stage, we become unconscious of our competence. And finally, after much hard work and introspection, we end up as conscious of our competence.
Every move we make in mediation is strategic, so I try to use this theory to guide the process along. It is important to have this in mind from the beginning, because it helps set the tone.
The most challenging part of a mediation is this critical commencement and building of rapport, from here we start down the path towards a mutually beneficial outcome.
Q4: What do you think makes female mediators unique?
In general, I do not think there are significant differences between male and female mediators. Each gender and each individual, regardless of gender, is unique and brings with him or her a distinctive style.
However, I do believe the combination of pairing a male and female mediator together yields power dynamics that results from the synergy between gender-specific traits.
Q5: What advice do you have for those interested in mediation?
The energy and optimism of a mediator are often considered the most important contribution that he or she can make.
In addition, a mediator’s “person-hood” must come out when they conduct a mediation – their warmth, sense of humour, and ability to establish rapport and gain trust – these are all critical.
Hence, for aspiring mediators, I think personality and personal inclinations are of paramount importance.
You must have a genuine interest in people and a desire to really care for them, be truly empathetic and respectful, patient and persistent, and possess the utmost integrity and a high dosage of neutrality.
My mother used to describe me as a "kaypoh" – a Singlish term to call a busybody who likes to pry into the business of others. It is not always used in a flattering way, but for me, it actually portrays my non-conformist persona. I love to learn about the matters of other people, so I know how to be a blessing to them. Therefore, I was never bothered by how others might perceive my ‘busybody-ness’.
I might be seen as a kaypoh by being genuinely interested in people, but it is a role that I relish and being a mediator allows me to use my natural inclination for a positive outcome for others.
Many people think that one needs to have some legal background to become a mediator. On the contrary, my take is that mediation is not just for lawyers. Being a lawyer is useful because your mind is trained to think a certain way.
I love working with lawyers and see myself as providing the complementary role – a balance as a co-mediator. My forte is in dealing with the emotional elements.
I strongly believe that everybody has something to contribute to society.
Learning is one way to empower us and make a difference for someone else. Learning is a continuum and we can learn not only from the experts, but also from our peers and personal observations. In my case, I have always looked to my peers since I first started.
To this day, I continue to learn from those around me, many of whom are younger than myself. And it pays off!
Q6: What are some of your hopes for the mediation movement going forward?
I think people in Singapore are beginning to know more about mediation. The growth of mediation has been intense. Our government continues to boost Singapore’s position as a dispute resolution in hub in many ways, across disciplines.
I believe we do not need to wait long for the day when mediation becomes ingrained in people’s minds as a common alternative to litigation. It should be a career that people aspire to; a noble profession.
On a personal level, it is my desire to see increasing mediation education for young people in schools. I strongly believe organizations like Peacemakers are on the right track.
Young people are teachable; they are quick learners. It is generally not the Asian cultural norm to express emotions. So, it is important to teach our young people the skills to articulate and manage emotions and resolve disputes.
When my granddaughter was in the kindergarten in the U.S., her classroom had a ‘peace table’. Children would write down issues that came into their head and play ‘peace-making’ around the table. The vocabulary that they adopted in the process was much more conciliatory than what I had used at that age.
It is indeed wonderful that the spirit of mediation was introduced so early on and I think we could and should do likewise here in Singapore.
The time is ripe for imparting mediation skills to the young and those called to make mediation their challenging, rewarding and socially beneficial work of the heart.
 Developed at Gordon Training International, USA
(Published 30 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)