Q1: How did you first get started in mediation?
I was first introduced to mediation when I was studying law at the National University of Singapore (“NUS”). At that time, Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng, who is still teaching now, got together a group of us to conduct peer mediation workshops.
One particularly memorable experience for me was a workshop that we conducted for a boy’s home. At a follow-up session after sharing with them some conflict management and resolution skills, one of them came up to us to thank us. He told us that he had managed to resolve a conflict between his friends using the skills he had picked up, and that it was really satisfying.
I felt for the first time that mediation could really impact lives, and therefore went on to take the mediation course taught by Associate Professor Joel Lee at NUS.
Once I graduated, my practice focused on dispute resolution, in particular, litigation, arbitration, and adjudication. Sometimes, the disputes were resolved by negotiation or mediation, and this enriched my experience as a mediation advocate. I then decided to further my mediation experience by obtaining accreditation as a mediator.
After completing my master’s degree, I went on to take the mediation certification course at the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC). I found value in participating in the SMC courses because I think they imbue valuable interpersonal skills which can be used in everyday life, not just tools to be used in legal practice.
The mediation courses helped me think about how I interact and speak not only with my clients, but others in my life as well. I have been an advocate, and an advocate of mediation, since.
Q2: What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome so far in your mediation career?
One of the greatest challenges I have experienced has been to translate what we learn in theory into practice. It is a steep learning curve, and one that is often fraught with elements outside our control as a young lawyer.
Sometimes, strategic decisions may be made, which, if given a choice, we may have decided differently. For example, one mediation I was involved in as a junior mediation advocate entailed the preparation of 11 boxes of evidentiary documents! Needless to say, many trees were sacrificed in the process unnecessarily.
I look forward to a day where an ecosystem that fully supports mediation is developed and sustained. The setting up of the numerous mediation institutions is an important first step, and it will take much more than that.
I hope one day to see businesses fully utilizing the potential of mediation in their business conflict management strategy, and for the legal fraternity to set up dedicated mediation practices.
Q3: If you could point out something that you feel makes female mediators unique, what would it be?
I do not think that it is gender that makes any mediator unique. It is more a question of each mediator’s own individual style.
For me, it is about recognizing what works for me based on my personality and style and working on other skills to put in my toolbox that may not otherwise come naturally to me. At the end of the day, I think that is what makes each mediator unique.
Having said that, I recognize that parties may nevertheless hold certain perceptions of genders and I think it is important that skilled mediators be ever mindful and alert to these. One danger is to exacerbate the effect of such perceptions by not addressing them and another danger could be to play into such perceptions unwittingly.
Both could lead to unexpected complications in the relationship and communication aspects of a mediation. At the end of the day, as mediators we are not there to change people’s perceptions of gender but to do our best to help them get to a settlement.
Q4: Who are some of your mentors or people you look up to in the field of mediation?
This is a tough one. Two people come to my mind.
One would be Mr. George Lim S.C. Recognizing the potential of mediation, he took the leap early on to focus his legal practice on mediation. Now, his reputation has well extended beyond our shores, and he is one of our most sought-after mediators. In addition, having seen him mediate first-hand, I can see that his practice is a truly impactful and meaningful one. This is a dream that I had aspired towards as a junior mediator.
The other person I really look up to is Associate Professor Joel Lee. As one of the pioneers who started the mediation course at NUS, I do not think it will be an exaggeration to say that nearly half or more of the mediation advocates or mediators in Singapore are actually trained by Joel.
Through his efforts over the years, we now have quite a strong community of lawyers and mediators in Singapore. One Chinese saying I think aptly describes what he has achieved: 桃“李”满天下, which translates roughly to (and don’t hold me to it!) “his students have spread throughout the land”.
To me, both George and Joel are contributing significantly to the development of a sustainable and viable mediation eco-system.
Q5: When you were developing your own style, did you look to people like Mr. Lim and Associate Professor Lee for inspiration?
I did, but what I have come to realize is that what works for them may not work for me. So, while I try to take on board what I can learn from them, I have also had to explore what is most effective for me through practice.
I think one good opportunity to develop your mediation style is in school.
During the mediation course in NUS, I had many opportunities to try different mediation styles and see what works for me through a process of trial and error. The instant and constructive feedback from the trainers was also very helpful.
Q6: How do you see the mediation movement going forward?
I do believe that mediation will continue to gain traction and establish itself firmly as a viable option for dispute resolution alongside the other existing platforms such as litigation, arbitration, adjudication etc.
I think a lot of the ground work for this has already been laid.
The establishment up of the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) in 1997 has contributed a long way towards starting the mediation movement in Singapore. Now, with the establishment of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI) and the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA), it is my hope that the mediation movement will continue to gain momentum in the region.
With greater buy-in from businesses and law firms, I hope we can continue to take steady steps towards creating the eco-system that will sustain the practice of mediation and change the dispute resolution landscape again, as arbitration had once done.
I also hope that more work can be done to introduce mediation into the education system, ideally before the junior college level.
I can see this being a huge step towards growing a collaborative culture in our society. By introducing them to a conciliatory mindset early on in their lives, they are more likely to be able to manage disputes when they grow up. Instead of always feeling like they can only escalate issues to authorities, children will be confident in trying to address it on their own as a first step.
A pro-active mindset like this would benefit not only the children but all of the communities at large.
(Published 26 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)