Q1 : How did you first become interested in mediation?
I first learned about mediation while working at the Supreme Court as an Assistant Registrar and concurrently as Assistant Director of Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC). Since I was appointed as Assistant Director of SMC, I told Mr. Loong Seng Onn, Executive Director of SMC, that I should undergo SMC’s mediation training to understand SMC’s work.
I discovered I had an affinity for it and soon after started helping SMC with training, while still working at the Supreme Court. So that is how I started – quite accidentally.
This was the very beginning of my mediation career.
A few years later I received a court-sponsored scholarship to get a master’s degree. I decided to go to Harvard Law School to focus on mediation and negotiation. After coming back to Singapore, I requested to be posted to the State Courts because of their work in the Centre for Dispute Resolution.
Now, as an assistant professor at Singapore Management University (SMU), my area of research is dispute resolution, which covers mediation. One of the main reasons I chose to join academia was to develop my interest in mediation. I still do training with SMC, private mediations, and volunteer with the courts from time to time, but research and writing about dispute resolution continues to be very important to me.
Q2 : What are some of the challenges you have faced so far in your mediation career?
When I first began mediating in the State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution, the biggest learning curve was finding my own style. Some disputants in the State Courts would look at me incredulously because of my relative youth then.
I realized I had to be comfortable with what I brought to the table and be aware of my strengths as well as weaknesses. Even though I did not have a lot of grey hair to show, I could create rapport in other ways. This was especially challenging when I had to mediate between parties with a more traditional mind set who might prefer a more senior mediator.
Thankfully, I was able to build rapport with some of these parties through good use of language skills and most importantly, speaking with respect and deference as a member of a younger generation.
These are some of the challenges I faced in the beginning.
I found that the more I mediated, the more comfortable I felt in my own skin.
Q3: What advice would you give someone interested in getting involved in mediation?
I would advise anyone wanting to get involved in mediation to be open minded and willing to take feedback. This really helped me. One pitfall I have observed is that mediators sometimes build walls around themselves, and are unwilling to accept constructive criticism, thinking that their style is always right.
Instead, I encourage reflective learning so as not to get stuck in bad habits. For example, if a case doesn't settle, it is inevitable that the mediator feels discouraged. But it also is a useful opportunity to reflect on your potential contribution to the situation.
One way to be reflective is to do co-mediation frequently and learn from your co-mediator. Above all else, I recommend learning from others and seeing how you can apply this knowledge to yourself.
Q4: What role do you see gender playing in the mediation process?
I find this to be a very difficult question because it is related to the broader dialogue about whether women are disadvantaged in the working world. As much as I recognize there are gender differences, I do not want to enforce stereotypes.
My only response is that no matter your gender, understand your unique strengths and weaknesses that will influence the mediation.
For me, I realized early on that one of my strengths was being able to listen and empathize without passing judgment quickly on others. I realized this because whenever I was required to make quick decisions as a judge, I struggled to do so without thinking about what the impact would be on everyone. I always had to consider multiple perspectives.
For me, I now know I am more comfortable talking through a problem with someone, rather than imposing my will on them.
I recently listened to a Ted Talk with Andrea Schneider. She gave an amusing, but still intellectually sound talk on "Why women don't negotiate and other similar nonsense". She said she was addressing certain myths about women. She presented a very nuanced view that addressed what characteristics do make a good negotiator: ethics, empathy, social intuition, flexibility, and assertiveness.
In certain women these traits are strong, while in others not as much. In relation to a quality like being “assertive,” maybe It is not that women are not as strong, but rather there is a societal expectation that women are not meant to be assertive. These tendencies can often be overcome by negotiation training.
Q5: Who are some people that you look up to or find inspiration from in the field of mediation?
The one person that comes to my mind is Frank Sander, who passed on a few weeks ago.
After completing my LLM at Harvard, I decided to stay in the US for another year to be a Visiting Researcher. Though he was retired, Professor Sander agreed to be my supervisor and enthusiastically supported my work.
He really made an impression on me, not so much because of what he achieved, but because of his passion for peace-making and making a difference.
These qualities were present not just in his work, but in his character and the way he treated others. He was kind, encouraging, and willing to mentor.
I have learned a lot from my parents as well. My mum's birthday is actually 8 March, International Women's Day!
Growing up, I saw them work through conflicts within the family and with others without becoming jaded. Though they have different personalities, they share the same values, which make them committed to working through problems together.
Q6: Moving forward, where do you see the mediation movement in Singapore going?
When I talk to people like Associate Professor Joel Lee, Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng and Mrs. Chia Swee Tin, who were there at the very beginning of mediation in Singapore, it reminds me that the mediation landscape back then was a far cry from what we have today.
I am quite thankful for the current governmental and institutional support. I think this is very rare and can really facilitate mediation's growth within Singapore as well as across borders.
Going forward, I hope to see the field professionalize. However, the method by which this occurs is important. There always is a great temptation to reach a desired outcome quickly. But sometimes this happens at the expense of the consensual and participatory process that all mediators should embrace.
It is my hope that as more mediators come along, we will continue to work together to build a strong mediation community for the overall benefit of Singapore.
In a different vein, I think there needs to be more theoretical exploration of mediation and dispute resolution. This is why I entered academia – to further develop the theory of mediation.
I want to encourage people to use mediation yet do so in a way that is still consistent with its underlying principles. The article I published in the US asked the question, "Is mandatory mediation an oxymoron?".  I want to keep thinking critically about whether policies such as these would really help mediation flourish or make mediation lose its distinctive trait and become just another part of the legal process.
 Women Don’t Negotiate and Other Similar Nonsense | Andrea Schneider | TEDxOshkosh [Youtube video]
 Mandatory Mediation: An Oxymoron? Examining the Feasibility of Implementing a Court-Mandated Mediation Program"
(Published 28 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)