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Diversity a key component of effective mediation

Toronto mediator Victoria Romero would like to make diversity a pillar of the mediation profession.

Romero, principal of the Toronto mediation firm VR Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com that mediators tend to place themselves in one of two camps.

“The two schools of thought are that a mediator who is good enough can mediate any type of dispute, versus the idea that you need to know the legal area inside out in order to be effective in a mediation,” she explains. 

But Romero, who works on civil cases, as well as estate and family law, says that approach to mediation ignores another crucial aspect that comes into play when a neutral person brings two parties together in an attempt to resolve their differences.

“Yes, you need to have the mediation skills to be able to do a good job, and you also have to be familiar with the subject matter. But with diversity, I’d like to add a third element,” she says. “I believe that it is best when you are able to bring your background and experience to your work and use it to help you be a more effective mediator.

“I think we should be encouraging people with all different kinds of backgrounds, faiths and languages to become mediators so they can help parties resolve conflict in a better way,” adds Romero, who spent her early years in Peru before immigrating to Canada as a teenager.

She says her background often helps her connect with her clients, many of whom are newcomers to Canada with Spanish as a first language. That allows Romero to conduct proceedings in their native tongue.

“When you’re speaking the person's native language and they are more able to express themselves comfortably, it gives the mediation a completely different dynamic,” she says.

But the shared experience doesn’t have to line up perfectly in order for her to make a connection to the parties.

“It doesn’t really matter which country people come from. Knowing what it's like to be an immigrant and how long it takes to get settled, helps people identify with you,” Romero says. “The fact that you have also come to the country, gone to school and worked hard to make something of yourself means that when you speak, they listen more carefully.”  

Still, Romero says diversity is only part of the equation when it comes to her practice.  

“All in all, I think empathy is a survival skill for a mediator,” she says. “Because even if you speak the language, share the background, and understand cultural touchpoints, if you can’t show empathy, then you’re not going to be successful.”

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