Friday, June 29

Mediator Burn Out

It's a risky demon to raise.

How do you know when you're conflict weary - like my colleague a while back?

Like when home needs you to be there for them, but you gave all day at the office.

How do you turnaround and do that?

By the way, I'm asking on behalf of a friend.


Anonymous said...

When I'm burned out, I go to an AA meeting. REALLY! It's not just because my "homies" are there. It's also because the meetings bring me back down to reality. How much I have to be grateful for. How hard people are struggling who are generally invisible to me on a day-to-day basis. The mom who just lost her teenage son to an overdose of heroin. The guy who's living at the Union Rescue Mission but on his 65th day of sobriety (THINK about that for a minute -- this man is all but living on the street and he's STAYING SOBER). People who don't know AA, don't know this: it's a happy place to be because it's filled with hopeful survivors. Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and essayist wrote that if you want to find hope, go to prisons or hospitals. That's where it lives. For those not lucky enough to be recovering alcoholics or drug addicts (yes! lucky) I'd recommend serving soup in your local soup kitchen, visiting shut-in's, playing Bingo at an old folks' home (where lots of US will be in the blink of an eye!) When my step-daugher was unemployed for six months, she joined a group in San Francisco that gives out volunteer opportunities on a day by day basis -- for people who can't commit to longer service. One day she'd be playing with troubled or orphaned kids at a children's facility, the next day serving a hot breakfast to the homeless and a couple of weeks later helping an immigrant learn how to read. The ultimate cure for the blues? Service to those less fortunate than us and the making of a gratitude list for the ridiculous riches that have been bestowed upon us by accident of birth is the few countries that are the wealthiest that the world has ever known. Here's what I learned one bereft Thanksgiving night away from family and friends, answering phones at an AA office -- you can experience love anytime you wish simply by LOVING. The experience of loving and being loved is IDENTICAL. Service. Love. These are the cures for burn-out. And, oh yes, taking a hike in the woods or jogging around a high school track or swimming IN AN OUTDOOR pool. Bringing ourselves back into our physical bodies as they interact with the physical world is amazingly restorative. You'll be ready for conflict again soon. Just remember what the flight attendants tell you -- when the cabin loses pressure - put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help those around you.

Laura L. Noah said...

I’m glad you raised this issue, risky or not. Mediator burn out is something we just don’t seem to discuss as a field. Yet it’s a very real, very important one for all professionals working in conflict resolution. Mediators may benefit from resources other professionals have provided around “compassion fatigue” and “secondary trauma.”

Here's a Compassion Fatigue Self-Test from Ace

You asked: “How do you know when you’re conflict weary?” I think if a mediator is asking him or herself that question, then he or she already knows the answer. Perhaps the next question is: what do I need to take care of myself? Are there people both within and outside of my profession whom I trust will help me through this? Can I take care of myself while I’m continuing to do the work, do I need to take a short break from the work to take care of myself, or should I consider a long, perhaps permanent break?

I think, regardless of how much any of us love what we do, it’s okay – and essential – that as mediators we recognize when we’re tired and burnt out, that we create the space to support one another around it, and that we stop pretending we’re impervious to pain.

My comment got pretty long so I abbreviated it here. I'll post it in its entirety on my blog.

Laura L. Noah

Dina Lynch, said...


I often suggest that new mediators think of themselves as a beautiful glass vessel. Parties rely upon the structure of our vessel and fill it with their concerns, problems, hopes and dreams.

But vessels can be fragile and become full.

Our feelings- of doubt,frustration, resentment or plain apathy- are signals that we can't hold another drop. And when we realize this it's time to find ways to pour out our content and start anew as fresh, empty and hopeful.

This idea has been my salvation as an Ombuds, when organizational concerns are many; and, in my personal life, when family needs require my care and skills. I believe that tending my vessel is as much a part of my professional responsibility as maintaining neutrality or confidentiality.

Maybe if we share this belief as a profession we'll grow in numbers and resilience.

Dina Beach Lynch
Mediation Mensch