Communication practices of coaches during mediator training: Addressing issues of knowledge and enactment

AuthorRobert R. Agne,Cindy H. White
Date01 September 2009
Published date01 September 2009
Communication Practices of Coaches
During Mediator Training: Addressing Issues
of Knowledge and Enactment
Cindy H. White
Robert R. Agne
The purpose of this study was to describe how coaches of mediators-in-
training manage interaction in role-play sessions and help trainees
learn about mediation practices. Using a qualitative, discourse analytic
approach, we examined role-played mediation sessions where thirteen
professional mediators each provided coaching to two pairs of student
trainees who had completed training in interest-based mediation (for a
total of twenty-six sessions). We argue that the techniques we observed
at crucial moments in mediation training seemed designed to improve
trainees’ understanding of the mediation process but offered limited
help in teaching trainees how to enact the communication practices
that are essential to mediation. We consider how the demands of giving
advice and assessing communication behavior affect what coaches say to
trainees in these circumstances.
Programs that train individuals in mediation, particularly peer or com-
munity mediation, are abundant (Burrell, Zirbel, and Allen, 2003;
Raines, Hedeen, and Barton, 2008). However, research on such programs
typically focuses on program effectiveness rather than on understanding
how individuals learn mediation skills (Jones, 2004). We actually know
very little about how individuals approach the task of learning to mediate
and how processes of practice and feedback influence learning (Deutsch,
2000). Role-play exercises that include opportunities for feedback through
coaching or discussion are typically assumed to be useful for building
CONFLICT RESOLUTION QUARTERLY, vol. 27, no. 1, Fall 2009 © Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 83
and the Association for Conflict Resolution • DOI: 10.1002/crq.249
mediation skills, and this approach is widely used (Kressel, 2000). How-
ever, the usefulness of coaching for mediation training clearly depends on
what coaches say as they help others learn mediation processes. In fact,
research on coaching feedback and communication skill development in
other areas indicates that for feedback to improve skill acquisition, it must
be timely and highly relevant to trainees (Greene, 2003).
Coaching, as a form of training, might be thought to simply entail
more-experienced individuals sharing reactions or feedback with less-
experienced ones. But from a communication standpoint, coaching is not
a straightforward process. Coaches working with mediators-in-training
face a number of communication dilemmas. They have considerably more
experience and expertise than those in training, and they must find a way
to distill and convey important aspects of their expertise to others who are
just learning about mediation. Also, coaching typically involves drawing
out successful practices through evaluative feedback and advice giving.
Although these may seem like routine interaction endeavors, a number of
complexities of the interaction emerge when experienced or expert indi-
viduals help others learn a process that is, essentially, communicative. By
examining the process of coaching, we can develop knowledge about what
coaches must do to increase trainees’ knowledge of mediation and help
them develop the skills necessary to actually enact that knowledge com-
municatively during mediation. Given that there is very little research on
how mediation techniques are learned and the nature of coaching in this
process, we looked to other areas of research that illuminate processes of
knowledge acquisition and describe communication practices in advice
giving and supervision. Specifically, we draw from research on how super-
visors and trainees in other contexts negotiate feedback and how advice or
feedback is given in actual interactions.
The purpose of this article is to analyze how a typical practice in medi-
ator training—coaching—is enacted. We conducted a qualitative analysis
of twenty-six role-played sessions where thirteen professional mediators
provided coaching to student mediators; analysis focused on the discourse
of coaches as they helped mediators-in-training understand what to do in
mediation sessions. We analyzed coaching behavior during times when the
coach or mediator trainees stopped the session for clarification or discus-
sion. We found that coaches’ suggestions focused on helping trainees
understand problems in mediation and embodied many of the ideals of
interest-based mediation practice. However, the coaching practices
revealed in this study typically did not identify or demonstrate for trainees

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