Richard Barbieri may have only formally entered into the mediation field after his retirement, but his long career as a teacher and administrator left him with a wealth of knowledge on the nature of conflicts and organizations. Plus, his boundless energy and desire to learn has ensured that in the past seven years he has accomplished enough and engaged so much in the subject that one would have guessed he had been doing this his whole life.
Education and career path
After attending Boston College for his undergraduate degree, Richard went on to Harvard to earn his PhD in English. He started teaching at colleges but after the Vietnam War, the lack of positions in higher education compelled him to switch to working in Preparatory schools. He was then a teacher for 11 years, followed by 14 years running the Association of Independent Schools in New England and then 10 years in schools as an interim school head. This last position allowed him to work and travel all over the east coast and New Mexico. Richard had the opportunity to work in all sorts of schools, from Catholic to Montessori.
It was during these years that he started reading on mediation (Getting to Yes, etc.), and began to be interested deeply in the subject; ‘The higher I got in administration the more I realized I needed to know a lot more about…conflict.’
Discovery of mediation, facilitation, and restorative justice
The move into mediation happened when he was at his last position, in a school in Washington DC. The head of the Harvard Project on Negotiation was conveniently doing a talk on his book, and Richard decided he may as well go to listen. In his words, he was ‘blown away’.
Richard enrolled at once in classes at Harvard in the evenings on mediation and negotiation and he completely fell in love with the field. He then went on to the University of Massachusetts and two certificates in Mediation and Negotiation, and Mediation and Organizational conflict, before earning his Masters in Conflict Resolution.
Richard has been on the board of three highly respected organizations for conflict resolution: the Association for Conflict Resolution (a position which he will hold for another year), the New England Association for Conflict Resolution, and the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program. Around seven years ago, Richard attended a one-day conference on Restorative Justice and found the practice fascinating and compelling, and from then on it became a part of his life, and learned and engaged with the theory. He recently gave a presentation for MBBI on Restorative Justice, inspiring the attendees just as this conference inspired him.
One project that he has been involved in now for around four years involves the facilitation of dialogue and projects between students in the Western world and Muslim students in Northern Africa and the Middle East. The program is called Soliya and involves students and college professors in 30 countries.
He also writes frequently for Mediate.com, and frequently reviews books for ACR. Besides being a prolific writer, he has frequently conducted presentations at ACR regional conferences, the association for professional family mediators, and other organizations.
A Character Built for Learning and for Teaching
Richard is an energetic person and highly engaged in the world around him. When asked for his opinions or for advice he replies with the advice that was given to him that he has found valuable, which truly demonstrates how good he is at listening to others. Through his anecdotes of both successful and unsuccessful mediations and facilitations, he emphasizes how he learned to truly engage with people through always asking questions and allowing them to know that they are being heard. He mentions that he once heard that when one is in conflict, you are being pushed out of your character and that in part is what leads to feeling helpless and stuck. By listening and truly working to understand the parties involved, their feelings are validated and they allow themselves some room to be themselves again.
Richard has excellent advice to people just starting out in the field of mediation and facilitation, especially because he started at UMass at age 66 and knows what it’s like to start from an atypical background. He emphasizes, above all else, the necessity of practicing your mediation skills at all opportunities. When he started his Masters, his adviser told him; ‘If you want to get into this field, parachute in’, advice which he has clearly taken to heart when one looks at his accomplishments in the field – he once mediated a conflict between complete strangers on the street, a success story that shows that sometimes all you need is some confidence and a willingness to listen to people with patience.
Article by Lizzy Nestor, MBBI Writer