BJ Guiden has an extensive mediation background and has been working in the field for over two decades. She is the founder of the Guiden Mediation Group, and in just a few words, the company’s motto “we guide, you decide”, perfectly captures the mediation process. Before becoming a mediator, she worked as a litigation paralegal at a law firm where she witnessed high divorce rates among her loved ones. This pushed her to further strive to preserve her own marriage, and civil and family mediation, especially marriage preservation, became her main motivating factor to be a mediator. She was also not very fond of the directive nature of law and wanted to be involved in something more engaging, and mediation provided just this. Perhaps most importantly, it emphasizes the need and importance of empathy, which means putting oneself in someone else’s shoes and having an open mind and understanding of their situation, even if they are being difficult, and their actions do not seem excusable.
The Beginnings of a Career in Mediation
In order to kickstart her mediation career and achieve her personal relationship goals, BJ enrolled in mediation classes to get her certification. She started with the Dispute Mediation Service (DMS) in Texas and was engaged in co-mediations, landlord disputes, and barking dog disputes.
Ten years into the practice, she got an opportunity to work with the United States Postal Service (USPS) as an independent contractor, where she has been doing redress mediation for over 15 years. She sees it as “an opportunity to help the employees come to a better understanding” of their issues and viewpoints in order to create a healthier working environment, as you can “agree to disagree and keep going.” To her, this is also a way of helping companies invest in their staff and retain their good employees, as there are many instances of competent employees leaving workplaces due to unresolved interpersonal issues with less cooperative ones. This way, those uncooperative employees can be weeded out, and the relationships among the others can be preserved. This will also in turn enhance and maintain the productivity and overall efficiency of an organization.
Picking Your Battles
According to BJ, “When people come to your life, they come for three reasons; a reason, a season, and a lifetime.” While mediation helps mend relationships, there are instances when they have to be dissolved. This does not necessarily mean that anyone is at fault, it just means that the relationships have run their course and can no longer continue. This is an important perspective to have while navigating through life as it is crucial to understand that “everybody is not in your life to stay.” This is especially true for conflicts, as she rightfully points out that agreements do not always have to be reached during crises, and it is okay to not always have answers or reconcile. So, you must “be careful where you put your energy to”. However, in order to do this, one must also identify what their “hot button issues” are, meaning, what their triggers are. This is especially relevant for mediators, as it can help them when dealing with difficult parties and/or issues such as child abuse. This helps prevent unnecessary tension and stress.
MBBI’s Reflective Structured Dialogue Training facilitated by Raye Rawls, was BJ’s formal introduction to the organization. This training stuck with her since then, and according to her, the delivery of the training spoke to her spirit. Active listening was a major part of it and being encouraged to just breathe, reflect, and listen to others without necessarily having to reach an agreement really resonated with her. After that training, she decided to join MBBI as a member and has been involved with the organization and its initiatives such as the TRUST Network.
Building a more positive outlook
BJ’s efforts shifted from helping couples amicably get divorced to helping them stay married and “build a more positive outlook”. For marriages that are still salvageable, marriage check-ups and marriage action plans have proven to be successful in helping couples preserve their unions. Marriage retreats in churches have also proven to be helpful. Because healthy communication is fundamental for the survival of any relationship, empowerment seminars are very helpful in identifying various communication styles. Knowing how to communicate with each other helps prevent misunderstandings and conflict to a great extent, and it helps us accept each other’s differences. This is especially helpful when dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds as it aids us to learn to respect our differences.
Mediation As a Necessity
BJ points out that “there’s going to be a need for mediation in everything.” and believes that the mediation field needs more young people, and wants to start a mentorship program for them. Her advice to new mediators is to do about two to three co-mediations per week and observe other mediation proceedings, and most importantly find their niche and develop it. Community mediation centers are also great resources for new mediators. This way, they can build and enhance their skills and build relationships with other mediators.
With recent rapid technological advancements, BJ also pointed out that artificial intelligence needs to be incorporated into mediation practices. Even though a key aspect of mediation is having a human connection and being able to read and decipher emotions, BJ hopes that as technology continues to advance, it can do this efficiently.
The Next Generation of Mediation
Unfortunately, however, the mediation field is not exempt from racism and its long-reaching effects and this is a challenge that minorities, especially Black mediators face. There is a tendency of being overlooked, disrespected, and marginalized by parties in mediation settings as well as wider structural systems. Therefore, as mediators, BJ stresses the importance of being discerning, and not taking the negative projections of others personally, rather they should be viewed as reflections of themselves and their lack of self-awareness.
This is why it is important to actively listen and separate oneself from the problems and be selective of who and what one engages with. Personal de-stressing practices like meditation can help mediators regroup, recharge, and better decide who they engage with and how they do so. BJ stands to be a mentor, with the many more young mediators joining the field. As she is a minority, a fortune-500 mediator, and a woman, BJ is excited for the future of mediation, especially the influx of younger Black women to the field.
Article by Jainaba Gaye, MBBI Writer