Sherry Ann Bruckner, a trained coach, mediator, and speaker, works as a mediator at her own practice called Bruckner Mediation in Alexandria, Minnesota. After over 20 years of experience as a civil and family attorney, Sherry switched paths to pursue a career in mediation, helping people to clarify conflict and facilitate peaceful dialogue. Sherry is also a trainer, teaching peacebuilding classes and conflict resolution training skills such as non-violent communication, empathy, and listening.
Fulfilling her mediation vision board
Sherry’s interest in mediation began in her educational career. Having graduated from Hamline University in Economic and Political Science, she then pursued her JD from William Mitchell College of Law. In her second year of law school, she had taken many mediation courses and began volunteering at a nonprofit organization in Saint Paul, Minnesota, providing pro-bono mediation services. Although Sherry had a deep desire to become a mediator, she listened to voices of doubt, including her own. She spent her legal career practicing law in non-profit organizations. Without discouragement, she found silver linings in all her work. Sherry worked for a statewide tenant advocacy organization in Minneapolis for three years, and “was able to help people who were facing the possibility of losing their homes and appreciate the impact of that work”, she smiles.
After this, Sherry moved to eastern Kentucky where she worked with Appalachian Research and Defense Funds Inc., known as AppalReD, working on domestic violence cases. She recounts her experience saying there existed a very “family-focused culture there, which had a yin and yang element to it”. Leaving Kentucky, Sherry ventured back to Minnesota, working as a legal aid for family and consumer cases at Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota. She also became an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, teaching courses in civil dispute resolution.
With her profound experience in litigation, Sherry admits “I always had that feeling in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something else”. Working with many cases centering on divorces, Sherry remembers the angst and pain that the parties felt, “it was flowing out of them”. Wanting to change her course of the path, Sherry recalls thinking about how mediation could be a better alternative to litigation practices. With this, Sherry took time off to travel, rediscovering her silenced passion. “I put on my vision board, ‘I’m going to open my own mediation practice’”, she says. Then, in 2019 Sherry made a leap of faith and conquered her vision board, opening up her own mediation practice originally naming it “Healing Truth”, as a place for “people to privately share their truth because truth does more than set you free, truth heals”.
“Mediation has such a different mindset”
Sherry explains that as a lawyer, your attitude follows “I want to get the best deal for my client because it’s who you are representing”. There is not much consideration for the emotional cost that litigation surfaces. “Our system is set up so that you file a civil lawsuit and you go to court and follow through with the conferences and pre-hearings taking up so much time, money, and energy. If we reverse the system and say ‘go to mediation first’, encouraging people to really stay future-focused and creating plans that they want, it could drastically reduce the time needed”. Mediation conquers the issue through a different focus, rather than arguing about what the past should have been, they can create a future that meets everyone’s needs.
As a mediator, Sherry explains that the most rewarding part is when people walk in and put all their hate and angst on the table and sort through it, working out their difficulties, and end up walking out communicating in a constructive way. It can be difficult at times to “take off the evaluator hat”, as Sherry calls it. A mediator must allow people to form their own conversations and take ownership for what happened. But, the beautiful difference between litigation and mediation, is that mediation understands the trivial desires of the parties, which sometimes can be as small as an apology. With her expanding business, Sherry smiles “I find joy in mediation, and I will be involved in it probably until the day I die”.
Sherry found MBBI online. She was impressed with the connection between MBBI and Rotary International in peacebuilding. She was intrigued by MBBI and had a deep interest in programs involving conflict with police and community members. As oftentimes police officers perform more mediation cases in one day than most mediators in one week, then “maybe if more people had tools to mediate with empathy, we could create more harmony”, Sherry says.
Marshall Rosenburg, an American psychologist, mediator, and author inspired Sherry with his book Nonviolent Communication. In this book, he explains that at the heart of every conflict is an unmet need. If we are to find this need and communicate our emotions fully, exploring the power of empathy without creating unnecessary tension, then we can break the link between anger and depression. “Everyone has a need and desires to be helped, but sometimes they don’t know how to communicate it, and I want to find a way to bridge that gap”, she says. She concludes, “Mediation has helped in all aspects of my life, from personal to professional relationships. We’re constantly navigating situations, where we need to learn how to communicate with one another, and that is what I feel called to help do”.
Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer