What’s a Heat Exchanger got to do with it? – Mediation re-imagined

Ground heat exchangers at One Angel Square, Manchester, England By Rept0n1x – Daytrip to Manchester (44), CC BY-SA 2.0 – Wikimedia commons

Ground heat exchangers at One Angel Square, Manchester, England
By Rept0n1x – Daytrip to Manchester (44), CC BY-SA 2.0 – Wikimedia commons

Australian law schools have a broad range of Masters programs offering subjects in the ADR space. One of the most interesting qualities of the current Masters cohort is that it is no longer a group dominated by lawyers and would-be lawyers.

Amongst other influences, the commercial imperatives pushing higher enrolments have strengthened cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary promotion of programs. The result is that today, Masters students in our law schools now come from very diverse cultural, professional and educational backgrounds. Not only are classes culturally richer for the more diverse student profile, particularly the international cohort, but the professional backgrounds are spread over a far wider field.

This means that how and what we teach needs to be re-examined as we academics rise to the challenge of dealing well with differences.

The move from homogenous to heterogeneous has brought into the ADR postgraduate space doctors, social workers, engineers, architects, journalists, accountants and social scientists, to name a few. They all have their own language and narrative and draw on different thinking and reasoning tools.These different technical and professional approaches have brought great benefits including an appetite to challenge the legally influenced, conventional language about process and concepts. We are the richer for it.

Enter the Heat Exchanger.

Last semester I had the privilege of teaching Ahsan Ashraf (whose work I draw on with his permission) in the Mediation in Commerce program at Melbourne Law School. Ahsan is an international student currently studying in Australia and working here as a construction engineer on a major infrastructure project.

He is not a lawyer but is taking some subjects available in the law school Masters program. As we investigated the mediation matrix Ahsan worked hard to join the dots. He felt the concepts were familiar but he needed to find his own reference point for them. His thinking and reasoning tools were not linear and we all recognised that if he could find a connection, this would be useful in his engagement with mediation which is itself a flexible, non-linear process.

Turning to his own discipline he finally made a connection that spoke to him. He wrote:

‘Mediation involves a very similar process to a heat exchanger; a thermodynamic equipment used in refrigeration equipment. In a heat exchanger, a hot and a cold fluid are made to flow in tubes at a controlled rate to exchange heat.[1] The level of heat exchanged between the two fluids depends upon the surface area between them. Through this engagement, the two fluids exchange heat to minimize the difference in their temperatures.

Similarly, in mediation, the two parties undergo through a facilitated negotiation process, at a preferably slow pace, to exchange their views about a dispute.[2] The process essentially is a heat exchange where the parties express their emotions, anger and anxiety.[3] This exchange of heat minimizes the differences between the positions of the parties and opens channels of communications. The whole process remains uninfluenced and parties are only facilitated to share information in a natural manner very similar to a heat exchanger resulting in a win/win situation for both parties.’

We continued to brainstorm his ideas in class and Ahsan was challenged to translate his ideas into his own version of a mediation matrix which would communicate mediation concepts to his constituency in a way that conventional mediation materials do not. And then – to add even more power to his analogy – he did what all good engineers do.

He constructed a flow chart of his mediation heat exchanger.

I reproduce it below with his permission.

Flow_chart

It is a great example of the kind of creativity that is valuable for teaching, practising and thinking about mediation.

Perhaps even more importantly, it is an example of cross-disciplinary thinking in the teaching and practice of ADR processes.

Ahsan’s gift to the class (and to me).

[1] Stephen Turns, Thermodynamics: Concepts and Applications (Cambridge University Press, 2006) 492.

[2] James Alfini et al, Mediation Theory and Practice (Lexis Nexis, Second Edition, 2006) 1.

[3] Ibid 33.

NOTE: This article was first published on The Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network Blog.  https://adrresearch.net/2017/06/20/whats-a-heat-exchanger-got-to-do-with-it-mediation-re-imagined/