Interview with a Mediator & Conciliator

A/N – I first met our inspirational interviewee when I took on the role of CEO at Lifeline Top End. 

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I had a good education in the UK and a mother who believed her daughters were entitled to be educated as well as her son. I did an honours maths degree Imperial College, London and went straight into secondary school maths teaching in 1957.

Sex without marriage in those days was a dicey option so I married in 1958 and between 1963 and 1967 had three children. Five years home as a full time mother drove me nuts so I was fortunate to be able to return to teaching part-time at an exclusive girls boarding school with a crêche!

My husband successfully applied for a job in Darwin in 1970 and migrated in September. The children and I followed in December (I had to give a term’s notice) and actually arrived on 1/1/71. Over the 18 1/2 years from July 1962 to December 1980 I was out of full-time work but involved in many things, including occasional teaching and studying for a Diploma in Secondary Education.

I spent 3 years with AMP discovering that I was better at teaching than at selling (but saving myself from 24 hours a day immersed in teenagers!) then returned to teaching.

By the end of 1982 my husband and I had separated and he subsequently re-married. I spent 1984 to mid-1989 in secondary schools, always teaching maths, of course! I was then fortunate to be accepted to the staff of the maths section of ITAFE, under the umbrella of the then NTU (now CDU) in mid-1989 and I remained there until January 2005.

From 1993 to 1996 I had completed a Master of Science (Science Education) [really maths education, but there was no separate category!] by thesis through Curtin University of Technology. During my last semester as a maths lecturer in 2004 I commenced studying law, continuing as a full-time student through 2005 until the end of 2007. I also undertook the LEADR Mediation Training Course in 2006 and during 2007 completed all the theory involved in the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice as well as the last 5 units in the law course.

Once I had completed the placement component of the GDLP, I was admitted as a Barrister & Solicitor at the Supreme Court of the NT in February 2008. I practiced as a lawyer, mainly in the criminal law area, until the end of June 2012 and retained my practising certificate until the end of June 2015 so that I could continue to provide occasional free legal advice at the sessions conducted by the Darwin Community Legal Service. Since 2012 I have been engaged in conducting occasional mediations through the Community Justice Centre and in August 2015 I completed a Conciliator Masterclass for the Anti-Discrimination Commission, again conducted by LEADR.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
My upbringing and the nature of the education which I was privileged to have (all free in those days!) left me with an unwritten obligation to put back into society. I was brought up as a Christian and have no problem accepting the ethical standards, it expects, but have too much of the scientist in my nature to accept blind faith. So I am an ethical agnostic and, as the Dalai Lama says, recognise that I am here to help others – as well as enjoying my own life!

I realise that I have had privileges not shared by all and have skills which I can use to help others. My motivation to study law – which built up over a 30 year period! – was driven by the many examples I encountered of people whose lives were damaged or destroyed because they could not afford legal advice.

Mediation requires the facilitation of a discussion between two parties in dispute in the hope of their arriving at a solution they can both live with. Mediations conducted through the Community Justice Centre (CJC) are free so the parties do not incur costs and can avoid the adversarial approach taken by lawyers.

Win-win beats win-lose hands down! Whether I am good in my chosen field is for others to say. I know I try to do my best to help others when possible.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
Over time I have been involved in a voluntary/honorary capacity in many organisations. Since coming to Australia I have been in various roles and representative capacities with the boards and committees of the Parap Pre-School Association, the NT Pre-School Association, the Inaugural Council of the Family Planning Association of the NT (including its Education Sub-Committee), The Housing Commission, the Mathematics Teachers Association of the NT, the CDU Law Students Society, Undergraduate Member of the CDU Council, Life Education NT, Lifeline Top End, Darwin Community Legal Service and the Environmental Defenders Office.

I am currently on the Human Research Ethics Committee of CDU and, some years ago represented the School of Technology on one of the NTU Ethics Committees. I guess all that adds up to feeling that I want to be involved and help with important decision making without necessarily having to carry the entire weight of an organisation on my own shoulders!

What can be challenging about your profession?
It is hard to now define my profession! I still take a strong interest in maths education and am appalled by the fact that the desperate need for maths teachers in 1957 shows no sign (in 2015) of having been in any way ameliorated by subsequent actions.

I personally feel that education needs a complete overhaul and teachers should not be regarded as surrogate parents! Parents need to learn how to socialise their own children (and I know from experience that is more easily said than done!) Bureaucrats with no recent classroom experience are not in a position to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

As far as the law is concerned, I am far happier with alternative dispute resolution methods. Law and justice are too often poles apart and enforced solutions are less palatable than ones reached from some degree of consensus.

More so today than at any time in my life, I want to change the world. Governments are making life harder not better for the majority of the population and the gap between the privileged and the desperate has become massive. Through Facebook and Twitter I am discovering how vast is the apathy of an alarmingly large proportion of the population who seem locked into the consumerism and ‘I’m all right” modus operandi. I will not despair, but it is a challenge!

What do you most like about your profession?
I think the most satisfying thing in my life these days are having the parties to a mediation shake hands, smile at each other and walk out putting their dispute behind them!

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
I had a matter before the Master in the Supreme Court. Because those at the bench have a microphone which enables recording of all that they say for the benefit of the transcript, I suspect they do not appreciate that they often do not speak loudly enough to be heard in the body of the Court. On this particular occasion, as I could not hear what the Master had said I asked him to repeat it. I got a curt “Are you deaf Ms Jacob?” to which I probably replied “yes” since it would have been inappropriate to suggest the fault was not mine.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most embarrassing experience was when – as a very inexperienced lawyer – I took on a matter that had previously been handled by a lawyer in a different practice who was not free to continue with the client. I did not know enough about Court procedure and the complications which arose left me with nightmares. I knew I had not helped the client and was entirely mortified.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Train and practice as a mediator BEFORE you study law. You do not need to be a lawyer in order to mediate but the skills you develop as a mediator can be invaluable to a lawyer. The adversarial nature of the Court (and politics) is destructive and learning to help people talk to each other is more rewarding than fighting counsel for the other party! Incidentally – mediation has an approximately 80% success rate!

Is there anything else you would like to share? I think we all have a great many different personalities and which one we exhibit depends on the company and the circumstances. You may bring out the best in someone whereas I might bring out the worst. (I think our recently deposed PM brought out the worst in me and we have not even met!).

I am deeply concerned about the damage that extremism in religion is doing to the world. In my opinion, power corrupts and this can be seen in both religion and politics. Religion should help everyone to live as nearly as possible in harmony – accepting that some people’s brains are not appropriately wired for this goal – and if it causes wars and worse, how can you believe it is the right way to think?

For me, if I am remembered for a short while by a few people after I die, then I will have a life after death. It may not be for eternity, yet if my ashes return to the ground, then even eternity might be an option!

Rosemary Jacob & Michelle Hanton
Michelle Hanton and Rosemary Jacob

Rosemary Jacob (nee Melville) is today a practising Mediator and Conciliator available in Darwin, NT, Australia, through the Community Justice Centre, to undertake mediation and conciliation.

An Interview with a Ghost

My younger self - Kashmir
My younger self – Kashmir c1977

Do you remember wondering what you would like to do during your late teens and early twenties?

When I was making the transition from educational life to working life, I was keenly interested in career options and in hearing about others’ experiences – particularly if they were in a field I was considering.

It’s occurred to me that, within my network alone, there’s probably several hundreds of years’ worth of experience and insights, which the young me would have found informative at that stage in my life.

The idea of sharing with the younger generation appeals to me, so I’ve come up with the “Interview With A (job title)” series. I’d love to know what you think of the concept and if you’re willing to contribute.

Here’s the first instalment

Interview with a Ghost

I:      How did you get into ghost writing?

G:     By accident, or serendipity … I’ve always written, since I was a kid.   In my working life, I was asked to write skits, newsletter pieces, marketing collateral, training material.   Mostly corporate stuff.   About 8 years ago we were managing an international event for the not-for-profit sector and needed a no-cost means of promotion.   So I wrote print media community interest pieces which journos ran under their own by-line.   It worked really well.   The event had participant numbers equivalent to the Winter Olympics.   That was really the start of my ghost writing.

I:      What makes a good ghost writer?

G:     Understanding the target audience and having a good handle on the personality, or entity, you’re ghosting.

I:      How do you achieve that?

G:     I’m from a sales background, which is all about representing your organisation and communicating their product or service in ways that are relevant to the target audience’s interests and motivations.   With ghost writing, you’re putting yourself in another person’s shoes and thinking from their perspective.   We (Dragon Sisters) use a range of tools and research to get to know a client and their audience, to make the content authentic, personalized and engaging.

I:      Who uses ghost writers, and why?

G:     In my field, public figures, professionals and all kinds of businesses and organisations use ghost writers for promotional purposes.   The reason is that they are too busy and or, they don’t know how to write strategic, engaging content themselves.   There’s a surprising number of PR agencies who sub contract to us.   Audience engagement and growth is faster and more effective through social media and on-line platforms than any other professional and business development means.   In marketing terms, strategic content creation is king.

I:      What mediums do you mostly write for?

G:     Blogs, articles, newsletters, marketing collateral including websites and of course, social media – mostly LinkedIn and Facebook.

I:      What can be challenging about your job?

G:     Writers block! It can be a bit of a challenge since all my work is deadline dependant. Weirdly though, I often come up with better stuff working under pressure than when I’m cruising.   Luckily!

I:      What do you least like about your job?

G:     Time zones.   Sometimes I’m racing to beat the clock at 2am because I know my client across the globe will be getting up and getting on line then.

I:      What do you most like about your job?

G:     Great clients!   Many of my clients are over-seas or inter-state so I never get to meet them face-to-face, but ghosting them creates a unique relationship; they trust me with their reputation and that creates quite a bond.   I really like all the clients I work with.

I:      What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?

G:     I wrote a bit of an off-the-wall skit for a national conference when I worked with Vodafone.   I wasn’t told ‘til the 11th hour that I’d be the one to deliver it.   I had to wear a ridiculous get-up and I had the public speaking skills of a sausage.   Thank God there were no iPhones or social media sites back then!

I:      What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

G:     Appearing on the Bert Newton Show.   (It was a long-running Australian national TV show).   That was a horrible 10 minutes which felt like 10 hours.   I was so nervous I thought I would throw up over the presenter; a very elegant, popular presenter named Moira.   (Moira was very thin – it’s true what they say about the camera adding pounds – and next to her, I looked like a nauseous blimp).

I:      What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out in your field?

G:     Where I started out and where I’ve ended up (so far) are really different places and I’ve taken some circuitous routes, during which I’ve learnt that nothing is ever wasted in terms of building experience and skills.   So my advice would be:   when an opportunity presents itself, even if it’s apparently not on the trajectory towards your immediate goal, make room to accommodate that experience; you never know where it might lead, even much later in life, and there’s no substitute for experience.   If you want to write, a wealth of experience makes for a nice fat memory bank – which is a great resource for any writer to have – and especially for a ghost writer, where you have to relate to a diverse client base and target audience.

Photo of Yvonne Toering
Yvonne Toering 2015

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant and ghost writer with Dragon Sisters, Australia.

My next steps

In Australia, July 1st marks the start of a new financial year. For most businesses, regardless of size, the precursor to this is a period of frenzied activity. Wrapping up the old financial year and preparing for the new: creating new strategies, setting and taking new directions, evaluating the past year’s performance success factors and deciding where to focus energies and resources next. It’s a part of the year-end process that I enjoy because it is a wonderful period of reflection where the results are normally visible and measurable. I derive great enjoyment from my involvement with my clients and personal students, both as a business woman, a teacher and as a bespoke coach.

En route with my niece
Singapore stopover with my niece

This year, the 1st of July also marked the date I arrived back in Australia after almost a year spent working in Europe. Instead of travelling solo, as I so often do, I was accompanied by my 13-year-old niece, who I was bringing on her very first visit to Australia. My son, who’s been spending the last couple of months in Europe was also accompanying me. We took time out to make a short stopover in Singapore and introduce Alexa to a little part of this island that hold so many memories for all the Van Buerle family.

My very long journey back also allowed me plenty of thinking time. Time to reflect on what direction to pursue next in life. Teaching, guiding and coaching is such a rewarding, enriching, privilege on so many different levels, not least of which, is the sense of making a significant contribution to both the personal and business growth of clients and students alike. The wonderful thing about introducing new experiences, concepts, thoughts and ideas is that I can help people develop and grow so that they can achieve their goals regardless of whether on a personal or business level. Alexa’s experiences on this trip to Australia will be with her for the rest of her life. She will be able to use them as building blocks for her future. It is not too dissimilar to the experiences I offer my clients in the sense that it is building capacity for growth.

There is a misconception that a coach/mentor is a guru-like figure who spends their time telling lesser mortals what they should be doing when, in fact, nothing is further from the truth. It is about greater understanding, empathy, trust, respect, confidentiality, mutual liking and being on the same wavelength. It’s an egalitarian relationship of strong integrity and authenticity. I often develop a special relationship with those I work with and in some cases it even becomes an ongoing friendship.

My role as a coach/mentor has developed from working with diverse cultures and organizations. People began to consult me on matters that they were ‘stuck on’, life and business areas that they wanted better results from, identifying ways to move forward, strategies to move in new directions. My business achievements, life experience, cultural range and above all, my passion for progressive, empowering growth, seemed to resonate with individuals from widely varying backgrounds, age groups and levels of experience. They all have had the common objective of wanting to effect positive, meaningful change.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You could say that this kind of work crept up on me. I’ve found that there is nothing more fulfilling than working, either as a coach, mentor or teacher, to facilitate the achievement of powerful outcomes. With the wonders of technology, it does not seem to matter where I am geographically. My only real limitation of being able to help more people is time. Whilst working full-time I was only able take on a very small number of personal clients which was why the year in Europe was so wonderful, as it opened up considerably more free time in my work diary.

On my long journey from Barcelona to Darwin, I had time to think carefully and decide that I am making the time. I do not want to be bogged down in a corporate job. Sure a high salary is nice, but at the end of the day it is not fulfilling for me. Instead, I have decided that I am making the time to do what I really enjoy and that is being able to take on a few more personal clients through our Dragon Sisters global network. I am very happy with this decision and excited to think about the new goals, the new solutions and the new individuals that I’ll be able to work with over the next twelve months.

So, to all those who’ve been asking whether I will be available this year, the answer is yes. If you or someone you know is struggling to find solutions to achieve business ambitions or just generally wants to get life on track, I’d be happy to have a confidential, exploratory ‘chat’ about how I may be able to help.

Michelle

P.S. You can contact me via michelle@dragonsisters.com.au

Living in the moment

When I was a child a year seemed like an awfully long time. It was an unbearable wait till Christmas rolled around each year. At boarding school the terms seemed to drag on interminably whilst I counted down the days until school holidays. I think that’s pretty normal for kids, approaching life with gusto, keen to move on to whatever comes next.

I remember wishing that I was 16, then I wanted to be 18 and before I knew it I was celebrating my 21st birthday. After that the years fled by at the speed of light. The older I get the faster they whizz past.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become much more aware of how important it is to cherish the precious moments in life. It’s not about the places. It’s about the moment we are in. We don’t have a rewind button so we absolutely have to enjoy experiences the first time round. I think many of us struggle with remembering to live in the moment, after all how often do you find yourself walking or driving along thinking about what you will cook for dinner tonight, or about a meeting you have to attend, a place you want to go next or something else in either the past or the future?

When we do these kinds of things (and hey, I’m as guilty as the next oappreciating_full_400f this), what we are actually doing is robbing ourselves of time to enjoy and appreciate what surrounds us at that very moment and place in time.

I know that when I am consciously in that exact moment, I notice so much more. My powers of observation are much sharper and this is a good thing. I am focussing on what is right there in front of me. It might be the beauty of some little detail on a building I pass, a wonder of nature, or a subtle unspoken key that a family member, friend or colleague is transmitting.

If we are too busy looking forward to a future point in time, we are cheating ourselves of experiencing life to the fullest. Some of the happiest people I know are not those who have everything but rather those who truly appreciate and take the time to live in the present moment.

It’s not so easy to do but I highly recommend trying to slow down, to appreciate the here and now rather than dwelling in the past thinking about what we could have or should have done. It’s past and can’t be undone. Don’t dwell too much on the future either because nothing is certain. Instead, enjoy today – as the old cliche says ‘that’s why it’s called the present’.

Michelle

PS I’ve often spoken about the importance of living in the moment but I’ve never put it down in a blog but I was inspired recently by Marie Griffith with More painful th..to write it all down.

Action Plans

The New Year is a time when people often make resolutions that are not kept so rather than make resolutions I find that this a fabulous time to have a personal planning session with myself.

I use this as a time to clean out and sort out in both the physical and also mental sense. It’s wheConfined by the walls that you buildn I consider and plan my options and directions for the next 12 months. A big part of the planning process is to review my Action Plan ( I am currently in year 3.5 of my current 5 year plan).

Yesterday was my review day and it’s always interesting to pull out my blue note book (which I started in August 2010) and check to see how I am tracking. The purpose is twofold:

1) I can check off what has been achieved – which is always motivational for me as I usually find I’m able to tick off quite a few items. I do love to be able to physically tick off an item in a lovely coloured pen! Yes, I am old fashioned it’s a nice hard copy. It’s personal choice but I do find this so much more solid and satisfying than an electronic document.

2) I review where I am and tweak the plan as necessary. Being willing to tweak and make adjustments is absolutely necessary on any Action Plan since circumstances change which influence how I might need to proceed. If I didn’t tweak and adjust then it would not be a living document and therefore quite worthless.

As part of my review for the year I also take the time to look over and update my resume because I never know what’s around the corner and it’s always good to be prepared for opportunities.

What does yours look like and do you need a hand polishing? I’ll be happy to send you my tip sheet for making sure a resume stands out from the crowd.

Michelle

Reflections of 2014

I’m currently sitting at home, in Darwin, outside by the pool but under the cover of the roof as the first day of 2015 has begun with a wonderful tropical rainstorm. The dogs, Janie and Mollie, are curled up close to me, one at my feet and the other on the outside couch. We are all enjoying the coolness that the beautiful rains have brought this morning, the grass is almost growing right before my eyes and the pool is overflowing.

If you’ve never experienced a Darwin wet season it is indeed something very special. The senses come alive as you inhale the unique smell of fresh, tropical rain, the humidity seems to disappear and the chorus of frogs sing their joy at the arrival of the rains.

2014 has be10410992_10152931194254551_6878165051114676969_nen an incredible year and New Years’ Day is a time to reflect on how blessed I have been. 2014 was the year that included Sasha graduating in February from Bond University. We used the time to have a family catch up and all booked into the Sofitel at Broadbeach for 3 nights which was just lovely as precious time was spent with Mum, Dad, my sister Yvonne, niece Ellie and of course Sasha. The graduation itself was a very proud moment for everyone.

In June, my Uncle Harry, the eldest of the Van Buerle clan, passed away suddenly but peacefully in Perth which was a very sad but his funeral was a family occasion which allowed a reunion and reconnection with distant family members and the Van Buerle connections all over the globe were strengthened.

July saw me relinquish my role as CEO of Lifeline Top End as the time had come for me to concentrate my energies on other areas which included, hopefully, living in Europe for a year.

August was the biggest change of all as this was when I left Australia for the World Club Crews Dragon Boat championships in Ravenna with the Waterfront Warriors team. After the championships I remained in Europe catching up with former collegues and friends in Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.

I ended up basing myself in Spain which has allowed me to have precious me time to take a well-earned rest from the last three and a half very hectic years in which so many things have changed in my life.

It’s been wonderful to be at home for the Christmas holidays, fantastic to see Sasha and Wayne again who’ve done a wonderful job of looking after the house. I’ve also really enjoyed spending my birthday with family and friends, Christmas Day with my cousins, and now having my brother Robert here from the UK.

Myself with Wayne and Sasha – my two beautiful adult children

I’m very fortunate to have two wonderful children who are always supportive of each other and our family, great parents, a wonderful brother and sister and 2 fantastic nieces.  Although we might not all live close by, or even in the same country we are always there for one other and in a time of crisis can be by one others side very quickly. This is the gift that was given to us by my parents – a strong family unit.

May 2015 be another year of wonderful opportunities for everyone and I look forward to sharing many more adventures, making special memories and helping many of you achieve your maximum potential over the next 12 months.

Michelle

Changing our lives

Have you secretly (or maybe not so secretly) thought you would like to change your life in some way, shape or form? I know lots of people have but feel they can’t do anything for one reason or another. Family, kids, parents, finances, pets and a myriad of other thing are usually cited as the reasons for being unable to change. People depend on you, you can’t afford it and so on the reasons go. Many of the reasons are very valid but there is always something that can done to effect some type of change towards goals and ambitions.

I want you to think for a moment about how we all began life. As a baby we came into the world and faced enormous challenges. We needed to grow up – and if you think about it, growing up is a series of changes that take place with the biggest changes being in our early years. We start with small steps, milk and then onto solid food with the consistency getting firmer as we move through the learning to eat phase.

At the same time we learn to become more in control of our bodies. In the beginning we need our heads to be supported, to be picked up and carried everywhere. Then one day we learn we can roll over. Amazing! We can turn over all by ourselves. We might not be able to turn back, so we get frustrated and cry for help at which point some adult comes along and helps us.

Think about how a child learns to walk, first they crawl, pull themselves up on furniture for support, wobble about fall on their bums occasionally and finally, one day, they just let go and wobble off on shaky legs.

Well it’s the same concept if you want to make changes within your life, one step at a time and gradually the confidence builds and off ynewstartou go!

It may be that your 2015 ambitions are firmly embedded in your mind but you aren’t sure of how to go about making those changes or you might still be thinking about what direction you want to head in. This is where the support of a mentor, life coach, advisor or whatever name you want to give such people can be very helpful. The key is to make sure that whoever you choose is a good fit for what you want to achieve as it is definitely not a case of one size fits all.

How do you know if they’re the right person? Check out their track record and find out whether they just talk the talk or whether they have life experience? Ask questions and if you’re not happy with the answers keep looking.

I am selective about who I choose to work with and my clients always appreciate a 100% confidential environment, although I know some people prefer to work as part of bigger groups where there is less cofidentiality control and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It comes down to personal choices and what works best for each individual. For me a decision is always based on whether I feel I can help someone to achieve their goals and if they feel comfortable to be open with me and most importantly if I will be happy working with them. If not, then I recommend others (often within my network) as after all this is very much all about personalities and ensuring the approropriate fit in order to create the right environment to achieve best outcomes.

If you’d like to explore options on how the team at Dragon Sisters, or myself personally,  may be able to help maximise your potential and achieve your ambitions, be they personal or professional, contact us now and plan to make 2015 the start of effecting positive changes for yourself.

Michelle

PS I’d also love to hear you share any ways you have chosen to effect changes in your life.