A few weeks ago, I decided that, instead of Zumba, I would hop on a train to Maidenhead for a talk being given by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrator (the invite had been sent through the IChemE Thames Valley group email).
I managed to come back with three important lessons, which could be applied anywhere in life.
There was a bit of a “Am I in the right place?” moment when I first entered the room. Not so much that there were only two other females in the room of forty or that the average age was around 50. No, everyone was wearing suits which I can’t really wear due to a variety of reasons, top two of which are that they aren’t suited to town/country cycling and that you will be mocked for being too dressed up where my research is taking place. So black jeans, flat shoes, and a fancy pink top in a sea of black suits for me.
I’d encountered the term ‘arbitrator’ before during management and enterprise modules back up in Newcastle. It’s an interesting idea, a neutral third party who basically plays the peacemaker. But like any idea that’s simple on paper, the reality isn’t.
The least concerning of the issues around the engineer in dispute avoidance is the large number of definitions different sectors use. First is that the ‘engineer’ is not always called an engineer nor does it seem he has to be an actual engineer. He may be called a ‘project manager’ or any number of other terms, but the general role is the same.
Lesson 1. Make sure everyone is using the same definition.
The next concern is exactly how neutral can that third party be? After all, someone had to hire him, and according to the talk given, the purchaser can pick their own in most circumstances. However the engineer must always act as neutral as possible, including full disclosure of relevant matters. I could see this leading to several quandaries: first not wanting to get fired by your company while attempting to meet proper neutrality, second not wanting to fail at being neutral.
I asked about how an engineer finding himself having to disclose trade secrets or confidential information relevant to the dispute might handle the situation. If I have the response correct, it is possible to extricate oneself citing conflict of interest. Unfortunately I was able to get clarification if there might be legal ramifications if one were to do so.
Lesson 2. Know what you’re getting into.
Legal power ties back into Lesson 1, as the legal authority of the engineer when acting as a third party is a bit iffy. When acting as a mediator, there doesn’t seem to be any binding legal contract based on the engineer’s final judgement. But in other situations, the engineer’s judgement must be complied with within a given time.
Lesson 3. Be aware of the full extent of your power.
I found the evening quite enjoyable. I hadn’t realised a full institute existed for arbitrators complete with accreditation and training. It’s a pleasant surprise as it’s one of those areas I would like to receive formal training in. Mediation training would probably be more useful in day to day life, so that would come first. Let’s be honest, it would be as much to help me learn to control my temper as to get others to control theirs.