Professional Mediator Talks about Art of Arbitration

Wondering how to peacefully resolve a family dispute without taking siblings to court? Need help deciding how to handle the affairs of an elderly relative? Looking for a way to end a marriage amicably without  sacrificing the value of joint assets? Barbara Sunderland Manousso, Ph.D., will tell you that arbitration and mediation are effective ways to bring all parties together for a civilized, problem-solving discussion. 

While divorce cases make up about half her business at Manousso Mediation and Arbitration, LLC  in the Galleria area, Manousso is also well-versed in elder care cases and other family issues. 
 
Mediating and arbitrating a dispute is a timely, quick and cost-effective solution –– a mere fraction of what a lawyer would charge, she said. In divorce cases, there is no reason to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees when those resources can be re-invested in the family’s future needs, such as college tuition, or “something that’s going to enhance the family –– not crush and destroy,” she said. 
 
“We teach people communication skills, and we keep them communicating,” she said. “If there are children involved, they’re going to be in each others’ lives forever. They don’t need to be confrontational; they need to look at the divorce as a business arrangement.” 
 
Successful mediation culminates in drafting a memorandum of understanding that carries the full weight of a legally binding contract and can be enforced in a court of law if parties default, Manousso said.
 
Before she entered the field of conflict resolution here in Houston, Manousso was already a successful businesswoman. In her native Rhode Island, she managed her own cosmetics company, modeling agency and finishing school, and she had been a television personality on a syndicated game show, Dialing for Dollars.
 
When she came to Houston in the early 1970s, she was involved in fundraising activities, working to build up the Houston Area Parkinsonism Society as its executive director. She also worked to raise nearly $2 million for HIV-AIDS charities, such as The Montrose Clinic,  during a time when a lot of large corporations avoided association with AIDS charities.
 
After these successes, Manousso, who already had an undergraduate degree in semiotics from Brown University, and a master’s degree in public health from The University of Texas, began studying at South Texas College of Law. Soon, mediation and arbitration seemed to her to be a much more equitable and cost-effective process than the legal system, she said, and she changed her career path. 
 
Now she’s passing her expertise along to thousands of students through mediation and arbitration classes. Students ranging from 18 to 82 have come from all over the world — the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Germany, Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Canada –– to receive this training.
 
Certification requires 40 hours of training initially, plus 15 additional hours every year. Add an additional 30 hours to specialize in family mediation, and another 20 for working with cases involving seniors. 
 
Mediation and arbitration skills are excellent resume boosters, Manousso said, and the skills are a complement to any career. Being a good listener, organization skills and projecting a professional demeanor that commands your clients’ confidence are part of the package a well-trained mediator/arbitrator can apply to any field. 
 
People sometimes take mediation training after their job search in other industries has not been fruitful, or they think they want a career change, Manousso said. Often, after they’ve completed their training, human resources personnel from those industries will come back and seek them out. 
 
“I can’t think of any major company in Houston that hasn’t had its staff come to us for mediation training,” she said. “Every government agency has also sent staff.” 
 
Currently, Manousso serves as the chair for Education, Research and Training for the                      International Association for Conflict Resolution, the umbrella for all dispute resolution organizations. She has also been the Texas Mediators Trainers Roundtable chair for training other mediation trainers across the state for a number of years.
 
Currently, she is president of Houston Geritological Society and has been a state commissioner for Texas nursing homes for eight years. 
 
Manousso’s doctoral degree is in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University, one of only two universities offering a doctorate in that discipline. 
 
 
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