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Ten Practices of the Super Mediator

You’re not content with just being a mediator. You’re determined to excel in the field and become a super mediator. Here are ten tips that’ll take you from average to excellent.

Exhibit faith in your mediation model

No matter what mediation theory or practice you follow — transformative, facilitative, evaluative, faith-based, directive, separate caucus, joint session, or a medley of several of them depending on the circumstances — exhibit faith in the chosen process.

Be confident and persistent

Even if you have little experience, as a trained mediator and negotiator, you know more than the parties do about the best way to settle their dispute. You’re the expert, and you must act like one. And if you’re not completely confident, then fake it till you make it.

Remain humble

A great mediator is humble. She knows she plays a key role as an intermediary, but she also knows that the outcome, to a great extent, is out of her hands. If you start to feel despair, repeat this Zen mantra to yourself:

I can’t take credit for the victories or blame for the defeats.

Feel the parties’ pain

Think for a moment about how desperately you want to disengage from any argument you have with a loved one. You do so by going silent, slamming doors, or intimidating your partner with wild accusations. You go to your room or leave the house for a while — anything to get a little relief.

Listen actively; respond reflectively

People with a long-brewing dispute don’t simply want to tell their side of the story. They want to know that the other party has heard it. You know you need to do more active listening if you hear any of the following complaints:

  • She’s not listening to me.

  • I’ve explained that 100 times, and no matter what I say, he has a comeback that disparages and dismisses all my concerns.

  • You’re buying her story without having seen any evidence to support it. I feel as if you’ve discounted everything I’ve said and credited everything she’s said.

  • You’re not working hard enough for me/you’re not stating my case clearly enough/you’re not helping me achieve my goal.

Don’t get defensive when a party tells you why the mediation’s not working for him, especially if that reason is you. Employ active listening.

Ask for feedback and use it to improve

You won’t improve your performance in any task that requires feedback unless you ask for it from your clients and from your mentors. All the research on mediation processes and outcomes confirms this.

When talking to your mentors, don’t sugarcoat your performance. Focus on what you believe you may have done that caused the negotiation to break down or that left one of the parties visibly frustrated or angry. You’ll be tempted to paint your performance in the most favorable light, but you won’t get any better if you’re not rigorously honest with yourself and your advisors.

Be respectful and predictable

Do what you say you’ll do. If you assure the parties that you won’t reveal their confidences, don’t risk disclosure in any communications with anyone else except your mentors, and then disguise both the story and the parties.

If you ask the parties to bind themselves to certain rules of behavior, follow those rules yourself. If you make an agenda, stick to it, and if you deviate from it, explain why. If you tell one side that you’ll be gone for only ten minutes, return ten minutes later, even if it’s only to tell the party that you’ll be away longer than you anticipated.

Adjust to the parties’ preferences, hopes, and characteristics

Adjusting to the parties’ preferences, hopes, and characteristics doesn’t mean that you should pander or be inauthentic. Rather, you want to take seriously what the parties believe is serious, align yourself with their deepest hopes, and make enough of an effort to understand the culture in which the dispute arose so you can speak their language.

Expect and elicit the best in people

To be a great mediator, you must find something unique, valuable, and even lovable in every client you serve. If you expect people to be sly and duplicitous, they’ll reward you by exhibiting those characteristics. If you expect them to be honest, speak frankly, and work hard on the task before them, they’ll reward you by exhibiting those attitudes and behaving in that manner.

Develop an attitude of Ubuntu

Mediators are models of Ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Ubuntu as the ability to be open, available, and affirming of others. A person with Ubuntu doesn’t feel threatened when others are good and doesn’t judge when he perceives others to be bad. He believes that whatever diminishes another also diminishes him.

Those who possess the qualities of Ubuntu are naturally generous because they feel themselves to be a part of the whole, so that in giving to others, they also give to themselves.

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