Selecting your mediator: all for one and one for all… updated

Now in 2019, after more than 23 years of mediating , I specialise in providing professional development for individual mediators and for very small groups of mediators.

This post describes some criteria which from my experience I think it wise to consider in your selection of a mediator. If it is a list of mediators in your region that you’re looking for, rather than criteria, I suggest you start here.

When you and the other person or people involved in a dispute have decided that you will consider mediation, it’s time to select a Mediator. The Mediator Standards Board explains why it is wise to choose an accredited mediator. I endorse all that the MSB has to say on the topic.

Over the years, in my practice and in complaints handling for Resolution Institute and other organisations, I have listened to clients explaining what they looked for in a mediator. In summary what I’ve heard is that people have sought out and been satisfied with a mediator who has experience, professionalism applied to the necessary people skills to keep each participant focused first on identifying their future-focused interests and then facilitating the creation of agreed outcomes for the future.

Your mediator is each participant’s mediator; their mediator is your mediator

It’s ironic that just when you and the other people involved are having trouble making joint decisions, it is important that you make a joint decision to have a mediator who is acceptable to all. Mediation participants tell me that there are numerous ways of selecting a mediator, including:

  • Sometimes one person takes the initiative and decides to meet with a mediator before mentioning it to other potential participants. They then make a recommendation to the other potential participants.
  • Sometimes participants reach a general decision to mediate then, by agreement, one person identifies a mediator.
  • Sometimes people decide on their mediator together, based on information, interviews and referrals.
  • Sometimes a mediator is appointed by an external body.
  • Sometimes a combination of approaches is used.

It can be a positive first step if you can select your mediator cooperatively.

On the other hand, realistically, if you select a mediator who is accredited, registered, experienced, professional and compassionate, you will be highly likely to participate in a more than satisfactory mediation.

To select your mediator cooperatively, start with an MSB accredited mediator. I suggest you then interview them about how, during each phase of mediation, they maximise each participant’s opportunity to

  • listen generously to what each other participant has to say
  • think productively about other people’s ideas
  • speak moderately throughout even when they feel quite heated
  • make wise personal and commercial decisions that preserve dignity and relationships
  • conclude satisfactorily with respect.

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Who is engaging whom? Make an informed decision.

You and the other people involved engage a mediator. A mediator does not engage you! I suggest that you and other potential participants design some questions to find out what you want to know before you decide on a mediator. As well as asking what mediator will do to assist you to fulfill your role, above, you can

  • Ask about experience

The experience that is relevant is the experience that the mediator has of adapting the mediation process to a wide range of circumstances. It is generally true to say that the mediator manages the process and the participants manage the content. You are looking for a process ‘expert’ in a mediator. You and your advisers, personal and professional, are the content experts.

  • Ask about qualifications

The qualifications that are relevant, in addition to the MSB initial accreditation and ongoing registration, may be indicated by academic qualifications (FDR), membership of panels (franchising), for example. .

  • Ask about tricky situations

‘What if …’ questions that address your concerns about mediation will provide you with decision-making information and show that you are thinking through the reality of mediation. A mediator is mediating only when they simultaneously and even-handedly work with each of the participants.

By asking the sorts of questions about tricky situations, qualifications and experience you’ll get a feel for how well you connect with the mediator and knowing the other people as you do, you’ll get a sense of how well they might connect with the mediator.

My comment is that if you get the impression that a mediator is listening to and speaking to you in the same way that they will listen and speak to each other person involved, then it’s likely you’re on to a good mediator.

In a nutshell, I suggest you select a mediator who you think is likely to spend most time listening respectfully to each participant; much time thinking compassionately about the circumstances; some time speaking optimistically … and then realistically. When you’ve got that far, I suggest you select a mediator who is likely to diligently facilitate an even handed mediation and who is likely to know when enough is enough and will conclude your mediation.

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If you’re stuck

If you are really stuck, one way forward is for all but one of the people involved to make a very short list of acceptable mediators which they provide to the other person who chooses the mediator from the list.

As you learn more about mediation, be open to changing your mind about your selection

What are the costs of changing your mind? To what extent might the benefits outweigh them?

In the same way that you decide on a builder, an architect, a pharmacist and medical practitioner is advisable to decide on a mediator. Just as initial discussions, advice and information from a competent builder, architect, pharmacist or medical practitioner may cause you to confirm their suitability or change your mind, so might initial discussions, advice and information from a professional mediator.

Having engaged your mediator provide them with feedback regularly and in private sessions ask them for feedback.

A competent, professional mediator will respond positively to your feedback.

You can find a list of reputable mediators here.

All the best!

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