Selecting your mediator: all for one and one for all

After 20 years of mediating I have decided to take sabbatical from May 2014 to August 2014. I plan to read, write, relax and more depending on what comes my way and on the opportunities I create.

My out-of-office message explains this and offers potential new clients some thoughts on selecting a mediator. These are they…

When you and the other person or people involved in difficult circumstances have decided that you will consider mediation, the selection of your Mediator is your next step. The Mediator Standards Board explains why it is wise to choose an accredited mediator. Over the years I have listened to clients explaining what they were looking for in a mediator. In summary what I’ve heard is that people are looking for a mediator who has experience, professionalism and people skills and a mediator who will focus on outcomes for the future.

Your mediator is everybody’s mediator; their mediator is your mediator

It’s ironic that just when you and the other people involved in difficult circumstances are having trouble making joint decisions, it is important that you have a mediator who is acceptable all round. There are a number of ways to settle on your mediator. I gather from listening to what people tell me that there are various ways of selecting a mediator.

  • Sometimes one person took the initiative and decides to meet with a mediator before mentioning it to others involved. Then they made recommendations to the other people involved.
  • Sometimes people tell me that they reached a general decision  to mediate then one person sourced a mediator.
  • Sometimes people decided on their mediator together, based on information, interviews and referrals.

From my point of view as a mediator, it can be a positive first step if you can select your mediator cooperatively. I suggest you select a mediator who can maximise each person’s opportunity to listen generously to what they may not want to hear; to think productively about other people’s ideas; to speak moderately even when they feel quite heated; to make wise commercial decisions that preserve dignity and relationships and to conclude satisfactorily.

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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 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

In the same way that you decide what you want from a builder, an architect, a pharmacist and medical practitioner is advisable to decide what you want from a mediator. Just as advice and information from a good builder, architect, pharmacist or medical practitioner may cause you to change your mind about which one is right for you, so might advice and information from a good mediator.

Who is engaging whom? Make an informed decision.

You and the other people involved engage a mediator. A mediator does not engage you! It’s up to you and the other people involved to design some questions to find out what you want to know before you decide on a mediator.

  • Ask about experience

Some of the questions that people ask me are about my experience. People with quite specific matters seem to be interest in the breadth of my experience as much as in the depth on a particular topic. For example, I recall being hired for a multiparty commercial matter and being told later that it was my experience with violent offenders that decided the group in my favour. I’ll leave you to imagine why that was.

  • Ask about qualifications

Other questions I am asked relate to my mediation qualifications, registrations and accreditations.

  • Ask about tricky situations

People also ask many ‘What if …’ questions. I welcome these because they indicate to me that people are really thinking through the possibilities of mediation. Although it may be tempting to select a mediator who sounds as if they see things your way, in fact a mediator is mediating only when they simultaneously and even-handedly work with the points of view each of the participants.

Ask yourself whether it would be helpful to continue this conversation

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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You can find a list of mediators here.

All the best!

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