If there are cardinal sins in mediation, mediator bias may well be number one (perhaps tied with breaking confidentiality). Nothing will end credibility quicker than the appearance that the mediator is taking a side in a dispute. But how do mediators, mere mortals (it’s true!), maintain neutrality? What tools are available to combat the very human tendency to make and pass judgment? Below are a few that might help you the next time you are in the room.
What does reflection look like for a mediator and why do it?
Thoughtful reflection is not the act of ruminating on or second-guessing your decisions in a particular exchange or mediation session. Instead, reflection involves stepping back from your experience in the mediation, trying to be objective, and seeing what you can take away from it. It may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. However, you will discover ways you can do better in your next mediation by examining what did or didn’t work in this one, and by discovering the assumptions or habits underlying your choices.
Think your mediation skills only work in the mediation room? Here are the stories of two people who found otherwise...
Training Comes In Handy On The Train
Ricky Flores, a 3L at John Marshall Law School who has mediated with CCR through the John Marshall clinic, found himself using his mediation skills on the Pink Line one evening after school on his way to Ogilvie.
An older gentleman was trying to pass between two train cars using the door at the end of the car, but a security guard with a dog was in the way and wouldn’t let him pass. Soon a shouting match between the older gentleman and the security guard erupted. The security guard yelled that he could lose his job if he let the man through. As the shouting match continued, two other security guards came up behind the passenger. The passenger did not seem to notice the guards, but it seemed as if the encounter could get physical.
The Mindful Mediator
Want to confuse Google? Search for “Mediation and Mindfulness.” The search engine won’t even ask if you made a mistake – it will assume one and include “Meditation and Mindfulness” results. But what would it look like to apply the practice of mindfulness to the practice of mediation?
Being present is one of the most important skills a mediator can develop. We must remain present to the parties, present to their emotions, and present to their stories. It is this presence that allows us to actively listen and assist the parties in exploring possible solutions to their conflict. We, as mediators, must also remain neutral both to the parties and to the outcome.
Not all mediations end in an agreement. One question that many participants often ask before beginning mediation is, “What happens if we don’t reach an agreement?” Unfortunately, there isn’t one single answer that will cover all situations. However, a mediation that does not result in an agreement can still be worthwhile.
There are many tools in the mediator’s toolbox, and the process would not work but for any number of them, including neutrality, non-judgment, active listening, … the list goes on. One of the defining characteristics of mediation is confidentiality. Confidentiality helps provide a space where parties feel comfortable sharing intimate details that one would not, under normal circumstances, confide in a stranger.
You’ve been scheduled for mediation at the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR). You may be anxious about meeting with the other party and there are probably a number of questions running through your mind: What will the process be? What can I do to prepare? Will this be worth my time?
Frank D. Hill is a volunteer with CCR. In addition to this blog, Frank helps manage CCR's social media presence.