It is good to break away from the daily diet of Mediation Stories and focus back on the qualities of a successful mediator. What is it that sets the Mediator apart? What skills does he/she need to possess to persuade the parties to agree to his/her appointment? People rarely reflect on this question.
First is Trust – so important that it can never be over-emphasised. Trust is more than confident that a mediator will be confidential. Trust is a quality that a mediator conveys by his manner, his behaviour and his words. A mediator needs to access the parties and persuade them that they can place their trust in him/her to be honest, above board, fair and impartial.
The parties will be assessing the mediator – is this the right appointment? – does he/she have the range of experience and the depth of character to take the dispute to a successful outcome? Without actually saying the words – the party has to look the mediator in the eye and say “Can I trust you?”
The second is Listening. Here the Jack the Lad Mediator comes a cropper. He talks too much and puts himself centre stage. No good. Wrong approach. Allow the parties to tell their story – in their own time and in their own way. Let them be themselves. They will arrive apprehensive, tense, uncertain. Let them reach their stage of natural comfort in their own way. Later you may need to give them a nudge and move onto the future and away from the past but that is for later. For now – use your skills to put them at their ease. Find the topic that enables you to begin to create a rapport. A good mediator will “sense” this. He/She does not need to read about it. They know it, have it, display it.
Tomorrow we will look at the skill of being impartial AND of being persistent in your pursuit of a settlement – not, I hasten to add, for your ego but for the parties’ benefit