How do you know a mediator is any good at what they do?
There is no formula for figuring out who the “best” mediators are – there is no governing body that determines minimal qualifications for a professional mediator. Even if there were, education and mediation training don’t guarantee competence, because a “good” mediator also possesses certain internal attributes that aren’t necessarily learned in a classroom.
This article lists external and internal attributes that the most effective mediators possess.
Mediators in the United States are not required to meet a uniform standard of education or training for beginning to practice mediation; each state has its own requirements, or, in many cases, none at all.
For this reason, it can be difficult to evaluate the qualifications of a potential mediator. We recommend paying particular attention to the following external attributes of mediators you are considering for hire:
How much training has the mediator received?
Was any of the training specific to a certain area of practice (e.g., family, landlord/tenant)?
How recently was the mediator trained? Do they attend refresher courses and keep up on current mediation techniques?
For how long has this mediator been in practice? Full-time or part-time?
How many mediations has this mediator conducted, and how many were similar to yours?
Does this mediator specialize in the area of your particular dispute?
Does this mediator belong to an organization requiring adherence to certain standards?
Does this mediator serve on the board of any relevant organizations?
Philosophy and approach
What philosophy does this mediator apply to their work? Do they describe their work as facilitative, transformative, and/or evaluative? Take note of how the mediator describes their process, then consider what that would look like when applied to your case.
What kind of interaction with disputants does the mediator like to have?
Are fees charged by the session, by the hour, by the case?
What about the things that can’t be listed on a profile page? Christopher Honeyman, noted expert on mediator competency and author of more than 50 articles about mediation ethics, identified these 5 internal attributes as common to the most effective mediators:
Effective mediators are able to quickly identify relevant information. They ask questions to gain an understanding of both the facts of the case and of parties’ underlying interests and motivations.
Mediators should handle the knowledge of parties’ underlying interests with empathy and consideration. They are willing to ask emotionally difficult questions and do so in an unbiased and respectful manner.
Inventive and problem-solving
Effective mediators help disputants discover common ground and guide them toward mutual understanding from there; they are willing to be inventive with unusual situations.
Verbal expressions, gestures, and eye contact are consistently and effectively used by good mediators to structure an environment in which disputants are willing to re-examine their positions. They maintain a safe and relatively calm atmosphere with confidence and communicative body language.
Capably manages interactions
Mediators should keep the parties on track and working toward the issues they have identified as central to their conflict, and call for breaks or private caucuses when needed. A good mediator knows when allowing tension to rise will be productive and when to effectively defuse tension. These tactics must demonstrate sensitivity to the disputants’ needs (e.g., emotional, cultural) and remain neutral.
After you select your mediator – and hopefully, settle your case – it’s time to help others consider this mediator for their own cases. A testimonial and/or recommendation of your mediator provides vital information for other people in conflict, particularly about the mediator’s internal attributes that can’t be seen on a profile page.
Additionally, a testimonial helps to spread the word that mediation is a quick, confidential, and cost-effective way to settle disputes out of court.