This article describes some best practices and actions to refrain from doing when you are playing the role of the mediator. Here goes:
- Resist the temptation to advise parties. It is both a practical and ethical truth that your opinions are irrelevant to the reality that the people in conflict must own the problems and live with the consequences of their resolution or continuation. Suggesting what you think they should do doesn’t allow them to develop their own solution to their own concerns. Mediator best practices suggest that self-generated solutions are far more potent than those imposed or devised by others.
- Refrain from judgments, either about the people involved or about the substance of their dispute. Doing so violates a core mediation mindset – that of impartiality. While you can explore and test the situation with curiosity, including asking difficult questions of the participants, don’t give your personal opinions, talk about your own experiences or make appear to judge their choices. Of course, we all have a point of view about everything we encounter, but the hallmark of the mediator’s role is to keep these judgments to ourselves rather than advising the disputants. The refrain to remember is to practice neutrality in word and action, if not in thought.
- Don’t become prematurely attached to particular solutions, especially early in the process. Mediation flourishes because it allows the best ideas to emerge, but this takes time and occurs gradually once the parties have explored the spectrum of issues before them. Even more damaging to the mediation process than the parties commit prematurely to a solution is when the mediator becomes attached to their idea of the “best” solution for the parties.
- Another best practice for mediators among the activities is to avoid driving the bus or forcing the interactions between the parties. Although some of the questions and interventions you engage in require you to take center stage, it is critical to remember that your overarching goal is to allow the parties to improve their interactions and communications. The best way for this to emerge is for them to do it in real-time with you there as a guide. In short, get out of their way.
In summary, a mediator’s best practices are:
- don’t give your opinion
- don’t judge
- don’t become attached to solutions, and
- don’t drive the bus