What Makes a Good Mediator?

What Makes a Good Mediator?

In a just a few short weeks the CDRC Negotiation and Mediation Competition kicks off in Vienna. As the title suggests, there are two separate elements to the competition: negotiation and mediation. While many of the skills required in these disciplines overlap, they are ultimately distinct and are assessed on separate criteria. 

As knowledge partners for the CDRC Competition, Mediator Academy would like to share a few insights on the qualities of an effective mediator which we have distilled from interviews with some of the busiest and best mediators around. 

NB These insights represent the opinions of the interviewee mediators and do not necessarily correspond to the assessment criteria of CDRC in any way. 

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David Richbell: Rapport Building Skills and Business Sense

David Richbell has been a full time mediator since 1996 and runs MATA, one of the leading mediation training providers in Europe.

In his experience, "a good mediator would probably be a good mediator after 10 hours of training, and a bad mediator would still be bad after 100 hours of training". 

The reason he gives for this is simple. Mediation is all about the ability to create trusting relationships. Even in business disputes, parties are often emotionally invested and the situation can be highly stressful. Knowing how to read people's emotions and reactions can really help mediators to identify the core issues and interests underpinning the negotiation.  


This is a soft skill that people develop over many years. That is not say it cannot be learned and honed with a bit of time, patience and focus. Simple techniques such as consciously practising active listening, reflecting on your own strengths, and carefully observing conflict situations can really help in developing this essential skill. 

Commercial Acumen

The second key attribute that David highlights is business sense. David is a commercial mediator, but the notion of common sense applies regardless of your field. Really, it's about being able to put yourself in the parties' shoes. What do they want out of this negotiation? What is motivating them? 

Once again, this is not something that can be mastered in a 10 hour mediation training course, but rather something that requires practice and dedication. Preparation can also go a long way. Researching the parties and considering their motivations in advance will really help in the mediation. 


Jane Player: Passion, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Jane Player is a top flight litigator and is highly experienced in using and appointing mediators. When appointing mediators, something that separates the good mediators from the bad is a bit of authenticity - a genuine desire to resolve the dispute and the gumption to try every avenue possible to reach a desirable solution.  

When appointing a mediator Jane also looks for leadership and emotional intelligence. In Jane's words:

"when you go into a mediation there are lots of strands you’ve heard about in the preparation that may or may not be a link to solution. One of the roles of a mediator is to hold onto those threads and remind the parties of those threads because, just when they are feeling that they are not going to find a solution or all hope is lost, your role is to give them a bit of confidence that there’s hope still and help them find the route through to a solution."

This ability to guide and lead require confident attitude and clear understanding of the core issues.

Jane also pointed out a few undesirable qualities in a mediator. The first was ego. While mediators need to be confident and to guide the discussion, it's important not to take this too far. Mediators are NOT there to impose a solution. It's essential to listen to the parties needs and to adapt to the situation, rather than entering with preconceived opinions or solutions.  

Another big problem Jane has had with mediators is when they ignore someone in the room. It may be the party who has the power, but if they chose to bring their lawyer or other advisers then it means they consider those people to be important, and so should the mediator.  


Practice Makes Perfect

Developing these qualities and skills is a life long journey. Ultimately, as with any profession, there is no substitute for old fashioned practice and experience, which is what the CDRC competition is all about. 

For those taking part in the competition, good luck! 

Topics: CDRC Vienna 2017

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