Monday, October 26, 2009

Mediators With "Issues"

I was recently asked how mediators are able to keep their own "issues" out of the mediation and my answer is that I don't think they can. If a mediator is impatient or demanding or self-absorbed, how would that not come through and influence the mediation process? On the other hand, if a mediator is naturally a good and patient listener who is intuitive and can easily sympathize with many different types of people in various circumstances, that will also come into play in the mediation.

People who are in a mediation, regardless of the type of case being mediated, need to feel that they are being heard, that their needs and interests are being acknowledged and factored into the final resulting settlement. If a mediating party feels like the mediator is impatient, cuts him/her off or is dismissive of something that was raised as a concern, how is that party going to feel like the process worked to meet his/her goals?

When parties agree to mediate, they still want to feel like someone heard their side of the story and gets where they're coming from. I don't believe that mediators can "fake it" and have a client feel like they're understood if the mediator doesn't truly care or understand that party's point of view. If we have biases or judgments that prevent us from getting below the surface and figuring out where the client is coming from, and helping to communicate that to the other party, I think we are not doing our best work.

As mediators, just as in any profession, our personal history, background, personality and yes, "issues," influence our work. But maybe more so as mediators than in certain other professions, we need to continue to do work on ourselves to be the best that we can be as mediators dealing with sensitive disputes.

As we work to balance power dynamics, create a safe and trusting environment for open discussions and work to ensure that the goals and concerns of our clients are met, we need to be able to be present, focused and aware of unspoken concerns or hints and clues about what is going on below the surface of the conversation. If we are consumed by our own "issues" or biases, or unaware of (or unconcerned about) the difficulty of the situation for our clients, our clients will not be as satisfied with the process because they will not feel "heard" because, in fact, they will not have been.

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