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Have You Got What it Takes to be a Mediator?

CMP Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.

I’ve always been intrigued about what it’s like to be someone else. We’re so isolated in our own thoughts and feelings, we only see the surface of each other. And it’s scary to be genuine with other people; there are so many social constructions that formalise how we talk to each other and I find those exhausting and limiting, and often meaningless. So what I love about mediation is that when you’re mediating you’re actually in a space where people are really working hard to not collude with those social constructions.

Mediation allows me access to observing people being real with each other

If you have a manager and a member of staff in a mediation and you’re doing the right thing as a mediator, you’ve got a reasonable chance that they will have a meaningful conversation where they are being human and real. For me that’s a place of reward and emotional nurturance; to see human beings talking to each other properly and not pretending “I’m brilliant, I have no weaknesses” or “you’re my boss therefore you must be against me”.

I love the fact that I am tasked with understanding not judging

This is a real gift because most of the time we’re not allowed to witness that. And this allows me to be real. When you’re acting as a mediator you are empowered to be real with them, because you know you don’t have the answers and don’t know who is right and who is wrong. It’s so easy to judge and it’s so difficult to understand.

Mediator ego

Mediators need to have benevolence, kindness; and they need to have compassion. They need to give a damn, basically. Not about the issues, nor about themselves vis-a-vis the issues, and not about the resolution; they need to give a damn that people are stuck and sinking in a quagmire. So the number one thing that mediators actually need to do is to be present, withoug half their mind thinking “look at me I’m doing a really good job” or “oh my gosh I don’t know what I’m doing”.

Mediator ego is a really big problem and no one ever talks about it! So a good mediator needs to have no mediator ego, if they are to to be present for the parties. And if you’re present in the room you observe the parties, and you feel the parties, so you don’t do to the parties, you’re working with them.

There are an awful lot of mediators who do mediation to people. I think that’s awful; it’s as though the parties have entered their process and you’ll actually see some dreadful mediators saying things like “I’m going to ask you not to shout now because you need to respect the mediation process”.

Mediators are there to do the emotional work of the parties

When we are a conflict we are a poor version of ourselves; our judgment goes awry, our emotions become less under our control, the ability to articulate and express ourselves flies out of the window. And our ability to have compassion for other people and to see them as being as real as we are disappears too.

A mediator might say “could you give her an example of what you mean by disrespect” and some parties can’t do that because they’ve lost touch with their ability to describe, they can’t externalise it; all they can say is “I feel something is wrong”. So there are much more helpful ways of asking that question. If you are with the parties, not ahead of them or behind them, and you’re kind of carrying on their behalf all the qualities and the skills of nurturing and listening and being kind, challenging kindly, you’re doing those skills for them, because, temporarily, the conflict they are in means they haven’t got that much access to those skills themselves in relation to each other.

Mediation is really about engaging and seeing the human being who is struggling in this quagmire of negativity. They have certainly helped to create this swamp, but they are too busy trying to avoid looking at themselves and saying “it’s their fault they’re the bad person”; this takes all their energy and they can’t focus on getting out of the quagmire; because doing that takes the very skills that they have least access to when in a conflict.


Katherine Graham

Katherine Graham has worked in the field of dispute resolution for over 15 years’ as a mediator and trainer. She has mediated on the BBC Learning Zone and has given keynote speeches on conflict management and mediation for The MOD’s Equal Opportunities Conference, Women in Business Annual conference and “Getting Beyond… MORE >

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