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Mediating With Sharks Is No Walk In The Park

Adversarial personalities aside, adversarial training brings special challenges to the collaborative process of mediation.  Child Dependency Mediations come with at least four mandated-advocates for every case.  Each parent has their mandated-advocate, the County (or Department) has its mandated-advocate, and there is at least one mandated-advocate for the child/ren.  Learning to work productively and efficiently with mandated-advocates is a keystone skillset for the elite mediators of the Southern California Family Mediation model mediation program. 

The abundance of mandated-advocates offers yet another learning opportunity from SoCal’s teaching & learning research workshop.  There seems to be a tendency to restate statements, clarify clarifications, and most destructive of all: Mindreading.  Time is a factor, and Rapid Mediators must learn to exercise control elegantly, in order to keep the mediation process productive. 

At the Children’s Court, we meet with mandated-advocates first.  A brief conference helps to build rapport and set expectations. 

Lead from behind, I remember, when dealing with power issues.  Having left my control issues behind, as part of a former, lesser me, I don’t often get the adrenaline spikes that another mediator might get when interrupted, contradicted, or challenged.  The fact that I’m mission-driven also helps.  My guiding purpose is to leave this campsite we call Earth a little better than when I found it, by modeling & coaching people into dealing with conflict more successfully & less harmfully.  As such, I don’t tend to get caught winning battles & losing wars

Many mandated-advocates have demonstrated an impressive ability to acclimate to our collaborative process, when encouraged and/or reminded privately.  Also, as President Abe Lincoln (Abe, I call him Abe) once said, Everyone likes a compliment.  The consistency bias tells us that people will tend to act so as to feel & appear consistent with previous statements & actions.  Rapid Mediators leverages this tendency, by building impressive reputations for people to live up to.  Sincere compliments are not just rapport-builders, but also reputation-builders.  Your attorney is doing a great job representing you, in this collaborative process.

(Privately) I know, you are sensitive to your client understanding what I’m saying, but if we say everything two or five times, this mediation will take much longer than it needs to. The reason I said it the way I did is because…

Thank you, because your restatement of my question really got at the important issue of…  What I’m hoping to find out, by asking the question the way I did is…

Mandated-advocates are smart people.  They don’t need to be bludgeoned by the truth. 

Peacemaker, while people are generally aware of the concepts we specialize in, they typically lack the specific training and knowledge required to appreciate the depth and breadth of the applicability and import of our tools and techniques.  (See:, Stories of Successfully Breaking the Intractability Barrier in Child Dependency Mediation)

Mindreading…Gaw!  Please, don’t finish people’s sentences.  Assumptions are a big part of what gets people into conflict, not a way to get them through & out of it.  It’s not just what they say but also how they say it that matters.  While I’m perfectly comfortable with strong emotions, and will let a cross-talk (interrupting) style conversation play-out (even to the parties’ surprise), if it seems natural for both (all) parties and the conversation is staying productive, I consider it most often counterproductive when coming from a mediator.  With practice, mediators can become adept & confident at bringing the conversation under control when & as needed.


One last thing…silence.  Make sure the parties get to own it.  It’s theirs.  And if they haven’t yet, by the end of the mediation they will have earned it.


Randy Drew

Specializing in the impossible (well, if I get to write it), L. Randy Drew is Co-Executive Program Director of Southern California Family Mediation, humbly serving the California, Los Angeles Superior Dependency Court, and in partnership with the University of Southern California Gould School of Law’s Judith O. Hollinger Dispute Resolution… MORE >

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