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From the Playing Field to the Mediation Room: How 5 Coaching Skills Work in Mediation

From the Playing Field to the Mediation Room: How 5 Coaching Skills Work in Mediation

What makes a good mediator? Patience.  Listening skills. Negotiation skills. More patience. An ability to connect with different types of people from diverse backgrounds. And most of all, an ability to help push the parties across the finish line.

A good mediator doesn’t mediate in a vacuum. Rather, he or she brings life experience to the mediation room and uses that experience to help parties resolve their disputes. As a mediator, I certainly draw on my experience as a football and lacrosse coach, and I have found there are many parallels between a successful team and a successful mediation. Below are some of the coaching skills that I have found effective in the mediation context.


Just as a coach strives to have his or her players work as a team, there is a fundamentally common thread of teamwork in successful mediations. To be an effective mediator, there should be teamwork not only between you and counsel but between individual attorneys and their clients as well. If you’re a lawyer, you want to have a good working relationship with your client and ensure that your client knows what to expect before and during the mediation. I saw a great example of this at a recent mediation. The plaintiff’s attorney had prepared detailed spreadsheets that showed the total that the client would receive after medical bills, attorney’s fees, and other expenses were taken out for the different amounts the defendant was likely to offer. This kind of legwork helped the mediation itself go smoothly.

I play up the idea of teamwork at every mediation I conduct. I’ll start by saying something like during litigation, we may be on different teams but in a mediation, we are all on the same team here and everyone has the same goal — a reasonable resolution to the dispute. That means that we have to work together, and there has to be give and take. If one side moves and makes a good faith offer, you don’t nudge it — you have to make a good faith response, or else they will throttle back.


A coach needs to prepare his or her team for the game. In mediation, that means getting the necessary documents to the other side at least two weeks ahead of time. I see this frequently in mediation when the plaintiff’s attorney brings addition medical bills to the mediation. That’s a problem because the insurance adjuster must get a number approved before the mediation. When the plaintiff increases the value of the case by $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000 worth of medical bills, the defense will have to reevaluate the case, and that may derail the mediation before it starts. Remember, if you can’t get the relevant documents to the other side in time for the attorney to review them, you can always consider rescheduling the mediation.

 Communication Skills

Good coaches also have excellent communication skills. Just as a coach communicates plays to players, lawyers must communicate to the mediator what they want, recognizing that they’re not going to get what they might get at trial if they got a verdict in their favor. And you must also clearly communicate the strengths and weaknesses of your case to your client before the mediation so that your client isn’t ambushed by the other side’s opening statement.


On the field, the coach, and the players, must have their heads “in the game.” The same goes for a mediation; you need to be in the mediation mindset, to be prepared like a team is prepared to win. This isn’t the time to take calls on other cases or have associates bring you briefs from other cases. This kind of behavior shows your clients you’re too busy for them, and it shows the mediator that you’re not viewing the mediation as important. Focus on the mediation and you’re likely to get better results.


Finally, as a coach, you may have a game plan, but sometimes that plan has to change. You may have to change on the fly, and your team must be malleable when a game ebbs and flows. It’s the same at mediation.

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