Choosing the right mediator for your dispute
Choosing a mediator suited to the needs of your dispute as well as someone you feel comfortable with is an important first step towards resolving the conflict in your life.
Everyone will apply a unique criterion to the process of choosing a mediator. Some people will have gender preferences, others will be guided by cost, some people will want a formal ‘all business’ approach, and others will look for someone with a similar lived experience of the world. An example of this could be a Rainbow family who may prefer to work with a mediator who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, bringing a deeper understanding of the unique needs of Rainbow families to the mediation. In addition to the specific needs of different parties and different types of disputes, there are some common factors to consider when making the important decision of choosing a mediator to help you reach an agreement in your dispute that you can live with, enabling you to move on with your life.
What kind of experience does the mediator have?
Mediators are generally divided into two groups – those who are qualified lawyers or who have worked in the legal system, and those who come from different disciplines and professions and have trained to become an accredited mediator. What is most important is that the mediator is registered and fully qualified. Ensure the mediator is recognised as a Nationally Accredited Mediator, which means the mediator has been assessed in their ability to meet all the required standards of practice. This is important because it demonstrates that the mediator will follow a prescribed process designed to help parties reach an agreement. Mediation isn’t simply the ability to somehow manage an argument between parties.
Lawyers who work as mediators bring knowledge of the legal system to their mediations, which is important in some scenarios. On the other hand, an essential skill of a mediator is not to think like a lawyer (who generally sees issues from a positional stance) and not be tempted to provide legal advice. Mediators with experience in certain professions can bring a deeper understanding of some of the issues being discussed and others, who come from a communications background may be skilled at helping parties engage with each other. It’s a good idea to ask the mediator about their experience and what unique skills they bring to their mediation practice.
Does the mediator have a style you relate to?
If you don’t feel comfortable with the mediator, then it’s possible it will have a negative impact on your participation in the mediation. You may feel intimidated, judged, or worse – made to feel stupid. This is your mediation, and unlike court proceedings, you control the outcome. If the mediator doesn’t feel right to you, or is someone with whom you don’t feel comfortable, then it’s probably not the right fit. A skilled mediator won’t bring bias into a mediation, or judge either or both of the parties. Good mediators avoid complex jargon and explain things in a way that is understood clearly by each party. Ideally the mediator will immediately make you feel more at ease by demonstrating confidence in their approach to your dispute, and their awareness of triggers that may impact the mediation – for example their ability to manage what you perceive as an imbalance of power between parties. Ask yourself the following questions: Does the mediator have a style suited to both parties? Do you feel confident the mediator has the skill to manage the process of mediation? Most importantly, did the mediator listen carefully to you on your first contact with them? If a mediator demonstrates the critical skill of seeing and hearing both parties equally, then it’s more likely parties will trust the process and the person tasked with facilitating that process to drive an outcome agreeable to both parties.
Use an accredited directory of mediators
Nationally accredited organisations, such as the Resolution Institute in Australia, include a directory of mediators where you can search by name, location, accreditation, and specialist skills. Mediators included in the directory are all qualified and accredited.
Research the cost of mediation
The cost of mediation can vary greatly depending on several factors including the complexity of the dispute; where it may take more than a single day to reach an agreement, location; whether the mediation is in-person or online (which should be cheaper as refreshments and room hire are not added costs) and location – parking and travel expenses can add to costs. Most mediators will have half-day and full day fee options and will help you decide on which is the best option based on the unique circumstances of your dispute. If the mediator’s fees are not disclosed on their website, then it’s important to ask before you commit to using the mediator. Also factor in over-time – which is usually charged at an hourly rate when the mediation runs over its allocated timeframe.
Interview the mediator
Personality is different to style, but also very important to your decision-making criteria. This person is going to be helping you face debilitating conflict in your life and work to help you and the other party reconcile that conflict. Depending on your situation you may want someone who will take a stern approach, or prefer a softer, more supportive approach. In the event of the communication between parties getting heated, the mediator may witness accusations by one party of another – and there will be times during the mediation where things may get uncomfortable. You want someone who is fair and someone you can trust to refocus the mediation back on track when things are heading down a destructive path. Having an honest and candid conversation with the mediator about what they may face in the room with the parties is important before making your final decision.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
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