Parties in contest in or out of court can often resolve their disputes with the help of a good, effective mediator. In searching for the right mediator, each party will have to carefully consider the attributes of the prospective mediator. Two key attributes that make a mediator effective are patience and the ability to build and maintain rapport with the parties and their counsel.
1) Patience. A good mediator is patient. This patience is with each party, and at times, with the party’s counsel. The mediation process can take time to work. This patience can help parties have the opportunity to think matters through as the process is ongoing. More to the point, a solid mediator is not impatient. Impatience can wreck a mediation. Impatience can send a message that the mediator is going to give up and this could cause a party to kick it its heals until the mediator throws up his hands. A party who sees the mediator acting impatiently may lose respect for the mediator. Respect of the mediator helps ensure that the words of the mediator are taken with as much effect on the party as possible. Impatience can also cause a loss of credibility of the mediator in the eyes of the parties and their counsel as well. In line with this patience, a mediator should proceed with a sense of validation and not be dissuaded by a party who is uncooperative or difficult. You never know when a breakthrough will occur, and when one happens, the mediator who waited patiently can then make the most of what other less patient mediators may never have experiences. Accordingly, a mediator should endeavor to be patient and to display this trait.
2) Rapport. A good mediator builds rapport with the parties. Google dictionary defines rapport as “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” The essence of mediating is to ensure there is solid communication, if not by the parties to each other, then by the mediator shuttling between the parties. The more a party respects what the mediator says, the more the party will trust that the mediator will fairly and justly deliver an accurate message to the opposing parties, and vice versa. Accordingly, a mediator should always strive to be (and appear) fair, reasonable, objective, and prepared. The mediator should only make promises that can be fulfilled so as to not ever let a party down as to his or her word. By demonstrably understanding the feelings and ideas of the parties, the mediator is more likely to get the parties to open up and to speak the truth. Parties opening up is necessary to get to the heart of the cause of an underlying emotion which may have resulted in or contributed to the dispute. The more rapport the mediator has, the better the mood of the parties, the more they can relax and be comfortable as settlement is sought. In addition, the mediator builds rapport by accurately and articulately presenting the positions of the parties to each other. The very appearance of the mediator, the professionalism of tone, demeanor, and personal presentation can have a dramatic impact on the perception of the mediator by the parties. Similarly, the room or rooms presented by the mediator should be as organized as the points communicated to one or both parties. The professional appearance of the very room of the mediator (where the mediation takes place), and of the very words of the mediator can positively impact upon the parties in ways that build and maintain rapport of the mediator. Bringing this professional vibe of seriousness to the mediation makes the parties take the process more seriously.
In sum, patience and the ability to build and maintain rapport are foundational qualities of an effective mediator . These will help a mediator bring the parties into the late innings of the mediation, to have opportunities upon which to capitalize, and toe earn the trust of the parties necessary to help bring about the conclusion of a dispute.
About the author: Andrew Tolchin is an attorney and mediator in the greater Houston area, and founder of 713 Mediator, LLC and Tolchin Law Firm, PLLC.