The less a mediator does the better. What mediators do best is bring their compassionate safe presence to a dispute in order that the parties can do the work to sort it out for themselves. With waiting, listening, attention, silence and the occasional pertinent question, the entire trouble can tumble out of each party and they can figure out where it needs to go. The less we say the better.
All of us still live in a culture where people are constantly telling others that they know best and lots of people have it so ingrained within them that they fall into the trap of wanting to be rescued and told what to do. Why do we assume, when someone tells us a problem, that we have to give advice? Used to looking up to elders and betters and being hit if they do not obey, parties and lawyers can sit back in a mediation and assume the mediator is going to do it for them.
If we as mediators are saying by our demeanour, conduct, CV, or speech:
“I am an expert in this field, I know better than you what is best” or
“I am a specialist, look up to me because I know where this is going” or
“I know how to solve this, you need to do this….” or
“My ego is bigger than yours, you’d better heed what I say” etc,
then we are not mediating, we are JUDGING BY THE BACK DOOR.
It is a change of mindset for those of us with long careers in a particular profession, expertise or speciality to accept that people, given a serious chance, can find how best to solve their dispute for themselves if we give them the space. If the process is set up well and allowed to unfold we need to learn to trust it to work in order to avoid falling back to the old ways of telling people what we think.
Compassionate mediators following the process create the golden opportunity parties need. It may be helpful if we know the jargon, the general background and something of the gist of the matter, but if at any point we are thinking in the back of our mind anything like these sorts of thoughts:
“He or she deserves this or he or she ought not to achieve that, or it would be fair to settle at around this much or its not fair that they are at that much or this is roughly what ought to happen in this, or it would be better if they did this or a judge would be likely to decide that…”, etc
then we are doing the parties and mediation a great disservice and potentially bringing it into dispute as well as creating possibilities of being sued for professional misconduct.
Every moment spent judging in our heads is a second of pure presence, empathy and compassion that is unavailable to benefit, facilitate and create process for the parties.