Updated January 2023
When people want to keep legal disputes out of court and behind closed doors, they often turn to mediation.
There are many reasons mediation has grown in popularity as a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Most notably, it generally costs less than litigation and is far more flexible. Mediation is voluntary, the outcome is not legally binding, and unlike adversarial courtroom battles, mediation focuses on solutions that satisfy everyone involved.
But bringing opposing parties together and helping mistrustful people find common ground is far more challenging than it sounds. Mediators need a complex skillset to ensure the process proves worthwhile and participants leave satisfied with the outcome.
Considering pursuing mediation training, and wondering if you have a natural aptitude for conflict resolution?
Start by assessing your skills in these six key areas. If you're strong across each of these competencies, you have a good chance of becoming a highly effective mediator.
1. You possess a high level of emotional intelligence
People with a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ) are good at "reading" other people's mindsets and attitudes. This insight helps them form bonds and gain trust, which in turn can encourage a more open and honest flow of communication during mediation.
Daniel Goleman, psychologist and world-renowned expert on emotional intelligence, has identified numerous skills related to EQ—all of which are extremely relevant to mediators:
- Empathy and understanding of others
- Conflict management
Within the EQ spectrum, we find many of the competencies you'll need to help others find common ground and resolve disputes.
If you possess a high level of emotional intelligence, you'll have a natural advantage as a mediator.
2. You are an effective, empathetic communicator
Chances are, if your emotional intelligence is strong, so are your communication skills. For mediators, the communication skillset includes several crucial abilities:
1. Active Listening
Active listening involves showing the speaker that you are fully concentrated on what they're saying.
You don't jump in with comments or take sides, and you give both verbal and non-verbal cues that show attentiveness and interest. This is key for building trust during mediation and showing all parties that you are fully present and respect their points of view.
If you're good at active listening, you're probably good at demonstrating empathy. You can imagine what it's like to be in the other person's position.
You show this understanding with eye contact, smiles, non-judgmental body language, and allowing everyone involved to fully tell their side of the story.
3. Clarity & Persuasion
You are articulate and diplomatic. You can summarize key points effectively, clarify murky issues, and help others see disputes from different angles.
This makes you a natural problem-solver—and it's likely you often find yourself settling disputes between family or friends.
Quality mediation training helps aspiring mediators build on their natural communication and conflict resolution skills. You'll develop even stronger techniques for establishing rapport, defusing volatile situations, and keeping parties on track toward a resolution.
3. You have excellent analytical & critical thinking skills
This is a crucial trait for mediators. In most cases, there are serious underlying issues that are fueling each conflict you deal with. These issues are often hidden and must be delicately uncovered (and addressed) in order for the mediation to be successful.
This involves careful questioning, listening, analyzing, and extrapolating. Like a detective, you'll need to piece together the true source of the dispute.
What's really driving the hostility, entrenched view, or unwillingness to move forward? What does each party really want?
Mediators must dig deep and encourage parties to put their cards on the table. If you can't get participants to reveal their true interests, there can be no satisfactory outcome.
4. You are meticulous & detail-oriented
So far, we've touched on mainly communication and problem-solving skills. But it's important to note that mediators must also understand and follow the legal guidelines that govern the practice of mediation.
You must know relevant aspects of family law, contract law, workplace legislation, and how to draft a clear Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement.
You must understand the steps and procedures of the mediation process and be able to apply those steps to each conflict you mediate.
An accredited mediation certificate will include instruction in these areas, so you enter the field prepared to manage the technical and legal aspects of the mediation process.
5. You have good organization & time-management skills
People choose mediation over litigation because it's usually faster and less expensive. But that's only true if the mediator is efficient and well-organized.
To do this job well, you must be punctual, keep the process on track, come prepared to each meeting, and know when to end a session that has ceased to be productive.
6. You can control your emotions & remain objective
Mediation is used to settle a range of issues, including separation and divorce, child custody, workplace conflicts, and contractual disputes. These are often emotionally charged situations where parties are apprehensive, stressed, and prone to outbursts.
The mediator must "hold the centre"—in other words, be the one who always remains calm, focused, and in control.
This can be really tough, especially if you find yourself sympathizing with one party or perhaps judging another. In order to be effective, mediators must remain as objective as possible. If they lose emotional control, they risk the integrity of the entire process.
Award-winning attorney and experienced mediator Sam Imperati emphasizes just how important this trait is for mediators:
"The mediator must be totally objective in evaluating the information obtained...He must have exceptional self-control to avoid displays of genuine anger, irritation, sympathy, or weariness that may cause him to lose the initiative during questioning...He must not become emotionally involved with the party."
Imperati drives home just how challenging mediation can be. Mediators are human and naturally prone to bias. How will you remain impartial if someone expresses a belief that directly conflicts with your values or worldview? How will you keep your own emotions under wraps when the disputes you mediate are so emotionally volatile?
You'll find that these and other challenges are the focus of quality mediation training. It takes years of experience to hone the art and science of mediation, but quality training can provide practical tools to help the process along.
Want to learn more?
Interested in pursuing a career in mediation and want to learn more about mediation courses and professional designations?
Explore the Mediation & Dispute Resolution certificate delivered by Kompass Professional Development.
This certificate is accredited by the ADR Institute of Ontario and ADR Institute of Canada, and meets the training criteria required to achieve the national and provincial Qualified Mediator designation.
Study online and earn your certificate in just 12 weeks.
Click below to learn more and chat live with a knowledgeable Kompass advisor.