5 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Mediator

Just like going to the dentist, no one truly wants to go to mediation.  The fact is that it is often a healthier, more productive way to settle disagreements.  Just like with teeth – a tooth brush has its limits, sometimes we need a dentist. Hiring the right mediator is essential; not only must they be neutral and objective, they have to be able to create and maintain a safe environment.

Not everyone can do this when tensions and emotions are present in high doses. Choosing a mediator is more involved than pointing to a listing in the phone book; how do you narrow down your choices and make the right decision? Here are five questions to ask any potential mediator to make sure you’re not only getting the best person for the job, but also the best chance for an amicable resolution.

  1. How do you approach new cases/disputes? What happens throughout the process? This question is open-ended, and that is ideal because you want the mediator’s thoughts, as well as concrete information. Does he/she explain the procedure clearly? Do you understand what will happen and when? Do you understand your role and that of the mediator? Does the mediator meet with each party prior to the  face-to-face mediation session?  How much detail does he or she want to know in advance of the mediation?
  2. Which style of mediation do you use? While every mediator is charged with maintaining neutrality, not everyone handles cases the same way. Some use a problem-solving approach, while others use what is called a “transformative” approach. Some are evaluative, others facilitative. None of these styles of mediation is necessarily better than another, but one style may be better suited to the subject area of problem, relationship of the participants, or the personalities involved in the dispute. Ideally your mediator should be able to adapt his or her approach to the situation.
  3. Will you leverage your experience to offer opinions that will help resolve our problem? The answer you should hear is, “No. I won’t give my opinion unless I am specifically asked for it.” A mediator’s job is to remain neutral; rather than stating his opinion, he helps both sides listen effectively to each other. It is not his place to “solve” the problem. Rather, he should help you brainstorm creative ways that you could achieve resolutions on your own. If asked, however, your mediator can offer his opinion, but this should be done somewhat reluctantly and generally only near the end of a mediation or to break an impasse.
  4. What is your area of expertise? A good mediator should be able to handle just about any sort of dispute, but it may also be helpful if you choose someone who has experience in the subject area of the dispute if complex technical things must be understood. It may also be useful to have someone who already has experience in a particular type of dispute. (e.g. workplace harassment, insurance claims, etc.)
  5. Do you like the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs? What does this have to do with mediation? Absolutely nothing. Asking a question like this can help you determine if you are comfortable with the mediator, if you are able to speak with him, if you can relate to him, if he can go with the flow and adapt. And no, he doesn’t have to pick your favorite team! You could ask what his hobbies are or how he likes the weather today. Whatever it is, you can use this as a litmus test. Do you feel comfortable with this person?

Interviewing a mediator is like going out on a first date; you want to get to some basic information, get a feel for the person, and see if you connect. If so, it’s time to make that second call and make a commitment to get the mediation process started.

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