Tips for Selecting a Mediator

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Mediation helps people with conflicts to explore, and oftentimes to agree on, mutually acceptable settlements. Positive results turn on several factors, not the least of which are the mediator’s training, skills, and experience.

Competent mediators come from a variety of professions, and employ different styles. Among other factors consider each person’s experience, reputation, advanced degrees, mediation training, and accreditation by organizations such as NJAPM -- the only statewide organization to offer accreditation in New Jersey.

Also, consider your personal preferences. Do you want a mediator who dictates solutions, one who suggests options, or do you prefer a less directive approach?

The minimal qualifications for anyone who undertakes this important responsibility are:

  • Impartiality – Independence and objectivity. Some people describe this characteristic as “being an honest broker.”
  • Integrity – Mediators oftentimes convey information that parties may find disturbing, or difficult to accept. This requires the candor to communicate honestly, the courage to follow professional standards, and the strength to reject unethical suggestions occasionally advanced by participants.
  • Respect – Responding to disputants as people with difficult problems under trying circumstances.
  • Good listeners
  • Ethical – Mediators face an array of ethical issues. Chose only those who have agreed to be bound by published standards from recognized organizations such as the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators, the Association for Conflict Resolution, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation, or the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.
  • Important Personal Traits – Other helpful qualifications include empathy, maturity, calmness, analytical skills, persuasiveness, and intelligence.

Subject Matter Expertise – Before seeking a mediator, it may be helpful to consider whether someone with expertise in the area in which the dispute arose would best serve you. For example, in landlord/tenant dispute over a commercial property would you prefer a mediator who is versed in real estate transactions and law? Would your answer be the same if the conflict concerned an apartment lease? Different people answer such questions differently. As a rule of thumb, mediations involving complex, multiparty disputes move forward more quickly and elegantly if the mediator understands the underlying substantive area, e.g., constructing a nuclear power plant. Conversely, virtually any professional mediator can readily mediate less complicated conflicts. 

Areas of practice - Divorce mediations tend to be different than commercial mediations or even elder mediations.  A divorce mediator should have very specific training pertaining to the items relating to a divorce, which a mediator who only handles commercial cases likely will not have.  There are different levels of emotions in the different areas of mediation. Make sure you select a mediator who handles the type of conflict you are trying to resolve.

A Reminder – Mediators serve with the mutual consent of all disputants. The information, which follows, assumes that you are conducting an initial search with the intent of locating several potential mediators. Once this task is completed, you will need to consult with the other side, and mutually agree on a neutral.

Where to Search – With the advent of the Internet finding mediators for most disputes has become increasingly easy. Your two primary choices are searching by organization, or by mediator characteristics. 

  1. Searching by organization provides “one stop searching.” For example, in New Jersey a visit to NJAPM’s website allows searches based on the issue in dispute, e.g., matrimonial, employment, construction and/or by geographic area. When seeking mediators outside of New Jersey consider visiting the websites of: American Arbitration Association; Conflict Prevention and Resolution Institute; Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; or the International Chamber of Commerce.
  2. Many mediators maintain individual websites. Your favorite search engine will locate a number of professional mediators who should fit your needs. Here is an example. Let’s assume that you are looking for someone to mediate a dispute between several partners who are winding down their Denver business. You might search, using the following terms: “Mediator, partnership, business dissolution, Colorado.” If there is a preference for an accountant to mediate either CPA and/or accountant could be included among the search terms.

Another approach is a “word of mouth” search. Asking a trusted friend, an attorney, or therapist for the names of mediators with whom they have had experience will add to your list of potential neutrals. Any names supplied should then be researched.

What to Look For in a Mediator – Beyond the minimal qualifications listed above, you will want to ask:

  1. How long has the mediator been in practice?
  2. How frequently has the mediator been chosen to serve? What percent of these were withdrawn, or settled before the mediator actually met with the parties?
  3. How many cases has he/she mediated in the past 3 years?
  4. What is the mediator’s batting average? Most mediators resolve between 65 and 80 percent of cases assigned to them. These statistics vary with the nature of a conflict; whether it was voluntarily submitted to mediation, or court referred; the number of disputants; the amount of money in controversy; whether the parties are represented by counsel; and the “emotional heat.”
  5. What is the quality and quantity of initial training?
  6. How many hours of continuing education in dispute resolution has the mediator taken in the last 12-months? Over the last three years?
  7. What certifications, or accreditations has the mediator obtained? In New Jersey, the APM (i.e., Accredited Professional Mediator) designation is awarded to mediators who have met professional standards. Similarly, the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Advanced Practitioner designation is awarded to experienced mediators.
  8. Has the mediator been appointed to special rosters such as: the matrimonial and civil rosters maintained by the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s employment panels; the FINRA Mediation Panel (resolving brokerage conflicts); and the CPR Panels of Distinguished Neutrals.
  9. Is the mediator a proven authority in the field as demonstrated by articles, speaking at workshops, and active participation in professional associations?
  10. Does the mediator mentor, or otherwise train entrants into the profession?
  11. What are the mediator’s fees?
  12. Is the mediator willing to provide references, or allow you to contact people who are familiar with his/her services? (Confidentiality considerations will require the mediator to obtain consent from any party for whom mediation services have been provided.)

Interview Potential Mediators – It is important for mediators to establish personal rapport with all mediation participants. Conducting a brief telephone interview will go a long way toward determining whether you and the mediator are a good fit. It also affords an opportunity to gather more information about the mediator’s training, experience, style (transactional, facilitative, evaluative, or directive), processes such as the use of caucus, and availability. Be prepared for the mediator to suggest that the other parties also contact him/her.

Click to seach for an Accredited Mediator.