What to look for in a mediator

How to choose a mediator: The best place to start your search for a mediator is the professional association of mediators in your area. (In Toronto, that would be the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario.) A mediator who belongs to such an organization has made a commitment to the profession and to professional development. Depending on the rules of the organization, he or she will have been educated about the causes and dynamics of conflict, and about different approaches to conflict resolution. If you are looking for a mediator to help you facilitate a separation agreement or divorce, you should look for someone who has had training in family mediation.

Don’t hire the first mediator you call. Call a few, and get a feel for their different personalities and approaches. Ask the mediators you contact about their training and about their style and approach. Very broadly speaking, the main difference among mediators is whether they take an evaluative or a more facilitative approach.

Mediators who are strongly evaluative will not hesitate to tell you their views on your dispute and what they think an appropriate resolution would be.

Mediators who are more towards the facilitative end of the spectrum may offer suggestions to help you solve specific problems, but their focus will be on helping the parties in the dispute arrive at their own resolutions. The thinking behind this approach is that the parties involved are likely the most knowledgeable about the details of their own situation and so the best equipped to come up with durable solutions. There is also a good deal of evidence that people are more likely to respect agreements that they themselves have had a hand in crafting, rather than settlements that have been foisted upon them.

Whatever the nature of your conflict, it is crucial that you feel comfortable with the mediator and can develop a sense of trust. Even over the phone, you should have the feeling that the mediator is really listening to you, not just waiting for you to stop talking. It is very important that a mediator give the impression of being impartial about your conflict from the beginning. He or she will listen sympathetically but will not readily take your side no matter how compellingly you present it. Don’t be disappointed about this. While it is understandable that you would want an ally in an emotionally charged situation, do not try to put a mediator into that role. Mediators are able to do a better job in the end if all parties respect them as neutral in the dispute.