What Skills Must a Mediator Possess?
The role of a mediator is to assist parties of a dispute in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution. In order to do so, a successful mediator should possess some essential skills that will be helpful in mediating disputes. Below we will discuss a few skills a successful mediator should possess.
Active Listening Skills
Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. For a mediator, listening skills are essential. More than simply hearing what someone is saying, a mediator listens to acquire information and to model behavior for the disputing parties. Individuals involved in a dispute typically display emotions when sharing their “side of the story.” A skilled mediator will hear the facts as presented and will also pick up on the emotions attached to them. A mediator who possesses active listening skills should be able to hear what is being said from the speaker’s point of view as opposed to their own.
Questioning, Clarifying Skills and Reframing Skills
Throughout the mediation process a mediator will use questioning and clarifying skills to get to the bottom of a dispute and assist the parties in reaching an agreement. Often times, conflict does not lie in objective reality but in how parties view the dispute. A skilled mediator uses his or her skills as a translator to rephrase/reframe statements, so they are better understood. Rewording or restating what a party has said more constructively can help the parties view the dispute in a different light. Doing this will help the individual re-evaluate their perspective or clarify what is important to them in the dispute. Not only does reframing help the client better understand their own thoughts, it also assists in clarifying and de-escalating the conflict for the other opposing party.
Someone's cultural awareness is their understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values. Parties to a dispute may differ in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and belief of how disputes should be settled. Mediating in cross-cultural situations will require a mediator to have an awareness of one’s own cultural background as well as an alertness to cultural differences in others. Cultural differences can create barriers to reaching a settlement. A skilled mediator can overcome those barriers if she takes the time to get to know the parties’ background. Of course, no mediator can expect to have expertise in all cultures, however, the internet is amazingly helpful. By doing a little homework on cultures specific to the case and exhibiting knowledge learned, the parties may feel that the neutral cares enough to want to learn about a certain culture.
When used in the search for a solution to a dispute, negotiation and mediation share much common ground. Mediation is often referred to, quite rightly, as assisted negotiation, and this essence neatly captures both the form and function of mediation. That being the case, one would expect a skilled negotiator to also possess the same or similar skills as a mediator. The methods and processes of negotiation vs mediation might differ; however, a skilled negotiator should also possess the skills outlined above for a skilled mediator.