Top Tips for Mediators
The 10 top tips for mediators. By Martin Plowman
I have now mediated over 500 cases. Which means that this is perhaps an appropriate time to pause, to take stock, and to offer some considered advice to those setting out on the mediator’s path.
Not in the arrogant assumption that having mediated 500 cases I now know it all, for the more I mediate the more I realise that I still have much to learn, but simply on the basis that we can all learn from each other’s experiences. In which spirit, and in the hope that I may prompt others to add their own lessons-learned-from-experience, I offer Stupid Bear’s Top Ten Tips for Mediators:
1. An on line booking system is a great idea. It makes your diary accessible to those who wish to instruct you, and enables a mediation date to be reserved at the click of a mouse. But, next year, I shall book out Mrs Bear’s birthday first. And you, brother and sister mediators, should do the same. Better still, book out your own spouse’s or significant other’s birthday. If you don’t, someone else is bound to book that day for a mediation that is certain to last until midnight. Which you do not want on that day of all days. Trust me on this.
2. Learn to meditate (that's meditate, with an extra "t", not "mediate", which mediators know how to do already). Meditation will calm you and according to Zen Buddhism give you insights into the nature of reality itself. It will also mean that when someone rings up and says “Hello? Is that meditation-1st? I have some questions about meditation” you will be able to give a civil, and possibly even helpful, answer.
3. Clients are entitled to expect you to have read the mediation bundle in an atmosphere conducive to calm concentration. Do not attempt to read the bundle in the presence of a cat. It will sit on the expert’s report, and then spill tea over the photos.
4. Do not attempt to read the mediation bundle on a train. Even if there is no cat on the train. Under a little known European Union directive all lever arch folders and ring binders are now booby-trapped to spring open if removed from a briefcase on a train, distributing the papers over the railway carriage in a most entertaining order.
5. A mediator must go wherever the dispute is. Accept this, and enjoy the chance to see the beauty and variety of this sceptered isle. Recently, I’ve stayed in the Oxford Premier Inn. And the Hartlepool Premier Inn. And the Birmingham International Premier Inn. Not to mention the Nottingham Premier Inn. And the Sevenoaks Premier Inn. And the Wigan Premier Inn. Plus Manchester, and Leeds, and Dover. And many more. Oh, yes Sir, a mediator leads a jet setting, glamorous life style.
6. If Norwich City (or, should you be unfortunate enough to support another football team, then that team) are playing at home in the evening, the mediation will run late. Too late for you to get to the match. There is nothing you can do about this, and saying “Come on people, we have to settle this, the match is kicking off in half an hour” simply does not work. So you may as well accept it. If you support Norwich City you may take some consolation from the fact that they only ever win when you’re not watching, so perhaps without you there they will win.
7. One of the advantages of mediation is the flexibility of the procedure. Never the less, even if the case is about them, animals are best left at home. And never, ever, try to hold a joint session with animals present.
8. The “double blind”, where the mediator floats a settlement figure in both parties’ rooms separately, can be a valuable tool in bridging a settlement gap. It works best, however, if the mediator manages to float the same figure in each room.
9. Mediation can settle the most unlikely cases. So you should on no account, ever, say to the parties: “If this case settles I will run naked around Norwich Cathedral”. Do not even think about it.
10. Following on from 9, above, never give up hope. Not in your career as a mediator, nor in the mediation process in general, nor in the prospects of a particular case settling. Despite the cats, the exploding ring binders, and the other challenges that beset us, the overwhelming majority of cases do settle. Mediation works. I’m not sure I understand fully why it works so well, and I’m sure it has more to do with the good sense of the parties and their advisors than it does with me, but it works. I received a letter recently that said “I just wanted to thank you. This dispute caused me sleepless nights and miserable days. You can’t imagine how I dreaded the mediation. I had no hope that we would settle. A deal seemed impossible. But you found a way, and I feel like a weight is lifted from my shoulders. I have my life back. Thank you.” There. Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile?
About the Author
Martin Plowman, from the United Kingdom, has successfully mediated over 500 cases.