Choosing a Good Mediator: Part II


The Intangible Factors

By Gregg Bertram, M.A. J.D. LL.M is CEO of Pacific ADR Consulting

Over the last six months, we’ve had the opportunity to interview a dozen of our colleagues who have regularly hired mediators.  We thought we’d take the guesswork out of the mediator selection process and share some of our findings that were compiled from many hours of interviews. In our first article, we focused on the essential elements that characterize a good mediator. In this article, we will focus on the intangible factors that are often specific to the mediator’s personality.

II.   The Intangible Factors

The intangible factors are often specific to the mediator’s personality and might be related to their emotional IQ, keen intuition, and the natural ability to build trust.

The True Neutral. The mediator must earn the trust of all of the parties. No small feat.  Earning trust among warring factions, is more than getting along with everyone. The mediator has the ability to be genuinely impartial, sincere, and show respect for all of the parties. As a true neutral, the mediator must possess excellent communication skills, and also know when to stand back.

Excellent Communication Skills.  The mediator should have a good vocabulary, i.e., the mediator can put together exactly the right sequence of words, and give it the right tone, at exactly the right time. This is an innate flair that has to much more to do than with the mediator’s choice of words, but has to do with how well the message is delivered. The mediator’s posturing and movement, as well as the level of eye contact made is all part of excellent communication. The mediator’s style, tone and mode of communication do make a difference, especially in an anxiety-filled situation involving money and emotions. The mediator must find the right words to put all of the parties at ease.

Unique Characteristics. The mediator doesn’t operate at one speed. One attorney we interviewed suggested that a good mediator is a chameleon of sorts, a bit different in every case to meet the unique needs of each party. No two cases are ever alike; the mediator must expend the right amount of flexibility, emotion and empathy needed to do the job. The mediator should have a calm and encouraging demeanor, a sense of humor, and may even be entertaining!

Knowing when to stand back. The mediator should have a sense of discernment and know instinctively how to strike the right emotional chord. From this positioning, the mediator knows exactly the right moment when to stand back, listen to the parties, and let the parties’ people have a possibly cathartic experience.  Parties should feel as though the mediator gets the job done, that he understands them and their position, and that they have been heard.

In summary, we’ve detected that many of our colleagues felt that good mediators share unique characteristics in common.  These intangible qualities have more to do with personality than solely the mediator’s professional credentials. While good mediators are thought of as being smart, experienced and funny, above all else they have the skill, stamina, and focus to get the parties to resolution.

Gregg Bertram, M.A. J.D. LL.M is CEO of Pacific ADR Consulting and one of this country’s most experienced and versatile mediators.  He may be reached at

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