How to Be a Good Mediator

There is no single type of person who makes a good mediator. While anyone with a background in counseling or law might already have an edge (since they are accustomed to things like ethics, remaining unbiased, and following protocol), virtually anyone can become a mediator given enough time and training.

That being said, there are certain types of personality traits, skills, and even professional backgrounds that make for a better mediator. Remember, though, that many of these skills are learned over time and with practice, so if you are not quite there yet, you can still become a mediator in the future.


In this article, you will learn what type of person makes a good mediator.

  • What personality traits are necessary for mediation?
  • What skills are suited for a mediator?
  • Where can those skills be learned?
  • What formal training is necessary to be a mediator?
  • Where do mediators work?

Mediator Personalities

Generally, a mediator is the calm, guiding force whom can keep the peace while the complainant and respondent work together to reach an outcome. It follows, then, that these qualities, calm and guiding, are the basic foundation of any good mediator.

Consider the following traits, which are all considered part of the mediator mentality.

Trustworthy. This includes being able to keep information confidential as well as being reliable when it comes to meeting appointments. The parties involved in the mediation are relying on you to act as the primary "authority figure" in the situation. Although you hold no real power over the situation, you must give the impression that you are the type of person who could have that power without using it to unfair advantage.

Humble. Humility is important in terms of being self aware and fallible. The people and situations a mediator deals with are often flawed or impaired. A good mediator must be aware of his or her own flaws as a human being to be fair to those who are going through an emotionally or financially distraught time.

Principled or Ethical. The reason there are ethics boards in law is that it can be very easy to overstep the bounds of propriety to force one's own opinions on the proceedings. While there are no official ethics boards for mediation, a mediator can maintain the same type of professionalism by committing to a sense of propriety and ethics.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Mediation course?

Non-Judgmental. The role of the mediator is never one of a judge. Despite what may seem to you to be the logical outcome of the mediation proceedings, you are not there to influence or otherwise sway the way the complainant and respondent work through their dispute. You are there to guide the conversations and to maintain a sense of order.

Patient. Mediation, though less lengthy than formal court proceedings, can be a time consuming process. Many times, the parties involved in mediation are working through intense emotions or years of history. This can take time, and mediators should be prepared to allow complainants and respondents to take the time they need to reach a satisfactory outcome.

Empathetic. Empathy means stepping into another person's shoes to understand a situation from the inside. While mediators do not have to agree with either side of the dispute, they do have to be able to see the situation from both sides. Only then can they remain truly unbiased and fair.

Logical or Rational. The logical and rational side of things has less to do with understanding the issue and more to do with following standard protocol and proceedings. Mediation requires being able to know how to move forward and help both parties to see when they are arguing around a subject.

Mediator Skills

While you cannot always help your personality traits, you can develop the skills needed to be a good mediator. For the most part, these skills are generally people and communication related, meaning that you know how to work with, and for, a diverse group of individuals.

These types of skills can be improved by taking college classes, joining groups at church or in social situations, and taking self-improvement or professional improvement courses. Many advocacy groups and private mediation organizations also offer training, particularly when they are looking for volunteer mediators or are hiring.

People Skills. You have to like people and be able to work with all varieties of them. Both the complainant and the respondent need to feel comfortable with you and willing to be open in your presence.

Team Building Skills. It does not matter if you are dealing with a husband and wife split or a larger corporate dispute, a mediator has to assist both parties in working together to reach an outcome. The challenge is doing this in the face of a large disagreement or conflict of interest.

Listening skills. Although a mediator directs the proceedings, his or her primary job is to listen to both sides of the story and move things along accordingly.

Verbal Skills. This deals primarily with being able to define and clarify any issues that arise. A good mediator will direct conversations without leading them.

Leadership Skills. A mediator is the natural leader in any mediation scenario. Again, although you are not "in charge" or passing a final judgment in any way, you do have to be able to lead everyone to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mediator Training

There are no national or state based regulations when it comes to mediation. Most mediators are not required to have a license or certification, although it is not uncommon for lawyers or other legal professionals to offer mediation as part of their professional services. Although certification does exist through several independent, private mediator training organizations, there is no official program for certification, making it a very subjective claim.

If a mediator would like to take referrals from the court system or otherwise work within the boundaries of the legal system, there are Supreme Court requirements. Most of these requirements are mandated by individual states, and they generally require the following.

  • 20 to 40+ hours in a training program certified by the Supreme Court.
  • At least four observations of mediations performed by a court certified mediator
  • At least four mediations performed under the supervision of a court certified mediator.
  • A background check.
  • A relevant degree (primarily to work directly with family mediation, usually in the form of a Master's of Social Work, Behavioral Science, Psychiatry, or Law)

To learn more about specific state requirements for this type of mediation, visit the individual state Supreme Court websites.

In addition to the court mandated mediation, professionals, mediators can work in a variety of settings, from running private mediation firms, to working with local counselors or churches to settle disputes on a part time basis. Many faith based and non-profit organizations use volunteer mediators, and offer training accordingly. Within businesses and corporations, employees are often trained as mediators to keep all disputes internal.
Preparing for Mediation
When two parties have determined that it is necessary to enter the mediation process, there is much to consider. They may have already filed suits in the court system and have been encouraged to pursue mediation instead. In other cases, they may have immediately considered mediation when realizing they could not come to a resolution on their own. No matter what the circumstances, it is likely that one or both of the parties will be unhappy and will need your help to navigate their issues. It will be your job to help them prepare, as well as to prepare yourself for the mediation that will follow.
In this section, you will learn what information you and the parties will need in order to be prepared.
  • What is the best way to approach information sharing?
  • What questions will the parties have that you can answer for them?
  • Are there tactics that will help the parties be more successful?

Once the parties have chosen you as a mediator, some responsibilities may fall to you. For example, you will need to work with all of the parties involved to schedule a mutually convenient time for the mediation. You may also find that you are working with the parties' lawyers or other advocates, so it is necessary to consider them when making plans.

To start properly, the mediator will communicate with both parties to determine if they are willing to utilize the mediation process. An agreement can be drawn up and signed to this effect. In some cases, however, one party may be looking into mediation before bringing the option to the other party. When this happens, you may need to send all information to the party who has called and allow them to approach the subject with the other side.

These first meetings will usually happen via the telephone, and they can be tricky, as the complainant and respondent will often try to explain their point of view to the mediator at that point. This is not an appropriate time for that, and the mediator must use the phone conversation as a means to explain the rules of the process and very little else.

The initial information packet should include:
  • The process involved in mediation.
  • The fact that it is voluntary.
  • The confidentiality issues involved.
  • Agreement to be honest and forthright.
  • An explanation of mediator impartiality.
  • Fees required and how they should be paid.

To limit contact with the parties, it is beneficial to have printed materials that you can send them. These materials can introduce them to the mediation process, can answer commonly asked questions, and may even include the agreement that you wish for them to sign. The signed agreement can also be obtained in a premediation meeting with each party. At this time, the mediator will again explain that mediation is strictly voluntary and that he or she has no power to make decisions for those involved.

Some of the commonly asked questions that your introductory materials might include are:
  • How long will the mediation process generally last?
  • What does mediation cost? Who pays for it?
  • Should attorneys be involved? What about experts relating to our issue?
  • What is the success rate for mediation?

What happens if no agreement is reached?
As a mediator, you probably realize that certain tactics and behaviors are more or less effective than others are. The parties involved in the dispute, however, will not have the same experience and understanding that you do. For that reason, it can be helpful to educate them before the mediation has begun. Again, this can be done through preprinted materials, during a phone, or in person meeting. Your job is not just to prepare yourself, but also to prepare the others who will be involved.
Some of the most helpful advice you can give when it comes to creating a positive outcome includes the following.
  • The conversation is often not between the two parties; rather it is between one party at a time and the mediator. The second party should be ready to listen quietly without interrupting.
  • Solutions will generally not make either party completely satisfied, but rather they will require compromise. Be prepared for this, as resolving the issue should be more important that simply "winning."
  • Honesty is definitely important, but both parties need to be tactful. Being honest is not an excuse for being insulting and rude.
  • Be conscious of your word choices. Try to avoid those that are accusatory, as this will slow the entire process when someone objects to the words being used rather than focusing fully on the actual issues to be resolved.
  • Avoid generalizing. Remember that while you may feel that you know a person's motivation for a particular behavior, you cannot actually read his or her mind. Likewise, "always" and "never" statements can bog down a conversation, so try to avoid those, as well.
  • Your behavior affects the other person's behavior. If you are rolling your eyes or accusing them of being dishonest, it will make a difference in how they treat you. The more stubborn you are, the more stubborn the other party is likely to be. Instead, try to approach the mediation with an open mind and a willingness to listen and to compromise.
  • Acknowledge the good things. If you realize you have some fault in the situation, you can make great strides with the other party by admitting it. If the other person is making an effort to find a resolution, thank him or her. This type of attitude can go a long way in improving the mediation process.