What Makes a Good Mediator?

It takes more than just mediation courses


What makes a good mediator? And how is it that mediators—who themselves lack any power to impose a solution—nevertheless often lead bitter disputants to agreement?


Of course, serious mediation training and substantive expertise are critical, as is keen analytic skill. But according to a survey by Northwestern University law professor Stephen Goldberg, veteran mediators believe that establishing rapport is more important to effective mediation than employing specific mediation techniques and tactics.

To gain parties’ trust and confidence, rapport must be genuine: “You can’t fake it,” one respondent said. Before people are willing to settle, they must feel that their interests are truly understood. Only then can a mediator reframe problems and float creative solutions.


Goldberg’s respondents could report only their own perceptions about why they succeed, of course. A detached observer or the parties themselves might have very different explanations. Indeed, one of the tenets of mediation practice is to work subtly so that parties leave feeling as if they have reached accord largely on their own, a strategy that is meant to deepen their commitment to honor the agreement

The Art & Science of Dispute Resolution

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