PR for People Monthly MAY 2017 - Page 24

"The key word is 'trust.' Without it, you're dead. Without it, stay home!"

- Alan Gold, Canadian mediator



by A. Troy Hunter

The level of trust between mediators and parties is key to the success of the mediation process. When two or more parties decide to participate in mediation, it’s generally because some sort of dispute, disagreement or litigation has been instigated. As a result, a certain level of distrust has already been fostered between the parties. There’s no guarantee that by participating in mediation they will ever truly come to trust one another... and in some instances, there are sound reasons not to, but even parties entrenched in mutual suspicion can come to trust a true neutral. It’s vital that mediators work to earn the faith and confidence of each party. Without the participants’ trust in both the mediator and the process, the outcome of mediation will be less than ideal – if a resolution can be achieved at all.

Why is trust so important to the mediation process? Because when trust levels are high, parties are less defensive and more willing to share important information in private session with the mediator and even with the other parties -- information that may be crucial to finding a mutually acceptable solution. They are more willing to discuss their needs and not just their wants. They are more open to exploring creative options and the idea of a win-win solution scenario.

In weighing your level of trust of a mediator, or even of other parties, it may help to reflect upon the qualities and behaviors of the people you trust in your life. Applying these principles to my own experience, I have found the following practices help me foster and maintain the trust of attorneys and clients alike:

- Ensuring the parties understand the mediation process every step of the way.

- Treating parties equally, with respect and dignity at all times.

- Creating an environment that makes the parties feel comfortable and safe.

- Asking non-threatening, open-ended questions and listening to the answers, so I can achieve a real understanding of their situation and their ideas for resolving it.

- Always demonstrating and maintaining impartiality and providing assurances that my only interest is in their interests.

- Protecting the parties from threats, intimidation, and disrespectful behavior during mediation.

- Never placing blame, judging the parties, or telling them what they must do.

In short, a mediator earns trust through his behavior during the mediation process. Effective mediators pay close attention to the ways in which they are building trust, and carefully weigh the possible consequences of any actions that might counteract those efforts. Because once lost, trust can be very difficult to restore.