So you want to mediate a conflict…should you though?
Your friends or coworkers or family are in a conflict and you want to mediate it. This makes sense. You’re in close relationship with these people and you want to help. Who doesn’t want to help a friend in need?
Here’s the thing though, mediating a conflict is no easy feat. I’ve seen many people attempt to take this on only to see the process crash and burn shortly after.
So before you agree or volunteer to mediate, think about:
-The amount of emotional labour that will be required for this process. Do you have the capacity? Many people think a mediation is a quick and easy process, which sadly is often not the case as most people wait until their situations are pretty escalated before considering mediation. How will you prevent overwhelm for both yourself and the other parties? Mediating isn’t just facilitating dialogue and holding space, it is knowing how to contain and pace a process. It is knowing when to break and when to stop. It is knowing how to root a process in shared values and desired outcomes so a process is less likely to become explosive.
-Bias. Are you holding bias? This seems like a basic question, but I ask you it with seriousness. Too many times have I seen people with very clear biases towards one party lead a mediation with no one to hold them accountable for their behaviour and decision making. Mediators are meant to be impartial. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion or thought on the actions, decisions or behaviours of the parties, but it does mean that you cannot try to SWAY a mediation to be in favour of a party. This sounds easy but it isn’t. So who holds you accountable? What guidelines or protocol will be put in place to ensure misuse of power doesn’t happen? Is it even possible for you to remain impartial in this situation?
-Do you want to mediate or do you actually want to advocate? If you are the acting mediator then you cannot be a direct personal support to the parties. People do not realize this. Mediators hold confidential information and the trust of all parties. This makes it difficult to offer adequate or primary support or advocacy to a particular party or both. Are you better off as a mediator in this situation or as a support/advocate for one of the parties involved?
-The outcome this may have on your relationships with the parties involved. Have you thought about how mediating may affect the outcome of your relationships with the parties post mediation? Sometimes mediations end well and everyone leaves happy and with stronger relationships. Other times that is not the case. Whether because resolution wasn’t possible or because parties become unhappy with the decisions or responses of the mediator, things don’t always end well. Will you be able to handle the possible change in your relationship to these people if it’s not for the better? Trust me, people get mad at the mediator and mediators need to be able to accept that. Mediators need to be able to hold boundaries even to the dislike of the parties. Essentially mediators need good conflict skills and need to be able to comfortably sit with conflict that is directed at them or about them. This is much harder when the parties are people whose connection you are deeply invested in.
-Do you simply have the skills required? Mediation requires skills that if one is not equipped with, means you will see lower success rates in mediation attempts and higher chances of abuse of power. It is incredibly self aware to be able to say, ‘I don’t actually think I can do this properly or well.’ There is no shame in admitting when we are not the right person for a mediation or that we need outside support. Mediators actually do this all the time depending on our skill sets and ability to meet mediation requirements.
Next time you’re thinking of taking on a mediation, consider the above before making your final decision. Often mediators will let parties have support persons and advocates that can sit in on mediation sessions. Sometimes a friend will do better in that role. Many times, unqualified mediators are people who seek power rather than accountability and resolution. Other times, it is people who cannot afford mediation fees (which is different than those who simply decide that it is not a worthy financial ‘investment’), in which case I recommend looking into your communities or support circles to make sure there isn’t someone else who could be more impartial, or find a way to ensure accountability for all involved will be concretely evaluated and assessed.