As human beings, we invest a lot of time and energy into conflict. Even when we don’t want them to, disputes have a habit of drawing us in. Whether it’s getting involved in petty arguments, or major fallouts that have been bubbling under the surface, something within our nature seems to almost enjoy conflict. Of course, if we do miss the chance to nip it in the bud, it will get worse with time, to the point where we may even begin to obsess over it.
However, these reactions are somewhat understandable. Even if the trigger was something really minor, the conflict will often involve our own opinions, beliefs and emotions. These are all powerful aspects of our being, so it should be no surprise that we sometimes feel very strongly about things that could, in all honesty, be pretty meaningless.
It is for these reasons that the job of a mediator carries so much weight. To put it into perspective, the mediator is a stranger who is going to insert themselves into a dispute, one that may have rumbled on for many years and could mean an awful lot to the participants.
As a result of this, it is important that we are both professional and ethical in, not only how we carry ourselves, but with how we navigate the mediation process too. Not only do we need to gain their trust to give us access into this dispute, we must also be sure to not cause any further damage in our mission to find a resolution.
The following ethical principles are by far the most commonly found in mediation, although different providers may use different names or terminology.
As mediators, we must aim to understand and appreciate the situation that the participants find themselves in. This can be done by giving your full undivided attention, listening intently and responding encouragingly (our article on Empathy gives more detail). However, this must be done without becoming a friend or advocate. After all, we don’t want to break our impartiality (see our other article on Impartiality).
On top of behaving impartially, we must avoid manipulating either the parties or the outcome. Even if we know what the desired outcome should be, we must not interfere with the process of the participants getting to the resolution by themselves. As well, we only aim for a fair and neutral agreement – there should be no ulterior motives of any kind.
As with any profession, mediators must work within the limits of their competence. For example, practitioners who only have experience in family mediation perhaps shouldn’t take on a commercial case, especially if it requires a sound understanding of law or specific professional knowledge. In addition, you could argue that newly-qualified mediators with little experience might not be the best choice for high-profile or lucrative disputes.
Again, this is one that goes without saying. As part of our continued impartiality and neutrality, we must also make sure that we offer the same levels of support to both participants. This includes their access to the mediation, their need for any type of additional support (for example, a translator or carer), and tailoring the process for differing levels of mental and physical ability, if needs be.
Sometimes, people just can’t seem to agree, no matter how well the mediation went. And, when that does happen, it’s important that the situation isn’t worse than it was when it first came in. Included in this is causing harm intentionally, or doing anything that risks harm to any of the participants, which are both obviously ethically wrong.
When practising mediation, it’s important to understand how personal and deeply-held disputes and conflict can be. As such, it is equally important that mediators also have a Code of Practice that they adhere to.
Not only can this be used to show that we are professional, trustworthy and ethical, it can also give us something to work towards to improve our practice. And, when you deliver the best possible service, it gives the mediation every chance of being successful in finding a resolution.
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