Optimism is a hugely important attribute for a mediator to have. And, whilst it might not be one that springs to mind straight away, it is a trait that can have a massive impact on the mediation process.
Most importantly, mediators must have faith and confidence in the process. After all, if they don’t think mediation can work, how can anyone else? In general, optimism and positivity tend to “trickle down”, and can actually work to motivate the parties involved. This can result in a number of beneficial outcomes, whether it be the participants suggesting an idea outside of their usual comfort zone or just taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture of the dispute.
To transmit this positivity, there are a wide variety of things that mediators need to be aware of when presenting themselves, including how they greet the participants, the words they use, and the body language they display.
Of course, mediators also need to be capable, navigating the mediation process in a confident and knowledgeable manner.
All of these factors can help to reassure and comfort the participants, who are bound to be nervous about an experience that they’ve probably not been through before. By helping them to relax, whilst also appearing positive, it may actually help to influence the participants’ mindsets. Before, where they might have been apprehensive, they may now begin to feel optimistic about it all. And, of course, this can open up a whole new world of possibilities for the outcome of the mediation.
Compare this with the opposite, however, and you have a completely different story. If the mediator isn’t fully invested into it, or comes across as dismissive about whether mediation will work, this will also transfer to the disputants. And, if the parties close themselves off, or don’t wish to continue with mediation, it is as good as finished. As we all know, mediation requires full and voluntary participation to truly see best results.
Of course, whilst we should always be optimistic about what mediation can achieve, we also have to be realistic. Because, whilst it is proven to be very effective as a means of resolving conflict, it is not a miracle-worker (most of the time). A mediator must not go into the session expecting to resolve it instantly and for all of the participants to be best of friends straight away. Many disputes go on for years and years, and can be deeply ingrained – expecting them all to be instantly cured after mediation is just not going to happen.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t other outcomes that we can’t be optimistic about. A good mediator will know that an agreement is not the be all and end all, as well as knowing that the mediation can still have a positive ending without one. For example, even just getting two disputants together into the same room and talking again can be seen as a win. It may open the door for further communication, as well as a possible reconciliation further down the line.
At the end of the day, we have every right to feel optimistic about the infinite possibilities that mediation can bring. However, as mediators, we need to understand the situation, follow the participants’ lead, and be realistic about what can actually be achieved.
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