As they enter themselves into a private conflict, mediators will always be striving to gain the trust of the involved parties. However, the parties not only need to trust the mediator, but also each other and the actual process of mediation too.
After all, this will all be beneficial to what we are looking to achieve. For example, when trust levels are high, participants are less likely to be defensive and more likely to open up and share information. And, as we know, this can result in the building of understanding and empathy, and may be crucial to finding an outcome that is acceptable for everyone.
Conversely, if the parties don’t feel like they can trust the mediator, and subsequently mediation itself, the process is almost certainly doomed to fail.
Of course, the process of building trust can start long before the day of the mediation. The reputation of the mediator, as well as the organisation they represent, can instil confidence almost straight away and, when this happens, parties are more likely to deem them trustworthy. Participants may look at testimonials and reviews that are available, or dig into whether they have a Code of Practice and what accreditations they have. These are all aspects of quality assurance and can help to put their mind at ease during what will almost certainly be a stressful time.
But, most importantly, trust is built through the mediator’s behaviour on the day. Good mediators can display that they are trustworthy without having to explicitly say it, carefully considering all of their actions to weigh up what effect they will have.
So how exactly would a mediator show that they are trustworthy?
Create a safe environment
Build a connection and establish rapport to make them comfortable, whilst also making sure that the participants are familiar with the boundaries in place. Make sure that they are protected and in no way in danger of harm, threats or abuse.
Make sure that the participants fully understand the mediation process
Explain exactly what is going to happen and when, to take away potential anxiety that they might be feeling. Make sure that they are aware of what mediation aims to do and be honest about what it can’t do. Setting realistic expectations in this way can help to build respect and trust.
Show that we are impartial, neutral, and do not judge or blame
Let the participants know, both verbally and through your actions, that you are not there to take sides. You are also not there to lead the mediation in a particular way or make a judgement on who is right or wrong. This can give the participants confidence in the process and puts the onus on them to participate and work towards the building of an agreement.
Listening, understanding, and empathising
Listen carefully to all sides of the story, including their feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Understand clearly what is being said and appreciate what effect that has on the individual. This not only helps to comfort them as they get everything off their chests, but can also point you in the right direction of underlying issues within the dispute.
By following these techniques, mediators can start to build trust in a number of different ways, including between them and the participants, and also between the parties themselves. And, when this does begin to happen, we can then start to reach for the successful outcomes that make mediation so effective.