The mediator’s most important skills…

…are: (1) Good people skills, (2) Good management skills, and (3) Good luck.

First, good management skills pertain to the process considerations of the mediation process. Whereas skills, such as active listening and reframing, and competences, such as cultural and social intelligence, are vital, knowing how to manage conflicts and how to manage people is crucial. Good conflict management relates to the importance of understanding the different ways on how conflict is expressed and on how to choose from the most appropriate approaches to overcome impasse. Similarly, the ability to extract concessions, to forge coalitions, create alliance and to foster confidence building measures, is a key feature of any efficient mediation process. In addition to managing conflicts, the mediator also needs to manage his own team and other mediators. One characteristic of international mediation is the prevalence of a range of mediation actors, from individuals to states to institutions. At times, the mediation space is ‘overpopulated’ through the presence of co-mediators and an increasing number of conflict parties. In this situation (and as we will see from the case study), the mediator cannot simply rely on her skills as a mediator, but she has to become a manager as well, as if she were to lead a team. It is interesting to observe that it is often these managerial skills that lead to a disastrous mediation process and I have observed that it is something not taught in mediation programs. Secondly, a mediator needs to have good people skills. By that, I mean that she needs to employ and to apply common sense. This can start by knowing who to talk to first, who to invite to the table and who to leave out, and to know how to make use of appropriate language. Yet, beyond cultural paradigms and communication skills, the mediator has to remember at all times that she is dealing with people. She needs to recall that people are driven by passion, courage but also fear, anger, and frustrations. And when these frustrations and fear are unchecked, that the negative energy can explode and find other ways of expression. She needs to understand how deep seated and unresolved grievances between people, between groups, between tribes, between religions can bring about havoc and destruction. She also needs to remember that she is not void of any emotions that are similar to the ones she is supposed to mediate or to help resolve.

She needs to be aware and sensitive to her own personal demons and relate to them. This can be a crucial point to better research and learn about. Conventional training and research teaches us that a mediator needs to be neutral or impartial at all times. While this may hold true for commercial or domestic mediation, i.e. in those settings where the mediator has a certain degree of authority conferred by the parties, it may not be helpful for a mediator in an international or intercultural setting to display neutrality or impartiality and it may be difficult for her to remain so. Trust is an often overlooked and misunderstood dimension, yet a valuable cultural enabler. Therefore, understanding the cultural context of as well as verbal and nonverbal communication is a competence the mediator cannot do without. Thirdly, and finally, he needs to have good luck. As experience and research shows, one can be the best mediator in the field and he can still not bring the parties to stop fighting. Nor will he able to overcome impasse if the parties do not have the will to do so, no matter what tricks and skills the mediator employ. This is due to the nature of mediation, which relies heavily on communication. Each communication pattern is unique and provides a distinct set of interactions. No communication is equal and none can be replicated. Thus, and as much as we would like to think that a good process will lead to satisfactory outcomes, there are too many variables that a mediator cannot control. And he should not attempt to be doing so anyway.

More at: