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Top tips for commercial mediators
  • Jun 21, 2022
  • Latest Journal

Martin Burns

RICS, Head of ADR Research and Development  

In my experience, lawyers and other professionals who become commercial mediators are driven by three things. They want to add a new product to their service offering, they yearn for the challenge of doing something new and intellectually challenging, and they want to get paid for doing mediations.

I was recently talking to a Chartered Surveyor who had just completed a training programme and had achieved ‘accredited’ status as a mediator. He got in touch with me to chat about how he might develop his experience, and maybe earn a few pounds. Here’s what I told him.

Accreditation by a reputable mediation training body is only the first step in the process. If you want to be recognised and used as a mediator, you must not only have the desire but you must also have a genuine commitment to get where you want to be, and put the hours in.

An aspiring mediator needs to get ahead of the competition. Do more training on mediation techniques and communications skills. Getting accredited in the first place is not cheap. A commitment to invest further time and money is risky, but it is necessary if you really want to be a practising mediator.

Accreditation by bodies like RICS is a bit like passing your driving test. It signals that you have the essential skills required to be a mediator. You understand the role and you are far less likely to cause damage than someone who is untrained.  But you probably have no real experience and you have not been tested by dealing with real life disputes and real people. A mediator who has put the hours in and gained experience, and the reputation that follows, will be one step ahead of you.

One of the things you can perhaps do is to learn about different mediation techniques, such as the “evaluative” approach to mediation. This will give you the edge over a mediator who has just the one approach to mediation, i.e. the standard facilitative method. Getting trained in evaluative mediation techniques will allow you to adapt to the needs of different parties.

If you seriously want to be a mediator, you must start the process of expanding your theoretical knowledge, and any limited practical experience you may have obtained e.g. in training simulations. Get your hands dirty on pro bono and community mediations. Use your networking to grab hold of some experienced mediators who can act as your mentors. Persuade them to invite you to act as observer or co-mediator on their disputes.

I know some of the best mediators and mediation trainers around. One thing they all have in common is this: whenever I turn up at a mediation event, they are always there. So I often advise newly qualified mediators who are looking to practice their skills to go to mediation events and network.

Join groups and participate in mediation clubs and forums. Get your name out there. Hang out with practising mediators and learn from their experiences. Swap business cards (if they still exist) and then follow up. You could take experienced mediators out to lunch and use the opportunity to find out how they got to where they are.

If you are based in the UK, consider joining the Civil Mediation Council, and perhaps getting involved in its work to promote mediation. You might also join organisations such as the Family Mediators Association, Restorative Justice Consortium, the Standing Conference of Mediation Advocates, the UK Register of Mediators and some of the numerous online communities that have exist on Linked In and elsewhere. If you are not based in the UK, do some research on bodies in your region that offer similar opportunities for networking and learning. The message is: “network, network and network”.

Another bit of advice I gave to my aspiring mediator is to focus on his strengths. Some training and accreditation organisations will tell candidates that once they have been trained in mediation they can mediate any type of dispute. In my experience parties usually want mediators who really understand their disputes and are qualified in the relevant subject matter.

Parties often see the role of the mediator as more than simply managing an exchange of information. Although mediators with technical knowledge and experience cannot usually give advice to the parties, they can rely upon their familiarity with the subject matter to ask questions which can help the parties to properly consider the benefits and drawbacks of settlement options. If a party is being unrealistic an expert mediator can ask the questions that need to be asked to get the party to reality check their position.

Expertise in the substantive subject matter of a dispute also allows a mediator to quickly focus on the pertinent issues. A mediator who is familiar with technical aspects of a dispute can swiftly grasp the important facts and reduce the number of issues that need to be resolved to those that really matter.

There is of course a question of degree. A mediator will never have the same attachment or appreciation of the facts around a dispute that the parties will have. So if technical knowledge helps mediators to mediate, then a question arises as to what level of expertise a mediator needs to have.

My advice to aspiring mediators is to generally focus on their areas of expertise. Do not overtly promote yourself as a mediator of disputes that fall outside your normal sphere of professional activity. However, you may have had experience in a particular matter that enables you to understand technical issues and even emotive positions. I know one mediator who is a residential agent. He has been married 4 times. He routinely acts in divorce cases, and is a particularly good mediator where the issues are around what to do with the former matrimonial home.

In summary, my top tips for commercial mediators are:  network, put the hours in to improve your knowledge and experience, and focus on your strengths as a professional.

Look at the next RICS Online Mediation Training Programme which starts on 28 September 2022:

Martin Burns
RICS Dispute Resolution Service
11 May 2015