The conventional thinking is that good mediators must have certain intrinsic innate qualities to succeed.
From my perspective though – just like any “nature versus nurture” debate – the truth is somewhere in the middle. If all the skills required of a successful mediator were simply genetic, there would be no point to mediator training and certifications.
Nonetheless, there clearly are certain personality traits that can help or hinder one’s ability to function effectively as a mediator. I would posit that a mediator needs to have a capacity for empathy and to build trust quickly. Similarly, a mediator must be a good and patient listener. I talent for creative solutions is undoubtedly also helpful. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a mediator must truly love mediating. It must be a true passion, and of all the qualities a mediator, this may be the love that truly “conquers,” or at least facilitates, all the other qualities. Yet, all of these qualities will only take a mediator so far. Once a mediator becomes too enamored with the notion that they have all the gifts needed for their “art,” he or she is almost certain to become stale.
In my experience, this staleness manifests itself in a number of ways, and you will know it when you see it. The first indicator is an overbooked and underprepared mediator. All the innate talent in the world is no excuse for not having prepared for the mediation by thoroughly reviewing the materials that the parties have sent you. As an advocate in mediation, there is nothing more frustrating than showing up at the mediation only to be told by the mediator that he/she did not have time to review your submission. A proper mediation submission is the product of considerable effort and expense, and there is no excuse for the mediator not having reviewed it. Anything less is, I think, actually insulting and disrespectful to the parties and their clients. It also wastes time retreading ground covered in the submission rather than forging ahead into new settlement territories.
Irrespective of whether the case settles or not, the highest compliment the parties can pay to a mediator is acknowledging that the mediator “worked really hard” to settle the case. I would say that it’s a safe bet that a party leaving the mediation with the feeling that the mediator really did the work and the homework, will lead to future engagements – and rightly so.