What do Mediators Actually Do? Mediation Tools and How They Work

What do Mediators Actually Do? Mediation Tools and How They Work

Blog, Collaborative Divorce, Collaborative Law, Mediation, Ron Ousky

You may be familiar with mediation as a process in which a neutral person helps you reach agreements. Yet, if you have never been to mediation before, it is natural to ask; Just what does a mediator do to help us reach agreement?

Most good mediators have a range of “tools” that they use to help people reach agreements. These tools range from some very basic information gathering tools to more complex strategies developed to help you think about your goals differently.  The following is a summary of tools that are commonly used during mediation:

  1. Identifying what is important: Helping you identify your most important goals or “interests.” The strong emotions surrounding divorce can easily cause people to lose sight of what really matter in their lives.  Feelings of anger, fear or sadness, and the urgency that often accompanies divorce often draw divorcing people into frantic concerns about immediate problems. While immediate concerns will need to be addressed, skilled mediators help couples step back and think about their highest priorities.  This shift of thinking can, by itself, open up solutions that have not been considered.
  2. Getting clear on Facts: The next basic skill that good mediators employ is to help couples identify and gather facts as efficiently as possible. Until all of the important facts are known, discussion of solutions is generally unproductive.
  3. Identifying neutral experts: Many divorce disputes involve questions that can only be solved through outside options.  For example, spouses may differ on the value of their home or business, or their future expenses or incomes.  Good mediators can help located neutral experts to generate opinions geared toward resolving these issues.
  4. Teaming with specialty mediators: Mediators can partner with another mediator with specific skills in areas such as parenting, finance or communication. Divorce has many facets that can involve complex parenting and financial issues in addition to the legal concerns.  If your mediation requires parenting expertise, your mediation can seek the assistance of a parenting expert to assist in the overall mediation.  Similarly, if there are complex financial issues that go beyond the mediator’s general expertise, a financial neutral can be brought in to help.  
  5. Making sure both parties are heard:   Another key role of the mediator is to provide a safe environment that allows both parties to be fully heard. This full airing of the important facts and issues can help both parties understand and accept the possible solutions.
  6. Generating options.   One of the things that keep couples from finding solutions on their own is that they do not understand their options.  A skilled mediator can help both parties identify a wide variety of options so that they can carefully evaluate each option and arrive at the best possible solutions for their situation.
  7.  Intervene with other Impasse Breaking Tools:  If the couple gets stuck on any issues, most mediators have a wide range of intervention tools that they can use, when appropriate including things such as caucusing (meeting in separate rooms for portion of the mediation) or reframing.
  8. Offering opinions.  Mediators can make suggestions for a resolutions and, if they are qualified to do so, offer an opinion on how a court might resolve a particular issue.  Most mediators use this only as a last resort since the opinion may be upsetting to one or both parties and may interfere with the ability of the couple to craft a solution that is unique to the needs of their family.


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