I have been writing recently about impartiality in mediation: 1) about how a mediator needs to work with both (or all) of the parties without taking anyone’s side; 2) discussing the question of whether working with clients during mediation means treating them in exactly the same way, and 3) pointing out that some people can’t be impartial because they aren’t able to ‘sit back’ and allow the parties to create and agree on their own solutions, but rather must give (even advocate for) their own opinions.
In my last post, I ended by raising the matter of what happens – or, more accurately, what a mediator needs to do – when s/he feels some type of bias for or against a (potential) client. Now, I’ll address this question.
As a mediator, I have to be aware of my own feelings and responses from the very first phone call or interaction with potential clients. Usually, I don’t have any concern about my being able to work with parties in an impartial manner. But sometimes – and it may happen right away on the phone, or during a consultation – I do get a sense that my ability to be impartial in this particular case may be an issue.
What to do as a mediator:
- What is it that I’m feeling? Where does this feeling come from? Does this party remind me of someone (friend, relative, . . .)? Am I ‘transferring’ feelings about the person I have known onto the party?
- On the occasions where these questions about my impartiality come up, it is usually enough for me to recognize that I have the feeling – whatever it might be – and to identify where it is coming from. The feeling fades, and while I keep in mind that it is there, somewhere, I am able to work with the parties without it interfering in any way.
- But, there are those very unusual times when I cannot be impartial (or when I still question whether I can be). In such a situation, I have to acknowledge to myself that I am, or at least may be, biased. I then have to decline the case; which I am happy to do, if I am not able to properly assist the parties.
To be continued . . . .