Are you thinking of pursuing a career as a mediator? This brief article is intended as a guide to help you think through that decision and to learn what it takes to be a mediator.
At the present time, most states do not have a set licensing standard that governs who can call themselves a mediator. This means that almost anyone can print a card and call themselves a mediator. This does not mean the person is competent to practice mediation, however. It also does not mean that anyone would pay that person for their services. If you want to be a professional mediator, you will have to aspire to a higher standard and offer real value to clients by meeting their needs with respect to conflict that is causing stress in their lives.
Mediation is a cross disciplinary field. Most, though not all, successful professional mediators have a graduate level, professional background in a human services field such as law, counseling, or social work. To this, they add specialized training in mediation, negotiation, and conflict coaching skills. Ideally, this training would be done in an academic program devoted to conflict resolution, such as the Strauss Institute at Pepperdine University, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, the Graduate Program in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University. In sum, mediation is a distinct profession, and most professional mediators have a high level of academic training as well as rich practical experience.
As an example of the type of training that’s required to be a professional medaitor, the courts in my state, South Carolina, require mediators on the Circuit Court panel to be an attorney. Mediators on the family court panel must either be an attorney, or a “psychologist, master social worker, independent social worker, professional counselor, licensed professional counselor intern, associate counselor, marital and family therapist, or physician specializing in psychiatry, licensed for at least three (3) years . . . ” (S.C. Supreme Court ADR Rule 19).
The personality traits a mediator needs to be successful are: patience, empathy for and desire to help others, attentiveness to detail, ability to concentrate intently for long periods of time, ability to listen empathetically, ability to give honest and sometimes negative feedback in ways that do not offend people, skill in negotiation, ability to write agreements clearly and concisely with good grammar, ability to adhere to strict rules of confidentiality, and usually particular knowledge in the substance of the transaction being mediated (e.g. divorce, medical malpractice, or employment discrimination). Obviously, a mediator also needs to feel comfortable dealing with a high level of conflict and with people who are not “at their best,” and a mediator must also have a strong enough personality to maintain leadership during heated mediation conversations.
There is also another side to making a living as a mediator, and that is the business side. A mediator must attract and retain paying clients in a field where many people are not aware of the benefits of mediation or of the skill level that is required. As such, a mediator may need to raise awareness of mediation as a profession at the same time they are trying to establish reasons the client will want to use their service. A mediator should have not only competence leading hotly contested meetings, cheerfulness, and excellent communication skills, but also an energy level, drive, and enthusiasm to feel good about working a full day and then speaking at a local church or civic group for its evening meeting.
Two key books are Making Mediation Your Day Job by Tammi Lenski, and Mediation Career Guide by Forrest Mosten.
Here are two articles on marketing a mediation practice:
Ten Tips to Smart Marketing of Your Mediation Practice. (Sandra Davis, accessed February 20, 2012)
A Twelve Step Approach to Enhancing Your Alternate Dispute Resolution Practice (Anju Jessani, accessed February 20, 2012)
Do you have what it takes to be a mediator? Check out this video interview with Woody Mosten, conducted by Victoria Pynchon:
The book he refers to is:
If you think you have the personality and potential skill to be a mediator, the first step would be to spend some time with a mediator. Find a mediator and ask to attend a mediation or to shadow them for a day. Volunteer at a local community mediation center. If mediation continues to interest you, then consider obtaining an undergraduate degree in a human services field such as psychology, social work, anthropology, or sociology. Begin training as a mediator with a 40 hour course in mediation, use this as an entree to begin volunteering as a mediator, and then follow your professional inclinations to receive further relevant training.