*This article was published in the inaugural edition of Resolution Alley, a publication of the Alberta Arbitration & Mediation Society in February 2014.
An essential skill for mediators is the ability to remain neutral - not only in words, but in non-verbal communication as well. Staying neutral is often a challenge, but it is necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the process. According to Webster's Dictionary Neutral means "not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy". Without neutrality, the entire mediation process is in danger of becoming a "judgment" session in which the mediator ends up sending the wrong message to the parties through careless words and demeanor. Such behavior puts the parties on the defensive and destroys any confidence they have in the process.
Mediators should not seek to instigate or manipulate the parties just to get a settlement. After all, "a mediator is not an instigator!" When instigation and manipulation are used, it may send the false message that the mediator favors one position over the other. The parties may actually feel as if the mediator is trying to bend them towards that position instead of hearing their concerns. Mediators often hear things that they may or may not agree with personally, but their behavior and demeanor should not imply their opinion.
The mediator's role should be to filter through all the "noise", understand each party's interests, and seek to facilitate a discussion toward a merging of those interests.
Anyone can tell others what they should do in their case or what they should think. Mediators who problem solve, however, make the magic and all the ooh ahh moments possible!