4 Tips for Working with a Co-mediator

A former student asked me about working with a co-mediator who had a different mediation style. It seems his approach was to help the parties solve their concrete problems, while my student's approach was to understand the relationship issues first.

Different mediators have different ways of approaching the process. Some like to move the mediation at the pace of the slowest party, others just the opposite - once the mediator understands the issues, s/he is ready to help the parties craft an agreement.

So, what can a mediator to do when the co-mediator's style clashes with their own? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Whenever possible, speak with a new co-mediator about your and her/his style, preferences, etc. BEFORE the mediation begins. A quick chat will go a long way toward building trust between you and the other co-mediator, even if your styles are vastly different. During your conversation, agree on a signal you can use to alert the other person that you want to try a different approach, call for a caucus, etc.

  • Avoid judging the co-mediator as being "wrong" or "bad" during the mediation. This can create an atmosphere of mistrust between the mediators, which will inevitably cause the parties to lose trust in the mediators, and the process. It doesn't matter if you would be justified in criticizing your co-mediator. The mediation is not the place for critiquing your co-mediator, even silently.

  • At your first opportunity to speak privately with your co-mediator (you may need to ask for a caucus) let her/him know your perspective. Consider using a form of the "I" statement you probably learned in basic mediation training: "When I heard you say ____ to the parties, I was considering saying _____ . What do you think of this approach?" This will minimize the chance of making your co-mediator defensive and allow your point to be heard. 

  • Whenever possible look for ways to leverage each other's strengths. For example, your strength may be to connect with the parties emotionally, while your partner may be skilled at helping parties invent options. Or you may be trusted more by one party and your partner by the other. In that case, consider taking turns leading the mediation, switching as appropriate.

Whatever you decide, acknowledge the strengths of the other person's approach. Remember that your co-mediator, like you, is a person with talents and shortcomings, feelings and even an ego. Tread lightly when expressing your discomfort and avoid embarrassing your co-mediator.

Alex Yaroslavsky