As a mediator in Southern Florida, I often explain to clients the benefits of preparing for mediation. Mediation is a system of processes designed to assist parties in resolving their disputes economically and more quickly than the traditional court system. Mediation is an informal settlement conference, while arbitration is similar to court in that a decision is made for you by a neutral party. In mediation, the parties are encouraged to work out a resolution, thus, having total control over the resolution to their dispute. The mediator is there to guide and assist the parties in formulating this solution. To read more about mediation, please refer to my article entitled, “What is Mediation in Florida?” Its value lies in reducing the time, cost and uncertainty in the civil justice system. The key to achieving successful results in mediation is preparation and choosing the right mediator. In this article, I will explain how to prepare for mediation and characteristics of a good mediator in Florida.

How Should I Prepare for Mediation in Florida?

Manage expectations. Mediation can be a challenge for clients to understand, especially those who have never experienced it. Not knowing the process and the only point of reference being television court dramas, managing a client’s expectations can be difficult at times. However, two of the more important expectations to address are those concerning what the results of the mediation might be and what behavior to expect from the mediator.

Manage emotions. Mediation is, for the most part, a negotiation process, and heated emotions, as understandable as they are, will not allow you to have the clear head you need for the process. Mediation is not the time for hurtful words and it is not good for the process. Enter the mediation process composed and focused. While it is easier said than done, check your emotions at the door.

Negotiation, not confrontation. The past is the past and it cannot be changed. Arguing is something that you have done before, and it does not work. Negotiating, however, works and works well. Together with your mediator, you can formulate a strategy to accomplish what you are looking for, within reason and within the scope of what is possible.

Create a mediation budget. It will be easier to negotiate if you know how much money you need, monthly or as a lump sum, in order to achieve what you are looking for, or how much you can afford to pay. It is important to be realistic and budget on fair and concrete expenses, and bring it to mediation with you. Your budget form should include housing and household expenses, car expenses, kids activities and expenses, health insurance, co-pays, deductibles, and miscellaneous expenses. There are many family budget forms online. Find the one that you like the most or ask your mediator for one.

Know your rights and obligations. Attend more than one consultation. Gather information. Read articles. Do not go through the process of mediation before you know the terms, the meanings, the implications. Educate yourself. Read books. Many professionals offer free consultations. Go to a few, together or separately, and ask a lot of questions. It will give you a clearer picture of what your options are, and what each option means for you.

What Characteristics Should I Look For in a Mediator in Florida?

Mediators do not have any binding authority to make decisions, and they must convey this understanding in their dealings with clients. The mediator is meant to facilitate engagement between the parties and to help them reach decisions for courses of action. Mediators must understand at all times that all authority to choose a course of action rests on the participants. Any attempts to force decisions, or to push for a certain course of action, are ethically unacceptable for a professional mediator. The role of the mediator is to help the parties to understand the issues, communicate and come to their own informed decisions about how to proceed.

It is important to know what your rights are and to get legal advice. If you feel that your attorney is steering you towards litigation and is more adversarial than you are looking for, you can ask your mediator for a referral. It is great to have the legal advice on the one hand and keep yourselves out of litigation and out of adversarial proceedings on the other hand. The mediator should not be adversarial and should guide you through the mediation process.

Impartiality.  To be effective, fair and professional, mediators must act as impartial and neutral parties. The mediator may develop personal feelings of respect, favoritism or distaste for one of the parties, but that must not come into play at all in the proceedings. The same goes for the mediator’s opinion on the case. Mediators might feel strongly about one side of a dispute, but their duties require them to remain neutral and disinterested arbitrators — or their roles as mediators become compromised or nullified. When mediators have any sort of personal or professional interest in the results of mediation, they must step down and allow other mediators to take the cases.

Confidentiality.  When conflicts arise and require formal mediation, there typically is a lack of trust between the two parties. Mediators have an ethical duty to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of all parties involved in the proceedings and to foster an atmosphere of trust. It should be made clear from the beginning of the proceedings that no information from the mediation sessions can be used at a later date without permission. Aside from being an issue of professional ethics, it is necessary for clients to be assured and certain of their confidentiality rights for the mediation process to be effective.

Honesty. Honesty is important to mediation in many ways. Mediators have an ethical obligation to inform the parties of their professional background and how payments will be determined. Mediators should disclose up front all information about the mediation process and its implications, as well as anything that might compromise the parties’ willingness to continue the process. Honesty about their perspective on the case, their understanding of the law and any relevant information is vital to ensure that the parties are able to independently make their own informed decisions. Honesty means providing additional relevant information that the parties may be unaware of. 

The ability to see common causes and links. A vital part of the process is identifying the aspects that can bring the parties together as well as those that are causing conflict. Good mediation should find the potential for common ground and help the parties to understand the points of view of others. Those issues that will help bring employees together can only be discovered if the mediator listens carefully, understands the underlying problems and compares the goals of each person.

Experience. Theoretical knowledge is important but, unless a mediator can relate it to real life situations, it will not resolve the conflict. Secondly, like anything else, practice makes perfect. The more conflict scenarios that a mediator has managed, the better the expertise they will bring to the problem. The best mediators have experience of a wide range of conflict across a good number of industries.

Adaptability. A Mediator must adapt to the many and varied personalities which he will encounter. He must also adapt to all types of locations, operational tempos, and operational environments. By being adaptable, the mediator can smoothly shift questioning and approach techniques according to the environment and the personality of the parties.

Mediation is a wonderful way to resolve conflicts without the cost and uncertainty of litigation and the keys are preparation and having a good mediator. Should you find yourself in need of an experienced mediator, contact Carlton Mediation. I have the experience for a successful resolution to your conflict.