Mediation is coming of Age – Public perception

Mediation is coming of age, that is the theme of the 2017 College of Mediators National Conference. But what does this mean exactly? In this four-part series I will describe how mediators themselves are striving to make mediation a professional service that not only serves our clients well, but all of our professional colleagues too. In part 2 of this blog, I will discuss the way mediation services can work to improve the opinions of the public through the way mediation is explained, and the manner in which we present ourselves to those who call us.

Compared to today, 50 years ago making a buying decision was a comparatively simple process. You just popped down to the local high street and purchased from the local supplier of that product. That there wasn’t a great deal of choice actually made life much easier – even if you didn’t necessarily get the best deal you possibly could have if you’d compared offers in the nearest three towns.

Today however, access to information gives us a great deal of choice. Many would say this is a good thing because it enables us to research our options and make informed decisions – right? Well, this author isn’t always so sure about that. Too many choices and too much information up front can actually makes the buying process more complicated and stressful. Add to this the well-meaning desire of mediators to not misinform or misrepresent themselves, many consumers who contact mediation services feel things are even more hopeless than they were before they called.

Mediators wish to be fair and honest with their clients right from the very start and this is a good intention. They wish to be clear in how they present themselves, and accurate in describing what they can, and cannot do for their clients. We hear it all the time: “Mediation is non-binding”, or “We’ll help you reach your own agreement”, or “The mediator is impartial and cannot give any advice”. While all of these things are true, is it really doing the prospective client who has just called your service, or the profession of mediation in general any real favours by dumping this on them during the initial phone call? Yes, it is important when describing the things that mediation can’t do, but it is more important that this is done in the right context.

When a client contacts your service, they are looking for an answer. In the same way that when you call an automotive dealership to see if they have any low mileage pre-owned vehicles in stock they don’t point out that the blue Fiesta on the forecourt doesn’t have four-wheel drive, or can’t fly, the initial phone call isn’t the time to tell your possible new client all the things you won’t do for them.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do a minimum of qualifying of new clients to make sure that mediation is, in fact something that might help them (somebody calling a mediator looking for a good deal on a used car should be pointed elsewhere for example). My point is, that we first need to understand what the client needs, and explain to them the things we do that can solve their problem before we talk about what we can’t


Johnathan Pease
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