A mediator is a neutral third-party who facilitates a conversation between two or more feuding parties. Coming from journalism, I know how hard it is to be impartial – I figured a story was fair if both sides accused me of being biased against them.
If the story about the first day of a trial began with something the prosecutor said, I tried to give the last word to the defence. In between, I tried to keep the Crown’s side of the story equal to the accused’s version of events.
Mediation has higher stakes than journalism, and you only get once chance to get it right. If someone gets more air time than their opponent, there can be a perception of impartiality. Balancing both sides in a mediation can mean you limit the talker to give space for the silent one to open up. You empathize equally with both sides. You practice active listening, and reflecting back what you heard, to both.
The emphasis has to be on the issue, with equal weight to those involved in the dispute.
This can prove a problem when a mediator is faced a marriage breakdown (assuming this is a heterosexual couple). From the outset, it may be assumed that the mediator will take sides with the opponent of the same gender. That’s why it’s useful to have two mediators at the table, one of each gender.
In my preamble to a mediation, I bring up my attempt to be neutral and I ask if there are any concerns as we go along for the participants to bring it up so we can talk about it. That way, I can correct any false impressions or change the way I do things so the perception of bias is addressed.