Fostering trust in mediation

US Secretary of State John Kerry has been dispatched to Jerusalem to mediate the ongoing conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; but over half the Israelis polled earlier this month do not trust Kerry to act as an impartial mediator (source: FOCUS News Agency).

I have written before about the importance of truthfulness in mediation (Barriers to mediation: keeping secrets); parties are far more likely to open up if they trust the mediator and each other.

Trust must be earned and maintained; by the time they reach mediation, parties will often have lost confidence in one another, and the mediator must work to reestablish trust.

TRUST photo

First the mediator must, through their words and actions, gain each party’s trust and model the ‘ideal behaviour’ expected of the parties. Such ‘ideal behaviour’ will include:

  • Treating everyone involved equally, with respect and dignity at all times.
  • Creating an environment that makes the parties feel comfortable and safe.
  • Listening to each party, acknowledge their problem and how they feel about it, caring about their problem.
  • Showing that the mediator has no stake in the outcome of the dispute that will prevent the parties from reaching an agreement that serves each of their interests.
  • Never fixing blame, putting down, or judging the parties, or tell them what they
  • must do.
  • Asking non-threatening, open-ended questions.
  • Never betraying a confidence; whatever the parties tell the mediator in private session must be kept private unless express permission is given to share that information with the other parties.

Once the parties begin to trust and open up to the mediator, it becomes easier to trust and open up to each other, and barriers to a lasting solution begin to fall away.



  1. […] I have written before about how vital it is that parties trust their mediator for the mediation process to be effective. Once the parties begin to trust and open up to the mediator, the more likely they are to open up and trust one another. But what happens if the mediator loses that trust? Stephen B Goldberg, mediator and Professor of Law Emeritus at Northwestern UniversitySchool of Law in Chicago has studied the reasons behind the success and failure of mediation. Goldberg and co-author Margaret L Shaw conducted 3 studies, examining the components of successful and unsuccessful mediation.  In their 2008 paper titled “The secrets of successful and unsuccessful mediators” (26 Alternatives to High Cost Litig. 149, 2008) Goldberg and Shaw report that 48% of the respondents said that the unsuccessful mediator lacked integrity, making this the most common criticism. Overall, Goldberg and Shaw found that: “The central conclusion to be drawn from these three studies is that a–if not the–core element in mediator success is the mediator’s ability to establish a relationship of trust and confidence with the disputing parties. … The common theme running through Studies One, Two, and Three, then, is that gaining the trust and confidence of the parties is the most important element in mediator success. The mediator’s skills are also important, but these were less often cited as reasons for mediator success than were the mediator’s confidence-building attributes.” […]

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