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.

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