What personal qualities does a mediator need?

What disputants need from conflict resolvers is more than process: they need understanding, engagement, creativity, strength, wisdom, strategic thinking, confrontation, patience, encouragement, humour, courage, and a host of other qualities that are not only about process or substance.

(Mayer 2004, p. 146)


Empathy ‘refers to one’s ability to step into the shoes of another and see things from the other’s perspective’ (Johnson, Levine & Richard 2003, p.159).

In terms of emotional intelligence, empathy is seen as fundamental in its own right and as a foundation for a number of other competencies

Goleman (1995) believes gaining empathy involves mastering the skills of listening, active listening, reading nonverbal clues, being open to diversity, seeing others’ perspectives and understanding others.

Multivalent thinking

Multivalent thinking involves managing complexity, holding a number of fields simultaneously and being able to view events from multiple perspectives.

It also involves being able to shift between roles fluently, tolerate ambiguity and be flexible and adaptable.


Authenticity involves being emotionally honest.

Being who you are and not allowing your anxiety, pride or ego to be a mask. Not having to be perfect or have all the answers.

(Gold 2003, p. 98)

It is easier to assist conflicted parties in being authentic and centred with one another if we are authentic and centred, than if we are off-balance, inauthentic, ego-driven, or locked in conflicts of our own.

(Cloke 2003, p. 52)

Emotional intelligence and impulse control

An emotionally competent mediator is able to choose his or her response instead of reacting. An emotionally incompetent mediator is likely to lose control and react inappropriately.

(Johnson, Levine & Richard 2003, p. 158)

Emotional intelligence and impulse control involve:

  • Keeping reactions in check and remain non-judgemental
  • Managing impulsive feelings and distressing emotions
  • Setting appropriate boundaries to keep from being too caught up emotionally in the situation.


a mediator’s ‘presence’ is more a function of who the mediator is than what he or she does; it has a profound impact on the mediation process.

(Bowling & Hoffman 2003, p. 6)

‘Presence’ is defined as working from the heart, and being totally involved with the dramatic environment: intellectually, physically, emotionally and intuitively.

When one can be present to one’s own anger, hurt, fear one can be present to another’s deepest suffering. When one can be present during one’s own conflicts, one can be present during another’s conflicts … Through mindfulness practice, we learn to be present with all conflict.

(Bowling 2003, p. 270)

A mediator must be remarkably and uniquely present – a full participant. At the same time, and more fundamentally, the mediator must be present in a manner that embodies an understanding that she or he has no significance at all to the dispute and its resolution … The mediator must function within a paradox: how to be central and matter not at all.

(Hoffmann 2002)


The vexed question of neutrality is seen as standing for fairness and maintaining impartiality on the issues.

Being ‘organised, responsible, responsive, following through on promises and commitments, being truthful and accurate in reporting information, and admitting ignorance when that is the truth.

(Saposnek 2003, p. 251)


Intuition involves being able to sense and intuit how to move and manage the conflict. It can mean shifting from linear, logical, analytical, rational, task-oriented thinking to nonlinear, intuitive, holistic, emotional and metaphorical thinking.

Listening to the inner voice: ‘take a risk and do or say something unusual, or controversial, or out of character. To tell a joke or a story … or to just keep silent.

(Reitman 2003, p. 242)

Valuing what the parties bring

Valuing what the parties bring means believing that every person has a capacity for growth, change and good.

It involves deeply valuing what each party brings to the table, and expressing that appreciation so the party will feel truly heard and valued.


there is something in the realm of mastery and excellence that happens at apex moments when strategy, impact, problem, solution, cause and effect, and intervention and results converge.

(Adler 2003, p. 72)

It [artistry] is characterised by wisdom, talent, and intuition and people can learn to apply these elements in their endeavours, with intention and diligence, so that artistry is not merely a fortuitous convergence of a number of personal talents and abilities but arises purposefully’

(Lang & Taylor 2000, p. 5)


This involves being genuinely curious about everything contained in the party’s story (knowing what they did and why) and being genuinely interested in learning about what the client thinks rather than seeking to confirm hunches.


Honourable mentions

Other qualities that were mentioned less frequently were:

  • Wisdom
  • Optimism
  • Sense of humour
  • Creativity
  • Resilience
  • Honouring the history of the conflict
  • Being able to harness the energy of the dispute.

So, which of these are listed in your top 10? Which ones do you employ the most and which need cultivation? Do you use all of them, most of them, or do some only come out when you’re desperate or lucky?

Let’s keep talking about it.


Helen Collins works in a variety of dispute resolution modes including mediation, coaching, facilitation and training. She assists businesses to increase productivity by managing workplace conflict.

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