Roger Fisher, Harvard Law professor and pioneer of negotiation and conflict resolution techniques famously referred to the best-qualified mediator as a Eunuch from Mars, someone who is not aligned with either party and is disinterested in the issues at hand. Unfortunately, those in need of a mediator will be sorely disappointed when trying to Google someone with those qualifications.

It’s true, in order to gain and keep the trust of parties in mediation, the mediator must remain neutral and impartial. The legitimacy of the process depends on it. According to the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediation, “impartiality means freedom from favoritism or bias in word, action or appearance”. Of course, we all have built in biases we’re human. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise. An effective mediator challenges herself to identify what those biases are to prevent them from influencing objectivity when mediating.

I think the best way to keep bias and favoritism out of the equation is to focus on the task at hand, to facilitate agreement on the issues. After all, each party has had an upbringing, a unique history and events that have shaped their lives. I remind myself that for each of them the experience is different. The why they are divorcing and whose fault each thinks it is, remains in the past and therefore not the focus of the discussion. How they will reach agreement and what the details will be are about the here and now and more importantly about their future. Focusing on these questions keeps the mediation on track.

Of course, the reasons that one or another outcome may matter to each person are also important. And, as a human myself, I may relate more to one person’s reasoning than the other because I too have had an upbringing, a unique history and events that have shaped my life. Brining that recognition into mediation helps me maintain my neutrality and not align or favor any of my clients. Parties to mediation are free to have reasons for what matters to them and to express themselves free from judgment. In mediation, the goal is a fair outcome reached by consensus and compromise that is guided by a trusted third party. Eunuchs from Mars need not apply!

Image Credit: European Space Agency, used with Creative Commons license.

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