Monthly Archives: May 2017

10 Tips On How to Hire a Mediator

As we get older we anticipate more calm and less conflict. It is disappointing when we realize that we are still human and that somehow life has not magically become more Zen. In our fifties, sixties and beyond, we still have difficulties with siblings. We lose jobs, look for work, and have other employment changes. We get divorced and strike up new relationships. We have grandchildren AND aging parents. Life has not slowed down at all. Conflicts arise everyday at home, at work, with children, parents – it feels like the list of potential difficulties grows, not shrinks.

The point is: we never outgrow conflict.  It is entirely appropriate to hire a mediator, somebody who is neutral and who will help you through the conflict so that you can keep going to experience the calm you are looking for. The problem is, hiring a mediator is confusing. What is a mediator supposed to be good at? How DO you hire a mediator?

Here are TEN TIPS to help you find the right mediator for you. First, make a list of three to five mediators by asking your friends and colleagues for referrals and search online for mediators in your area. It should be relatively easy to come up with a short list to interview.   Here are some tips to help you succeed in finding someone really good:

#1 Lawyers and judges rarely make great mediators. It is common for lawyers and retired judges to do mediation. Lawyers might be capable lawyers and judges might be fair judges, but it is rare that either one is able to completely take off his/her advocate/judging hat to do what is required to be a great mediator: be neutral, nonjudgmental, and comfortable with conflict. This leads us directly to number two:

#2 Mediators should be extremely comfortable around conflict. Believe it or not, many mediators are actually conflict avoidant. These mediators believe the best way for them to help is to keep order in the room. They set ground rules (like no interrupting) then police these rules (have you ever had a normal conversation and not been interrupted?) They make agendas and then keep people from veering off the agendas. They tell people to calm down and to act respectfully. Do they not know that when people are upset they ACT upset? Truly great mediators welcome conflict into the room. They know that you cannot avoid conflict and have a high-quality process for the participants. It is important that the mediator not stir up the conflict, that is, we should not be digging it up and forcing it to come out, but it is indeed our job to tend to any conflict that is present.   Agendas are useful, but not if it keeps parties from discussing things that are very important to them.

#3 If you are in a situation such as divorce which is fairly amicable, you likely DO NOT need a mediator. Many lawyers tell prospective clients who are divorcing but have little conflict that they don’t need a lawyer and they should go find a mediator.   Most mediators will indeed take these cases and it is a waste of people’s money. Here’s what to do if you are divorcing and in fairly low conflict: go online and either start filling out the forms online (some states have their own online government filing website or there are online businesses that do this for every state) or search online for your state’s divorce forms, print them out and start filling them out. If you get stuck and start fighting, THEN call a mediator.

#4 You should feel some amount of good chemistry with the mediator. Call it what you want – trust, openness, neutrality, comfort – you should feel some of this stuff when you are interviewing a mediator. If you feel judged, misunderstood, cut-off, bossed around or closed down: find a different mediator. Bottom line, if the mediator sort of bugs you, don’t hire him or her. There are lots of us and you should take the time to find someone who makes you feel steady, heard, and empowered.

#5 Good mediators must be good communicators. Mediators should not be awkward  nor should they be dominating. Good mediators often help by modeling good communication skills for their clients.   Also, a mediator should not be talking for you nor relying on caucuses (private meetings with each of you during a session) as a regular way of operating a mediation. Mediators, by the way, should welcome anyone into the mediation room whom the parties want to (and agree to) include, such as attorneys and other experts and support people.

#6 Ask how much they charge. Some people are afraid to ask about the money part. You would ask a plumber or housekeeper before you would hire them, why not ask a mediator? If the amount is a hardship for you, you should feel free to ask if the mediator works on a sliding scale. Oh, and their high price and years of experience are not always indicative of their efficacy. THIS is why you must interview them.

#7  Mediators should charge you by the hour and not require a retainer. Period. Mediator services should be unbundled. Retainers do not benefit the client. After one meeting with the mediator you may decide that this mediator is not for you and go back to your list. Or you may feel that you can continue on without a mediator and discuss things yourselves, which is always preferable. If you then run into an obstacle, call again for help. Also, you are not required to pay them to write up a memorandum of understanding. These documents are normally not necessary or useful, and they generally are not legally binding.  Some mediators will give you notes after the meeting for a small charge. You may also take your own notes and not ask the mediator to do this for you, if they are going to charge you for it. If your mediator wants to do some of these extra services and charges for them, make sure to ask why they will be useful to YOU.

#8 A mediator should not be spending much time separately with each party. In order to maintain neutrality, and even the appearance of neutrality, a mediator should not let you go on and on about your story over the phone. It is really hard to NOT do this as the potential client, but a mediator should tell you early on that it is his/her job to be neutral and that means not getting too much into each side’s details. Mediators should offer to speak to each party (if they have spoken to one party) and may offer a free initial session for parties to come in so they can get a feel for the mediator.

#9 A mediator should be available in a timely manner. Once you make the choice to go with a particular mediator, often you want to move ahead right away. Go for it! Do not let someone convince you that you should wait a bunch of time. A mediator should work some evenings and weekends to accommodate YOU. Once you are a client you definitely should not have to wait a long time before you are fit back into the mediator’s schedule. It is not ethical for you to have an initial appointment with a mediator and then for them to not promptly schedule your next appointment (should you need one).

#10 Mediators are as different as attorneys are different. This will prove out to you when you call a few and interview them. You will notice different affects (casual vs. formal, comfortable vs. strict, chatty vs. spare, etc.), different philosophies (problem-solving vs. process oriented,), etc. and you will notice as you ask them questions how willing they are to engage with you. If they are frustrated by your asking questions, this is meaningful. You will note many differences, including mediators who disagree with what I have written here.

Copyright 2015. Mediation Unlimited LLC. All rights reserved.




Brenda Ueland and The Tell Me More Gesture

I am a latecomer to the party of appreciating Brenda Ueland. I came upon her writings a few years ago while researching and designing a workshop about conflict communication. Her essay, Tell Me More: On The Fine Art Of Listening, astounded and inspired me. Here in literary form was the mantra of good conflict communication that I espouse: Tell me more.

I remember reading the essay for the very first time, rushed and panicked, as if I had suspected I had found my soul mate and I needed to know right away if my hopes were going to be dashed. And then, pushing down my excitement, I tried to read it straight through, but overwhelmed, I would halt when I came to the next gem to ponder in amazement. Then I would start over again, determined to read it straight through. To this day, years later, I’m not sure that I have ever successfully read this short essay straight through from beginning to end. How can you keep reading when the words are hopping off the page into your heart? It’s impossible!

“Now before going to a party, I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk; to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject. No. My attitude is: ‘Tell me more. This person is showing me his soul. It is a little dry and meager and full of grinding talk just now, but presently he will begin to think, not just automatically to talk. He will show his true self. Then he will be wonderfully alive.’” (Ueland, Strength To Your Sword Arm, 1993, p. 206.)

As often happens, once you make a discovery, you hear people referring to it, as if the universe is talking directly to you. Was Brenda Ueland always in the air but I hadn’t caught whiff? I learned that she lived in Linden Hills, Minneapolis, Minnesota. That’s MY state; that’s MY city; that’s MY neighborhood. I heard people talk about how she would be seen walking around the Lake Harriet – that’s MY lake.

2720 W. 44th Street, Minneapolis, MN
Photo courtesy of Save Brenda’s House Facebook page

During the year of 2016, I sat at home, writing my book, The Tell Me More Gesture: How (and Why) to Welcome Conflict (manuscript in preparation). In February 2017, I became aware that there was a legal battle going on to save Brenda Ueland’s house at 2720 West 44th Street from demolition. I had no idea that she had lived ½ block from my home! Neighbors, admirers, and historians were trying mightily to save Ms. Ueland’s home – where she “wrote columns, sold advertising, held salons, walked and swam the lake, fought against animal cruelty, championed women’s equality, and kept robust diaries.” (Rosenblum, 2017)

I joined a Facebook group called Save Brenda’s House, and there I saw a reference to one particular essay of hers. So I ran to my copy of Strength to Your Sword Arm, and there on page four begins her wonderful essay entitled, My House On 44th Street. It’s true! We’re neighbors! Yes, well, sort of. She died in 1985 and I moved into Linden Hills in 1995, but it feels like we’re neighbors.

Although she died ten years before my moving to Linden Hills, I felt disappointed, as if I been cheated of the opportunity to think of her every day, even several times a day, as I passed her home while departing from and arriving to my own home. I began doing exactly what I, unknowingly, had been denied. I started thinking of her every single time I went by her house. I considered what her life might have been like and the positive effect she had on other people – writers, artists, and neighbors.

“When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.“ (Ueland, p. 205.)

After just a few weeks of my new awareness of the exact location of Ms. Ueland’s home, I drove down 44th toward home, as usual. There on my left was a vacant lot where Ms. Ueland’s unassuming home once stood – a sad and startling moment.

The empty lot and me. 2720 W. 44th Street, Minneapolis, MN

The lot where Ms. Ueland’s home once stood continues to have meaning for me. As I pass it, I think of how her presence infused the neighborhood with creativity and passion. I love that she normalized these traits – they are not necessarily gifts of greatness, they are a normal part of human existence. The house was physical proof of her living and walking and swimming and being part of this small community. I missed her, but nevertheless, she is a part of me, even if it’s merely my own selfish desire to find commonality and feel connected to her.

“We should all know this: that listening, not talking, is the gifted and great role, and the imaginative role. And the true listener is much more beloved, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective, and learns more and does more good. And so try listening. Listen to your wife, your husband, your father, your mother, your children, your friends; to those who love you and those who don’t, to those who bore you, to your enemies. It will work a small miracle. And perhaps a great one.” (Ueland, p. 210.)

Please feel free to comment here about your own favorite Brenda Ueland stories or writings. Or other thoughts?


Rosenblum, G.,

Ueland, B., Strength To Your Sword Arm, Duluth, MN, 1993, Holy Cow Press.