Qualities a Mediator Should Have

Frank Dukes

Director, Institute for Environmental Negotiation, University of Virginia

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: What kind of qualities do you think people doing your kind of work need to have?

A: I think a commitment to working with people and supporting people is probably the most important one. I see people that are really good and they do have that. Some sort of sense of strategic thinking is important. Being able to think through what kind of outcomes you want and work your way backwards. Being able to work with a wide variety of people.


I am sure it has always been important, but increasingly cultural competency is significant, and not only the obvious categories of race and ethnicity, but I think class too. In Virginia, there are significant class differences that you need to be able to work in between. The other sort of competencies, or requirements for people are that you need to have the facilitation skills, and experience. I think also life experience, with life experience comes some of the knowledge, of course some people get life experience but they don't learn form it, but hopefully you are learning from that. Sorry to use this term, but I am a big believer in the power of humility. I have a lot of confidence that I can approach problems in ways that are going to be effective or give the best chance at being effective, but part of that is a sense of humility, that's because I know that I need to learn from the people that are there on the ground. It's not me coming in and saying, "here is how you are going to do this," but it's me coming in and asking the questions to get people to look at the things that they need to appropriately. I think that there does have to be some substantive knowledge, and substantive knowledge does not just mean technical expertise, but the institutional arena in which the problem is being addressed.

For example may be how decisions are made in the local government. Who are the advocates within this institutional arena? What sort of laws are there that effect this? What sort of regulations are there that effect that? That's a whole area of substantive knowledge that a lot of people do not think about.