Mediator Qualities

Richard Salem

Former CRS Mediator, Chicago Office; Private Mediator; President of Conflict Management Initiatives

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 does it mean to be honest to yourself in this context?

A: Well, know what you're doing and don't get involved with anything that you don't feel you can manage or stay with. I think that's important. We could talk about the skills people need in this work, in mediation, and they're formidable. None of us have all of those skills, but we move in that direction as best we can and keep developing our skills as we do our work. And if people see that we're there to help them and doing credible work, they're not going to throw you out if you make a mistake. You'll survive your mistakes in these things typically. I usually have, not always, but usually.

You should enjoy the work certainly, and be objective, as you're supposed to be in this work. You can't be neutral because you'll see some injustices and you'll take a position in your own mind, but you can't work with that, you have to try to get people to negotiate their own differences. You're an advocate for a system of settlement through settling differences and creating justice through negotiations, and not an advocate carrying a banner for one party or another. So you have to be able to accept yourself in that role, and I think you'll find that's a needed role and it will be accepted by the disputing parties. And then again, following their time tables in terms of when they're ready to move forward and do things differently. When they're ready to come to the table, listening to them, working with them, showing understanding and respect to all the parties is important. And those are the best tools needed to be a good communicator, an empathic listener and a good communicator. I've always found it does most of the job for me.