Varying Ways to Succeed as a Mediator

Success achieved

By:  Donald L. Swanson

We “sought to determine whether the reasons for mediator success are the same for all successful mediators, or whether different mediators succeed for different reasons.”

Prof. Stephen B. Goldberg and Margaret L. Shaw in a 2008 report titled, “The Secrets of Successful (and Unsuccessful) Mediators.”

The study:

In their study, Prof. Goldberg and Ms. Shaw survey representatives (mostly attorneys) of parties who had utilized the services of successful mediators—and they received 216 responses. They then divide responses into five categories:

Evaluative skills (the mediator’s ability to encourage agreement by evaluating a party’s likelihood of achieving its goals outside of mediation, typically a prediction of the likely outcome if the matter were decided by a court or an arbitrator);

Process skills (those skills by which a mediator seeks to encourage agreement, not including evaluative skills); and

–Three “confidence-building” attributes:


high integrity/honest, and


Here’s what they found:

  1.  The respondents “viewed different mediators as achieving success as a result of different combinations of skills and attributes.”

  2.  Combinations of skills and attributes for any particular mediator range from “being friendly/empathic, and possessing excellent process skills or evaluative skills” to “high integrity and excellent process or evaluative skills” to “being smart, well-prepared, knowing the relevant contract or law, and possessing excellent evaluative skills.”

  3.  “The sole characteristic shared by nearly all” top-rated mediators is that each rates high on “at least one” of the attributes related to “confidence-building” (i.e., friendly/empathetic, high integrity/honest, or smart/well-prepared).

  4.  Regarding gender, there is “no significant correlation between a mediator’s gender” and his/her “overall score” or “on any of the five skills or attributes.”

  5.  Mediators who are former judges have no “significant difference” on “overall evaluations or individual skills/attributes scores.” And they are “neither significantly more often cited for their evaluation skills, nor significantly less often cited for their process skills, than were other mediators.”

  6.  As to mediators scoring high in combinations of categories, there is only one “significant correlation,” which is this: mediators scoring high on “smart/well-prepared/knowing relevant contract or law” also tend to score high on “providing useful outcome evaluations.”

  7.  There is “no single model of the successful mediator”: different mediators “succeeded on the basis of different combinations of attributes and skills.”


Here is a practical summary Prof. Goldberg and Ms. Shaw provide of their findings:

“Perhaps the most important finding of this research for the practicing or aspiring mediator is that the keys to mediation success are quite straightforward:

  • obtain the trust and confidence of the disputing parties by being friendly and empathic, by demonstrating high integrity, or by being intelligent, well-prepared, and knowledgeable in the relevant law or contract, and
  • be capable of taking advantage of the trust and confidence of the parties to assist them in resolving their dispute by exercising one of their skills.”


This study and its findings provide gems of wisdom for every mediator to consider.

**  If you find this article of value, please feel free to share.  If you’d like to discuss, let me know.

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