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Just because you're a Mediator, that doesn't mean you can't be Angry.

Clients and People and Parties, Oh My!

A Mediator’s job is to provide a service to their community. So the question becomes: what exactly should we call the fine folks that make up the part of the population that we’re serving? There are a few options, each of which has its own advantages and challenges.

Customer. This is as good a place to start as any. It’s a fairly neutral, generic term for those who consume services of any kind. In fact, it’s pretty much interchangeable with Consumer. It reminds us that we have a duty and obligation to provide the best that we possibly can to our community; after all, “the customer is always right.” Many Mediators, in fact, have hung a shingle and are in private practice, depending on the fees they charge to keep the lights on. The problem is that this approach doesn’t take into consideration the special relationship between the Neutral and those that they work with. We often know private and important information about those we serve, and that knowledge is often protected as confidential. It’s not unusual for a Mediator to work with folks for weeks, months, or even years on their various issues. We’re more than just a drive-thru window, and the language we use to those consuming our services needs to reflect that.

Client. This comes to us (as does so much) from the practice of Law. It implies that those that we work with are obtaining the services of a specially-trained professional. Attorneys, architects, and consultants all have clients. Mediators certainly have specialized training, and so this would seem to be a perfect fit. On the other hand, though, consider the Community Mediation movement. These are individuals from the larger community who mediate separate and apart from their “day job.” Many of these folks are volunteers, and frequently those using their services pay a reduced fee, or even no fee at all. Further, those using Mediation services don’t always choose their Neutral, which goes against the typical, cozy, one-on-one, professional-client relationship. So, perhaps this isn’t quite as good a fit as we thought.

Patient. As per the usual, having nibbled at the edges of the practice of Law, we then turn to munch at the margins of Social Work. While some Social Workers use the more businesslike “client,” most still follow the medical model in their treatment and refer to their charges as patients. The idea here is simple: something is wrong with the folks that we’re seeing, and our job is to help them fix that problem. Custody agreement no good? Let’s take a look at it… say AHHHHHHH! In practical terms, this matches our actual practice. Folks don’t come to Mediation when everything is fine; they come to us with one or more problems that need to be addressed. Something is wrong. Our process isn’t entirely unlike a diagnosis, either, and so at first blush this seems like a good choice. Further investigation, however, turns up problems. While Social Workers, Psychologists, Doctors, and others in the field are viewed (rightly) as experts, the Mediator is never the expert in the room. Instead, the folks we work with are the experts. They know best both what is wrong and how to address it. It’s probably also worth mentioning that we should stay far, far away from even the hint of the practice of medicine, for both pragmatic and legal reasons.

Relationships. One temptation that seems to offer simplicity is to simply refer to folks by their relationships within the context of the case. Are you a Divorce Mediator? You serve Spouses. Specialist in Family Court? You serve Parents & Children. Embedded in Small Claims Court? You work with Claimants and Respondents. It’s so tempting! So neat and tidy! However, as the saying goes, for every problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. Anyone who has ever actually mediated a case knows that relationships are hardly ever simple, and tend to be anything but neat. One person in a case may be a mother, sister, daughter, and child depending on the context. Which relationship would you choose to “label” this person with? Is it the same one that she would choose? In any case, we can serve attorneys, witnesses, children, advocates, siblings, case workers, support persons, and more. Listing all of these would be exhausting, and omitting them dishonest. Besides, mentioning some parties and not others may endanger our appearance of impartiality. So, while there’s nothing wrong with using this approach in places like agreements (“The Parents agree that…”), we need something broader for generalizations.

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Confessions of A Gapper

Hello, everyone, my name is The Angry Mediator, and I’m a gapper.
That’s right. I said it. I’m not ashamed. Feel free to break out the torches and pitchforks, fellow Neutrals, because I’m ready for you! Let’s get it on!
What’s that? You haven’t the slightest clue what a gapper is, nor why you should give a damn?

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Third Way Conflict Resolution

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mark@thirdwaycr.com

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