In my last blog article, I questioned whether a mediator could be either neutral or impartial. As I discussed, for me personally, the term “impartial” is more relevant – and something I continually strive for when I am mediating with my clients.
How does this actually play-out in a mediation? Sometimes with difficulty, and a great deal of challenge. Let’s face it – even with the best of intentions, we’re all just human. I will frequently check-in with myself to question whether I am maintaining an unbiased position toward each of my clients. Then, if I sense there’s an issue, I’ll try my best to adjust my approach.
So how does the concept of mediator impartiality sync (or not) with the issue of an imbalance of power between the parties? One of the most common imbalances I see in divorce mediation is a difference in knowledge. For example, one party may understand financial matters well, while the other may not only be much less knowledgeable, but may have, in fact, left all of the financial decisions to their spouse during the marriage.
Now, as this couple is going through divorce mediation, they both need to have all necessary information in order to make informed decisions about their finances. This means that, very likely, a financial advisor will need to be brought into the discussion, principally to bring the less knowledgeable spouse up to speed.
Does this impact my ability to be impartial? No – and I believe that both concepts, impartiality and balancing power, can co-exist. I can strive to be impartial and also attempt to balance the power between the parties so that both can make informed decisions.
Kenneth Cloke, a highly regarded mediator who has written several books on the subject, has coined the term “omnipartial” to describe the role of the mediator. According to Cloke, the omnipartial mediator is partial towards all participants – that is, on all sides at the same time. I find his description particularly appealing, and I believe it supports the mediator’s desire to balance the power in the room without taking sides.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Please share them in the comment box below.
Comments from Social Media
Love that moniker, Susan. It corresponds with “neutral negotiator” which makes no sense to some people but reflects exactly what we do. My first priority is to subvert conflict with collaboration. Do whatever it takes to animate a conversation that might lead to an actual result. A result everyone can live with. From a certain perspective, that’s a success all the way around with no “losers.”
Roger A. Moss
I love the term ‘omnipartial’. I was introduced to this about a year ago. Thanks for sharing your views.
Hi Susan: The process of using an Integrated Team in divorce situations, particularly with couples who are highly conflicted is excellent. The more information and support you can give in the situation, the better chance for a successful outcome. The only drawback is it can be very expensive with all those professionals in the room!!