The Mediator’s Perspective: An Interview of First-Time Mediators

IMG_1406by Dominik Onate, Program Director

This July, Conflict Resolution Specialists Long Hoang and Nick Loh conducted their first in-person mediation. Both were trained through the APADRC’s 40-Hour Basic Mediation Training last June.

We caught up with them after the mediation to talk about their experience.

The two of you have just concluded your first mediation. How do you feel about having mediated your first case?
Nick: I felt very excited. I felt like it was a really great process to witness and be a part of. I felt like we came into it thinking that we were dealing with a very large power imbalance and a very wide range between where the two parties where at, and I felt really lucky at being a part of the process of helping them to communicate and find a place where they could meet.

Long: I share a lot of similar experience with Nick. I feel really grateful that the APADRC has given me the opportunity to do an actual mediation. It was nice to incorporate all of the skills and techniques that we were taught in training. It was really nice to see, at the end, that both parties were really happy that they went to mediation. They were very satisfied. So at the end, I felt it was very rewarding.

When Party 1 came to us, she was very nervous and scared. She was really scared about the power dynamics and the power imbalance, because she was a minority female. But, during mediation and just in caucus, we were able to effectively neutralize the space so she never felt threatened. She never seemed to be too stressed out about the situation.

Nick: Their feelings at the end of the mediation were most rewarding to me, because they seemed, both of them, very pleased. And that made me happy.

Were you confident that you would get to a resolution?
Nick: I felt both excited that there was hope, but also unsure never having dealt with a law firm or a representative from an insurance company. I was cautiously optimistic, but unsure if that was going to be the reality.

Long: I’d say I was very confident in settling, because, bottom line, it was a mediation for the amount of money that she was going to owe. The common interest was that both parties didn’t want to go to court.

How comfortable were you working as co-mediators?
Long: I thought it was a really good collaboration. We have very similar styles. We focused on caucusing the parties early on, discussing their interests, and trying to find out exactly what they needed in order to find a settlement.

Nick: I agree. I enjoyed working with Long. I thought that when I was at a loss of words, he would step in. I felt both supported and that there was room for me to be myself and actually put forth my ideas as well.

Long: I also believe that having a co-mediator there changed the dynamics for the better. It felt more like a discussion. No one really felt too attacked, and when we were in caucus, they seemed to trust us and opened up to us better.

How much preparation did you do for this mediation? Any thoughts on how you would have changed the way you prepared, solo or together?
Nick: I would have had breakfast. The parties arrived sooner than we were expecting, too, and so it would have been nice to have had a little bit of time to sit down with Long in the room to just have a couple of deep breaths.

Long: Arriving early is definitely important. Get there as soon as you can, because you have to mentally prepare for it. The mediation is not just between two parties. As mediators we’re still facilitating and leading the mediation, so I agree on that point. I also thought that I should have been more firm with Party 1 in terms of getting the documents in on time, on a timelier basis. When Nick and I were strategizing, we were in the dark on some key information.

What were some of the mediator skills or strategies that you feel helped you significantly in mediating this case?
Nick: I felt like, especially with Party 1, validating their experience and reframing was very helpful and allowed us to move past some of the emotions and into what actually made sense to talk about so that the mediation could move forward.

Long: Reframing and the art of being neutral. Communicating the fact that we’re just in the middle and we’re trying to empower them to communicate. And, that was helpful because then they thought of their own proposals. If that didn’t happen, I don’t think that the resolution would have been as solid or as easy for them to agree upon.

We let them explore that number and that figure in their head, and they were able to make some quick calculations, be realistic, and say, this is what we can offer you. It was through that dialogue between the parties that they eventually found the resolution.

Nick: Also, reframing ideas about conflict. To constantly be checking in and saying, “We’re moving forward. This is great work.” Reminding them that they’ve come to the table to discuss and sort of appreciating them both for treating it that way and not coming in fighting.

Where there any challenging moments for either of you during the course of the mediation? How did you handle them?
Nick: There were a couple of times where I felt like there was just so much money between the two offers, that I thought, “I don’t know if we can do this. It’s just such a big gap.” Being aware of that in myself and just continuing with the process and not thinking about it too much was important to get me back on track.

Long: Yeah, there was a big gap starting off, and I’d say in the beginning it wasn’t moving too much. One other problem was that Party 2 communicated the fact that they didn’t have too much time. I think they only gave us 2 to 2 ½ hours so having that time limit was difficult ; we hard to learn how to hurry things up when they could be hurried and take the time on the stuff that really mattered. It made us pick and choose and be a lot more strategic on what we discussed.

What’s the highlight of this mediation for you?
Nick: I said this in the beginning, but what was really rewarding for me was how appreciative and happy the parties left. I thought that they left feeling like we had been professional, that we had helped them in their process, but that they had come up with their solution and it seemed to make sense. One of the parties wanted to go get Korean BBQ and that to me was very rewarding. That was a highlight.

Long: For me it was when the attorney said, “Wow, you have a great center, and I’ll recommend you to all my lawyer friends.” I thought that was great for the center; I thought that we must have really stuck out because he said he’s been through mediations plenty of times, and he really liked us. That lets me know that we’re doing a good thing.

How do you feel about mediating in the future?
Nick: I would love to continue to learn. I felt like that was a great learning experience and the more opportunities I have to learn to be a better communicator and a better facilitator would be great.

Long: Well, each case is going to present itself differently, but I’m really excited to deal with different cases in the future. I hope that I can deal with more family cases and landlord-tenant, because they all have a different dynamic and strategy to them.

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