- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The Importance of Trust in Mediation
From the moment they enter into a conflict, mediators strive to gain the trust of the parties. Throughout the mediation they work to build and maintain the parties' trust of the mediation process, the mediators, and between the parties themselves. When trust levels are high, parties are less defensive and more willing to share information with other parties at the mediation table and in private sessions with the mediator -- information that may be crucial to finding a mutually acceptable solution.
How important is trust in mediation? Experienced mediators who have addressed the issue tend to speak with a single voice. Canadian mediator Alan Gold put it succinctly when he said, "The key word is 'trust.' Without it, you're dead. Without it, stay home!" Gold was referring specifically to collective bargaining, but for all types of mediation, no single attribute is more important in most sectors of mediation than the ability to build trust.
Sources of Trust
There are three basic sources of mediator trust.
How Mediators Build Trust with the Parties
In considering how to gain the trust of the parties, it may help to reflect upon the qualities and behaviors of the people you trust the most. For example, I find it easiest to trust people who (a) treat me with dignity and respect; (b) are like me; (c) behave as though they like and care about me; (d) don't hurt me and protect me from being hurt by myself or others; (e) have no interests that conflict with mine; (f) listen to and understand me; (g) help me solve my problems when I ask them to do so and (j) are reliable and do what they promise to do in a timely manner. Applying some of these principles to mediation, some mediators can earn trust in several key ways:
Balance the mediation process by:
Mediating when Trust Is Lacking
Can mediators function when they lack the trust of one or more parties? They can, even though their effectiveness may be impaired. Sometimes a party that does not trust the mediator will agree to come to the table in the hopes that the mediator will (1) be able to "educate" and influence the other party, (2) control the other party's behavior away from the table, or (3) help buy time. Sometimes a party has no better alternative than to work with the mediator. At times, parties in highly visible cases are under pressure to demonstrate good faith and agree to mediation. In these cases, mediators seek ways to overcome the lack of trust so that they can have a positive impact on the conflict.
 Alan Gold, "Conflict in Today's Economic Climate," Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Meeting of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (1981).
 Lederach, John Paul. "Who Mediates in Developing Countries?" Conflict Resolution Notes. Vol. 6, No. 4. April 1989. Pp. 82-83, summarized by Mariya Yevsyukova at http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/example/lede6577.htm.
Use the following to cite this article:
Salem, Richard. "Trust in Mediation." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/bi-essay/trust-mediation>.