Neil G. Carmichael is Vice President of Education & Training for American Arbitration Association University. He has mediated a variety of disputes and conflicts over the past 20 years and served as the AAA's Vice President of U.S. and International Mediation Services from 2005 to 2010.
Arbitrators are empowered with authority to decide the cases they arbitrate but mediators have no such authority in the cases they mediate. In fact, mediators must be neutral and impartial and are prohibited from favoring either side. What, then, do mediators bring to the table? What do they have that enables them to carry out their role? The answer is influence. Where arbitrators have authority, mediators have influence. This article discusses the dynamics and sources of that influence and some factors that may impede it.
WHAT DOES INFLUENCE MEAN?
The term "influence" has many definitions, but the one that seems appropriate for purposes of this article is "the act or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, [or] opinions of others."1 In the context of mediation, mediators actively seek to change the actions, behavior, and/or opinions of the disputing parties in order to help them agree to settle a relationship conflict or a material dispute. In order to understand the concept of mediator influence, it is helpful to understand its nature. In my view, its nature is purely personal in that it operates on a person-to-person basis. We see this as a one-on-one phenomenon because the actors in mediation and negotiations are individuals meeting in private caucuses with the mediator, not the legal entities that the individuals represent.