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Mediation Blog by Diane Cohen
The sensible use of experts is often an issue that arises in mediation. It begins with the mediator: is the mediator an expert? What is the mediator an expert in?
It then may continue to outside experts, when parties may feel the need to consult a financial, legal or mental health expert. Very often, when such experts are called in, the question arises as to what their actual expertise is in and how to tease out the parts that are the valid areas of their expertise from the parts that are educated guesses based on their experience, and lastly and most importantly: the parts that are simply their own personal opinions.
In my view, the sensible use of experts is to ask oneself a series of questions:
1 — Why do I need an expert?
2 — What specific information am I lacking that they can provide?
3 — Do I want them to convey that specific information to me so that I can weigh it myself or do I want them to make a recommendation based upon that specific information? If the latter, do I want them to tell me at each step of the way what the information is, how they are weighing it, and what their conclusions are? Do I want them to explain where they are getting the information and how reliable it is? Do I want to assess myself how reliable it is?
4 — Is the particular expert I chose able to follow my instructions and meet my needs in question 3 above? If not, how can I find an expert who will do so?
The bottom line is that an expert is not someone you throw your entire problem to and just wait for a result to pop out. An expert, when consulted appropriately, can be an extremely helpful aid to a problem. However, an expert, when consulted without care, can give you the false confidence to make exactly the wrong choice.
Diane Cohen is a mediator in private practice and writes regularly on the process of mediation. Diane is an impasse mediator, and therefore mediates in all realms, but primarily in the family, divorce and workplace areas. Diane is a former co-president of the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater New York. She has a J.D. from Columbia Law School, was certified as a community mediator by the Unified Court System in New York, and is a NYSDRA-certified mediator. She conducts workshops for mediators who want to work on their mediation skills.
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