Traits of a 'Mediator'

by Sam Imperati

January 2009

Sam Imperati Mediation is a science and an art. Although many mediation skills may be taught, the development of a skilled mediator requires experience in dealing with people in all conditions and under all circumstances. Although there are many intangibles in the definition of a “good” mediator, certain character traits are invaluable.

SPECIAL NOTE: Be sure to read the FULL DISCLOSURE below to fully appreciate this article


The mediator must be alert on several levels while mediating. He must concentrate on the information being provided by the source and be constantly evaluating the information for both value and veracity. Simultaneously, he must be alert not only to what the party says but also to how it is said and the accompanying body language to assess the party’s truthfulness, degree of cooperation, and current mood. He needs to know when to give the party a break and when to press the party harder. In addition, the Mediator constantly must be alert to his environment to ensure his personal security and that of the parties.

Patience and Tact

The Mediator must have patience and tact in creating and maintaining rapport between himself and the party, thereby enhancing the success of the process. Displaying impatience may:

  • Encourage a difficult party to think that if he remains unresponsive for a little longer, the process will end.
  • Cause the party to lose respect for the Mediator, thereby reducing the Mediator’s effectiveness.


The Mediator must provide a clear, accurate, and professional product and an accurate assessment of his capabilities. He must be able to clearly articulate complex situations and concepts. The Mediator must also maintain credibility. He must present himself in a believable and consistent manner, and follow through on any promises made as well as never to promise what cannot be delivered.

Objectivity and Self-control

The Mediator must also be totally objective in evaluating the information obtained. The mediator must maintain an objective and dispassionate attitude regardless of the emotional reactions he may actually experience or simulate during a questioning session. Without objectivity, he may unconsciously distort the information acquired. He may also be unable to vary his questioning and approach techniques effectively. He must have exceptional self-control to avoid displays of genuine anger, irritation, sympathy, or weariness that may cause him to lose the initiative during questioning but be able to fake any of these emotions as necessary. He must not become emotionally involved with the party.


A Mediator must adapt to the many and varied personalities which he will encounter. He must also adapt to all types of locations, operational tempos, and operational environments. He should try to imagine himself in the party's position. By being adaptable, he can smoothly shift his questioning and approach techniques according to the operational environment and the personality of the party.


A tenacity of purpose can be the difference between a Mediator who is merely good and one who is superior. A Mediator who becomes easily discouraged by opposition, noncooperation, or other difficulties will not aggressively pursue the matter to a successful conclusion or exploit leads to other valuable information.

Appearance and Demeanor

The Mediator's personal appearance may greatly influence the conduct of any mediation and attitude of the party toward the Mediator. Usually an organized and professional appearance will favorably influence the party. If the Mediator's manner reflects fairness, strength, and efficiency, the party may prove more cooperative and more receptive to questioning.


Achieving and maintaining the initiative are essential to a successful questioning session just as the offensive is the key to success in combat operations. The Mediator must grasp the initiative and maintain it throughout all questioning phases. This does not mean he has to dominate the party physically; rather, it means that the Mediator knows his requirements and continues to direct the collection toward those requirements.


The above excerpts were “cribbed” from Chapter 1, Field Manual 2-22.3 (FM 34-52) HUMAN INTELLIGENCE COLLECTOR OPERATIONS HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, September 2006, which is now an unclassified document. The Manual’s Preface states, “This manual provides doctrinal guidance, techniques, and procedures governing the employment of human intelligence (HUMINT) collection and analytical assets in support of the commander’s intelligence needs.” Basically, I substitute the words “mediator” for “HUMINT collector,” “party” for “source,” and “mediation” for “HUMINT collection,” along with a few other edits.

Are the similarities between mediators and Human Collectors disturbing or comforting?


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Sam Imperati is the Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management, Inc. ICM is a Pacific Northwest-based, national provider of mediation, facilitation, and training services. Sam has been an attorney for over twenty-nine years and has managed countless disputes – some of which he even started! He has lectured nationally on mediation, negotiation, conflict resolution, and ethics. He was formerly Assistant Corporate Counsel with Nike, in private practice, and has handled litigation and mediated everything from “Admiralty” to “Zoning.” He has served as a Judge Pro Tem and as Chair of the Oregon State Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He appears in the 2009 edition of The Best Lawyers in America for mediation. He was the recipient of the 2007 Oregon Mediation Association Sid Lezak Award of Excellence for Outstanding Service to the Profession of Mediation in Oregon.

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