First Impressions: The Mediator’s Opening Statement – Which Words To Use or Leave Out

If it is true that first impressions are so important, it is also true that each word chosen by the mediator during the opening statement – to explain the purpose of mediation, his or her role, and how mediation works – may have a lasting (positive or negative) impact on the parties. As a result, depending of whether the parties like or dislike what they just heard by the mediator in the first 5 minutes, their mediation is likely to start off on the right or wrong foot.

For that reason, in my practice I prefer to tailor the opening statement, depending on the parties’ case, background, and experience.

For example, when mediating commercial cases with attorneys, I use words like mediation, negotiation or settlement. But when mediating with individual parties (e.g. in a family case), I prefer to avoid those words. Why? I figure that:

  • Most people who have never participated in mediation before associate the word “mediation” with “compromise” or “giving in” – nothing to be particularly proud of.
  • Unlike attorneys, sales reps or managers, most people don’t consider themselves as negotiators. And therefore, as soon as the mediator says the word “negotiation”, they fear to end up with a bad agreement, and wonder whether they should have come to mediation with an attorney.

Thus, during my opening statement in a case only with attorneys, I might say:

We are here to give you the opportunity to talk, hear what’s on your mind, listen what’s on the other person’s mind – and find out if there is any chance that you can negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement.

On the contrary, in a case with just husband and wife I prefer to say:

We are here to give you the opportunity to talk, hear what’s on your mind, listen what’s on the other person’s mind – and then we’ll take it from there.

Watch the opening statements of other mediators