"How can I help you today?" is the mediator's standard introduction, taught to students in mediation trainings throughout the country. It's an important invitation for clients to open up and share their goals at the highest level: "We want to get divorced." "We need help with our business dispute." "We can't seem to agree on..." It's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
But "How can I help you today" isn't the end of the mediation process, and it isn't the beginning, either. The mediation process starts with clients' initial contact with the mediator and goes into the very first meeting, through all the details of the clients' negotiations and agreements, ending (hopefully) in a meaningful resolution.
What is your process?
Your process doesn't just shape how the clients experience your mediation — the quality and feel of working with you. It also shapes how you experience mediation; for example, if you have a scheduling process that reserves certain days or times as "me time" or "family time." Your process defines a mediation practice that works for both you and your clients. It can be as broad or as detailed as you need or prefer.
Here are some questions to consider:
- How do you schedule the initial meeting with clients?
- How long are your meetings? Do you allow for overflow, and if so, how much?
- Is the initial meeting a consultation, or is it a full session? What is the agenda for the first meeting?
- When are you available to mediate? Do you offer fixed appointment times? What about evenings and weekends? Are the clients aware of your scheduling restrictions?
- How much guidance do you offer the clients through the process? Do you use a checklist? If so, how detailed is it? Do you share it with the clients?
- How do you schedule subsequent meetings with clients?
- What materials do you provide to clients at different points in the mediation? Do you have templates? Copies or summaries of the relevant laws? Do you provide these in paper or digital formats?
- What services do you provide, which do you bill for, and how do you handle payment?
Introductory mediation trainings appropriately focus on the key principles of mediation: interests-based negotiation, self-determination, etc. But principles alone don't make a successful practice, and many mediators leave their introductory mediation training asking themselves, "Now what?"
Start by putting a process in writing. Let the first version be very broad, and don't consider it set in stone. Apply it, adapt it, refine it. Let it become a toolkit (if only for yourself) for providing the best mediation service you're capable of providing.
Turn "How can I help you today" into "Here's how I can help you today!" Your clients will thank you for it — and you will thank yourself.