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Duties of the Mediator: Remaining Unbiased

Ben Jacewicz

A mediator must prevent any perception of bias on her part.  The response when faced with a party whose good faith in negotiating is questionable illustrates this imperative.  

The need to preserve her neutrality does not bar the mediator from questioning a party about his good faith because such action seeks to protect the integrity of the mediation process, which entails no taking of sides.  The mediator, however, also must keep in mind that a party may well perceive her to have turned against him in questioning his good faith.  In such a situation, she has lost her standing as a neutral and thwarted the process she has sought to protect. 

The mediator should respond in one of the following ways when confronted with this situation.  First, if she believes the party is incapable of negotiating in good faith, then she should terminate the mediation.  Second, if the mediator believes the party will negotiate in good faith, but also considers her neutrality to have become irreparably compromised, then she should withdraw from the process.  Finally, if she believes that she can be neutral going forward, then she should secure informed consent to her continued participation.  Because the last of these responses brings into play other ongoing duties of the mediator, I will explore it in a future post. 


Mediation International!

Not many of these blog posts focus on the international realm. But if you're interested in how mediation has been used to great affect abroad. Take a look at this intriguing article that places emphasis on "[the] importance of mediation as a peacebuilding tool".




How ADR techniques and Mediation could increase the value of your home.

This interesting article from explores the opportunities one can enjoy and employ when dealing with disruptive or destructive behaving neighbors. These easily adaptable and obtainable steps can not only improve the quality and value of your home, but may also help improve the relationships you have with your neighbors.

For more techniques and skills expressed in this article, I encourage you to take advantage of classes offered at our offices for your convenience, such as "Performing Under Pressure: Becoming the Calm in the Storm" on April 11th.

You can register online here or you can contact our Training Program Manager: Izabela Solosi at (703) 865-7261 or


Should traditional ground rules be changed?


Ben Jacewicz

Ground-rules, such as a pledge by the parties not to interrupt each other, can facilitate the mediation process.  They, however, also pose several risks that a mediator should consider in deciding whether to ask the parties to agree to them.  As an initial matter, the process of setting ground-rules can precipitate disputes that divert time and energy from the conflict giving rise to the mediation.  In addition, ground-rules may become the basis for gamesmanship.  For example, a party might accuse the other side of violating a ground-rule at a critical juncture merely to deflect attention from the current discussion’s focus.  

            Other practices can achieve the same objectives as ground-rules while avoiding these risks.  For example, the mediator can provide each party with pen and paper to take notes while others are speaking.  If a party is busy taking notes, then it is less likely he or she will interrupt or otherwise be discourteous. 

            The mediator also can go into caucus in the face of the parties’ indecorousness to explore the reasons for it, explain how it hinders the process, and help each party identify strategies to express interests and concerns without rancor.  Like an agreement to adhere to ground-rules, this approach makes the parties responsible for their own behavior, which in turn should lead them to take the initiative in resolving their conflict.


FREE Seminar: We Need to Talk: Better Family Conversations About Aging Issues

Is your family having trouble discussing sensitive topics related to the transitions of aging?  This seminar is for you!  Learn tips for improving conversations about care giving, independence, finances, medical decisions and more.  Learn what to say and what not to say, so your family can reduce stress and move toward solutions.

Speakers: Jeannette Twomey, Virginia Certified Mediator and Conflict Resolution Specialist; and Sharon Schroer, Communication Coach and Conflict Resolution Specialist

Date: Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Time: 9:30am –11:00am

Fee: FREE, please RSVP by Monday, February 24th, 2014 at 703.865.7263 or

Location: 4041 University Drive, Suite #101, Fairfax, VA 22030


Community Spotlight: Northern Virginia Aging Network (NVAN)

NVAN is made up of a number of advocates for Northern Virginia’s senior population and their families and caregivers.  The network was created to address concerns aging communities and organizations working closely with this population are facing and to discuss a regional approach to critical issues affecting elders in Northern Virginia.   The network is made up of a number of advocates and service providers in Alexandria, Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Falls Church. 

NVAN’s main project is to develop a state legislative platform which the organization does by sponsoring a legislative breakfast forum each year.  This Forum raises awareness about NVAN’s legislative platform and gives Northern Virginians a chance to speak directly with legislators about their concerns surrounding issues affecting older adults.  NVAN works to “enlightened policies and regulations that will make aging with dignity available to all older Virginians”.   The Network works hard to make sure the issues seniors decide are important get brought to the Virginia General Assembly in a legislative Platform.  For more information contact Terri Lynch at


Author: Stephanie Luckam


Five Ways to Prepare to Meet with your Divorce Attorney By Anna Maher

A perceptive article in where author Anna Maher articulates five important steps to successfully identify the correct attornety for oneself in a divorce settlement.

Click here to read the full article.


How to Market Your Mediation Skills

Although we refer to them largely as mediation skills, active listening, reframing, asking good questions, summarizing are more than just that. Effective communication skills can improve all aspects of our personal and professional lives, whether you choose to be a mediator or not.

In the video below, a number of the NVMS practitioners share their stories on how they are using the training and skills they have gained in their various positions. 

How to Market Your Mediation Skills

What piece of advice did you find most helpful? Are there other ways you have used these skills in your career?


Legal Advice During Mediation

NVMS Certified Mediator, Ben Jacewicz 

What if a mediator believes that the parties’ settlement agreement is legally unenforceable?  Should he or she advise the parties of this belief?

The answer to both of these questions is “no.”  A mediator must refrain from providing legal advice to the parties.  It is difficult to fathom a clearer instance of violating this norm than telling the parties their agreement fails to pass legal muster.

A mediator should remember that other players are responsible for ensuring that a settlement agreement complies with the law.  In a court-referred mediation, the judge assumes this role.  In other contexts, the attorneys representing the parties do so.

What if a party lacks legal representation?  In this situation, the mediator should reiterate what he or she should have conveyed at the outset of the mediation: that each party is entitled to consult with an attorney before signing any settlement agreement.  Taking this step accords with the mediator’s role as facilitator, rather than legal advisor, and also reinforces the core mediation principle of party self-determination.


NVMS Community Spotlight: Annual Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference

Courtesy: Fairfax County Public SchoolsThis year, Fairfax County Public Schools, in collaboration with the George Mason School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, will be hosting its 22nd Annual Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference. This annual conference teaches elementary, middle and high school students conflict resolution and mediation skills. The conference brings together students involved in peer mediation from schools all over the region, giving them a chance to exchange ideas, learn from the experiences of others and exposes them to a network of students and staff who are also working to resolve conflicts constructively instead of resorting to violence. 

The conference has covered a range of conflict resolution skills over the years, including Mediating Difficult Situations, the Mediation Process, Restorative Justice and Skills Beyond Mediation. This year’s conference is titled “Skills to Build the Future” and its objective is to give student mediation skills and techniques to become proficient in conflict resolution processes.  Students have the opportunity to learn and practice new communication skills such as how to ask questions, clarify needs and use reframing language.  They will learn to identify issues and needs, write agreements and look for non verbal cues.  Students will also have the opportunity to practice their new skills during role plays and receive feedback from fellow students and facilitators. 

In the past 20 years, the conference has brought together more than 25,000 students and staff in the Washington DC area who are involved in peer mediation and conflict resolution in their schools.  For more information contact Kristen Woodward, Fairfax County Public School’s Conflict Resolution Specialist at