A Certified Mediator With Over 30 Years Of Experience As A Litigator, Corporate Counsel And Superior Court Judge

How to handle difficult parties in mediation

On Behalf of | Dec 5, 2023 | Mediation

Mediation is a powerful tool for solving disputes, but it is not without its challenges. Many attorneys and mediators train on how to mediate cases where the parties are in dispute and need help finding common ground with the aim of reaching a settlement.

Sometimes, however, cases that involve parties who have strong negative feelings towards each other, reject the concept of mediation altogether, or simply insist on getting their way without exceptions fall into the hands of attorneys and mediators.

Whether it is court-appointed mediation or a mediation chosen by the parties at their attorneys’ advice, these cases happen, and it is important that attorneys and mediators be prepared to handle these clients.

While certain attorneys or mediators may think that parties who display the above characteristics are not good candidates for mediation, that is not necessarily true. With skill, care, and specialized alternative dispute resolution tools, many of these cases can be managed and settled through mediation.

Active listening

One of the first things that attorneys or mediators should always keep in mind is active listening. Especially when dealing with a difficult client, it is critical for the third party or attorney to speak with everyone using active listening, allowing the clients to express their concerns and validating them. Often, clients have deep feelings hidden inside that, when expressed and acknowledged, lead them to adopt a calmer demeanor and engage with the other party less aggressively.

The power of empathy

Demonstrating empathy and understanding is key to defusing tension between the parties. Even if the parties or the attorneys disagree on the other person’s stance, acknowledging their emotions and letting them know that they are heard and understood as they want to be heard can go a long way. Empathy can help create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation between the parties.


In any mediation, the attorney or mediator who is mediating must always remain neutral. All mediators bear the responsibility of not taking sides and ensuring that they are not inclined to support one client over the other.

By suggesting solutions that show the mediator’s unbiased nature and sincere efforts to achieve a favorable outcome for both parties, clients are much more likely to develop a sense of trust with the mediator and be willing to compromise.

Use distance if necessary

If the clients do not communicate well in the same physical or virtual space, separate them into different rooms or virtual spaces. Often, parties who are reluctant to cooperate at first will become more relaxed and cooperative if the other party is not present and they only have to speak with the mediator.

Successfully navigating difficult clients in mediation requires a combination of effective communication, empathy, skill and resourcefulness. Many mediations require that the mediator think creatively and suggest ideas that the clients have not even thought of.

These skills are critical for any attorney or mediator to develop and maintain over time, for the purpose of maximizing the chances of reaching successful outcomes in mediations, even with difficult clients.