18 Jan The Art and Importance of Impartiality
Would you trust a judge who is related to one party to be fair? Of course not and hopefully the judge would recuse him or herself from hearing the case. Would you trust someone who has an obvious agenda to help you resolve a dispute? Likewise, the answer is of course not. One of the fundamental principles of mediation is that mediators can be impartial because they do not have a stake in the outcome.
In fact, the success of mediation is dependent on the impartiality of the mediator. This requires that first, the mediator act fairly and in a manner that does not favor one particular party or position. Second, and equally importantly, that the parties perceive the mediator as impartial.
HIAMP is part of the independent non-profit Environmental Mediation Center. Although we are certified by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and receive federal funding, HIAMP is independent from state and federal agencies. Similarly, HIAMP may work collaboratively with other non-profit agricultural organizations or lending institutions, but HIAMP does not advocate in any way for a particular point of view or party.
HIAMP’s mission is to help resolve agricultural disputes. We have no agenda other than that. We believe that helping parties resolve agricultural disputes benefits the entire agricultural community in Hawaii including producers, lenders, government agencies, feed and equipment dealers, and many others.
If HIAMP staff or contract mediators act in a way that favors one side, we will not be able to accomplish our mission of helping the parties reach resolution because we will not be perceived as an impartial party without a stake in the outcome. Without the party’s trust and belief in HIAMP’s impartiality, the mediation is doomed to failure.
Sometimes on the surface it may appear either before or during a mediation that HIAMP is assisting one party more than the other. HIAMP aims to create a safe space and a level playing field for all parties to be able to talk about their situation. That may require assisting parties to prepare for a mediation or articulating their interests during a mediation. Although one party may need extra time or assistance, that does not mean that HIAMP is favoring that side, only that the mediator recognizes that side needs more support in order to communicate in a way that allows the other side to understand the information being conveyed.
The art of being impartial is understanding the perspective of the party regardless whether the party is a producer unable to make payments, a lender forced to foreclose on a loan, or a USDA employee who must explain why a producer may not qualify for a loan or a program. HIAMP mediators attempt to fully understand the dispute from your perspective.
While the mediator may empathize with your situation, that only means that they understand your perspective and can help you effectively participate in the mediation. The mediator’s role is to understand the dispute from your perspective and to guide the conversation to discuss each party’s interests, generate options that may satisfy those interests, and help the parties evaluate those options.
In sum, HIAMP cannot be effective if parties believe that we are not impartial. Our role is not to be an advocate for any party or even an advocate for settlement. Our role is to help parties explore whether reaching settlement may be in their best interests.
HIAMP uses both staff mediators and also contracts with private mediators on a roster. Should any party ever have a concern about the impartiality of a HIAMP mediator, we can assign a different mediator, no questions asked.