26th Jan 2024

Essential Skills for Mediators – Where To Find Them

By Gillian Bishop

Essential Skills for Mediators – Where To Find Them


In this blog, FLiP Consultant Gillian Bishop looks at essential skills in the area of family law and how and why they are essential for solicitors, mediators and barristers alike. 

Chambers Dictionary defines “essential” as “indispensable or important in the highest degree.” So it has always struck me as odd that our attitude to “essential skills” is that they can be learned on the hoof. This contrasts dramatically with legal skills, also essential by Chambers’ definition, which are, of course, taught in depth from the first day of one’s law degree or the SQE until you eventually hang up your boots.

Essential skills are essential in all areas of law but, as this week is Family Mediation Week 2024, it seems appropriate to look at them in the area of family law and how they are indeed essential for solicitors, mediators and barristers alike.

What skills are essential?

Listening – listening so as to hear and to understand who the unique person or person sitting in front of us actually is. What is their story; what makes it unique; what aspects of it are most important to them?

Questioning – asking deep, open and curious questions so that we get beyond the factual answer to the “why” of the answer – eg: why is that important to you; what would be the impact on you of not getting what you say you want; what do you most fear about this process/the future; what does your partner fear; what support are you getting; how are the children coping?

Boundaries – knowing what boundaries you have set as a professional and as a human being and knowing when you are close to breaching them. Availability is perhaps the most frequently breached boundary for the profession as a whole. What triggers a boundary breach? What do clients do to try to lure us across a boundary? How do we maintain boundaries whilst keeping our clients onside?

Handling conflict – this is our bread and butter surely? But isn’t it amazing the number of family lawyers and mediators who profess to be conflict averse? Have you ever stopped to think deeply about how your personal feelings and make-up influence your professional, approach to conflict? What is it about your background that makes you feel this way and how does that impact on the way you do your job? What techniques do you have for dealing with conflict with clients and, indeed, in your places of work?

Language – what language do we use when talking about clients and their families? Perhaps those acting in a capacity other than as a mediator use the language of opposition and conflict almost without thinking. Mediators and others working with both members of a fractured relationship may be used to being more circumspect but that does not mean it is easy. And what of idiom and legalese? How conscious are we of the need to make ourselves clearly understood?

Understanding children and the impact of conflict on them – as we know child-inclusive processes are increasingly common. No mediation involving child arrangement issues would be conducted now without ascertaining the wishes and feelings of the child or children involved. And this is growing in other legal processes too. Yet how knowledgeable are we about both child development generally and the impact of conflict on children? How deep is our knowledge?

The dynamics of relationships – have you ever wondered why clients behave the way they do; why they don’t seem to be able to let go of the relationship; why a relationship which seemed to have worked well has, suddenly and catastrophically, gone bad? Do you have a grasp of how relationships work at both a conscious and unconscious level?

And what of those concepts such as attachment and the drama triangle? Are you confident that you know enough about them to spot them happening and know what to do about them as deeply as you would know when to issue court proceedings or how to negotiate?

These are the main essential skills that all family law practitioners – mediators, litigators, arbitrators, collaborative practitioners etc – need to know at a level that has hitherto not been taught in depth at university, law college, professional development training or elsewhere. These skills are largely learned by the example of others, meaning that our ability to practice essential skills is, first and foremost, dependent on how well our seniors have learned them and taught them to us.

Now, for the first time, all these skills can be learned in depth, in your own time, in one place.

The ReFLEx Certificate in Essential Skills can be found here.

It comprises 9 courses on the topics mentioned above tailor-made for those working in family law. All courses contain self-reflective exercises so as to ensure the knowledge acquired is embedded. They are all taught by highly regarded and experienced professionals from therapeutic backgrounds who, in their main professional lives, deal regularly with separating families and their children.

This project has been the culmination of over 25 years wondering how to make hardworking and diligent family law professionals into truly great ones who are able to go the extra mile for clients because they better understand what is going on for them.

Successful participants in all 9 courses will receive a ReFLEx certificate which can be displayed on their websites.

All 9 courses, which comprise over 13.5 hours of learning, can be undertaken for just £750 plus VAT per person. Discounts are offered for firms buying in bulk.

Please contact Gillian Bishop at gb@flip.co.uk for further information.

For more information on ReFLEx and the courses available, please visit the ReFLEx website via the link below.

Alternatively call T: +44 (0) 330 1330 852 and ask to speak with Gillian Bishop.