Optimism: The First of Three Soft Skills Every Mediation Needs

Hard skills, such as legal expertise and preparation, are essential to bring to any mediation. But when soft skills are also brought to the table, I’ve found it significantly strengthens and amplifies those hard skills, the two combining together for the lawyers, clients, and mediator in effectively moving a stalled case along.

What do I mean by soft skills? They are personal attributes that support situational awareness and improve an individual’s ability to get a job done.  In mediation, I have found these three most important: optimism, empathy (the ability to understand and be sensitive to someone’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it, and the issues that may be behind their perspective), and, lastly, determination, or as I like to think of it a can-do attitude.

In looking at these attributes, I think it is important to start with optimism, because it is from where empathy and determination also flow. 

Here are a few of my favourite quotes to help frame how I think we should think about optimism in mediation.

“An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere.”

– Harvey Mackay, New York Times best-selling author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

“A part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”

– former South African president Nelson Mandela 

I like these quotes because they remind us that optimism doesn’t mean being blind or ignorant to the challenges.  After all, a conflict is, by definition, challenging. I also like the quotes because they recognize that it isn’t focused on the end game but progress. In mediation, it is the belief, no matter how deadlocked things look between the parties, that ground can be made towards reaching a resolution.

I go into every mediation with optimism, no matter the case. In fact, I’ve found this attribute to be the secret of my success as a mediator. Think of past mediations you’ve been involved in. 

How many of them have you gone into where one party (or more) seems to have already thrown their hands up, as if to say, “There is no point to this” or “I don’t see how this is going to help.” 

Compare that to a party who comes into the room with a positive, friendly attitude, and even if the other party is less than optimistic feel how it instantly changes the energy. Optimism is disarming. It makes the situation more collaborative and helpful, leading others to feel optimistic, too. It is the fuel to get over a hump and make progress when one side gets stuck, whether on a particular issue or settlement amount. It should never be underestimated. 

Optimism is the first soft skill important to effective conflict resolution. Stay tuned for my thoughts on empathy and determination, and why they are also essential attributes needed in a mediator. 


Marshall Schnapp, Toronto / GTA Mediator

Marshall Schnapp, BA, JD, LLM (ADR) has been resolving disputes for over 10 years as a mediator and has extensive experience in adjudication as well. Clients consistently recommend Marshall for his upbeat, tenacious attitude, and the skills he has honed helping resolve thousands of matters.

Get in touch with Marshall by email at marshall@schnappmediation.com or by telephone (647) 250-7216 today to set up a consultation, and see why he is the right mediator for your next file. For booking availability, please visit https://schnappmediation.com/booking/ or contact Lacey Day at lacey@schnappmediation.com or (647) 250-7216.