This article is derived from Fredrike P. Bannink’s book Handbook of Solution Focused Conflict Management (2010), Cambridge MA: Hogrefe Publishing.
It is obvious that not all mediators are equally successful. As some lawyers have better results, some artists create more remarkable works of art, some students perform better with some teachers than others, and some psychotherapists also achieve better results than others. Therefore, when we recommend a mediator, lawyer, doctor, or psychotherapist to a friend or relative, most of us rely more on the competence and expertise of a person than on his or her theoretical background,. Who are these “super professionals” achieving 50% or more improvement and 50% or fewer dropouts than average professionals? This data is not yet available for mediators, but does exist for psychotherapists (1).
Now don’t say that these professions are totally different. I invite you to read on, because research in psychotherapy shows some remarkable and surprising data, which may also apply to other professionals such as doctors, lawyers and mediators.
1. Don’t expect much from training and experience
Surprisingly, training, certification, supervision, years of experience, and even use of evidence-based practices do not contribute to superior performance. Research conducted over the last 30 years documents that the effectiveness rates of most professionals plateaus very early in training, despite the fact that most professionals believe they improve with time and experience (1).
2. Have faith in your own model
The faith the professional has in his own treatment model and the capacity of that model to help clients change – allegiance is an important quality of a competent professional. Allegiance towards a model is based on the idea that if a professional is favourably disposed towards a treatment model and experiences the positive effects of that treatment, he will execute this treatment with more perseverance, enthusiasm, hope, and competence (2).
3. Create a positive working alliance
Research on the impact of variables of therapist’s characteristics shows that competent, creative, committed therapists can often smooth out any restriction on their age, gender, or color of skin. There is a consistent relationship between a positive and friendly attitude of the therapist and a positive outcome. A critical and hostile attitude has the opposite effect (3).
The personality of the professional and the alliance with his clients are far more powerful determinants of the outcome of treatment than the choice of methodology (4). The therapist’s degree of comfort with closeness in interpersonal relationships, low hostility, and high social support predicted client’s ratings of the alliance. Additionally, therapist experience is not predictive of the strength of any aspect of this alliance.
4. Be active and directive
Another consistent outcome of research is that it is important that professionals are sufficiently active and directive to ensure that their clients do not simply repeat their dysfunctional patterns and that they structure the sessions sufficiently (3).
5. Ask for feedback
Good professionals are much more likely to ask for and receive feedback about the quality of the work and their own contribution to the working alliance. The best clinicians, those falling in the top 25 percent of treatment outcomes, consistently achieve lower scores on standardized alliance measures at the outset of therapy – perhaps because they are more persistent or are more believable when assuring clients that they want honest answers – enabling them to address potential problems in the working relationship. Median therapists, by contrast, commonly receive negative feedback later in treatment, at a time when clients have already disengaged and are at heightened risk for dropping out (5).
6. Adjust to your clients
Most aspects of the style of the professional are strongly dependent on whether he adjusts to the preferences, hopes, and characteristics of his clients. He should give fewer directives if the client does not comply and he should adjust his style to hold a moderate arousal (not too much and not too little), because a moderate arousal promotes change. Flexibility and building rapport are therefore essential qualities for a therapist. What specific responses from the therapist are responsible for a positive working alliance varies from client to client. Good therapists are sensitive to the reactions of their clients and can adjust their interactions on the basis of this feedback (6).
7. Give compliments
The systematic use of complimenting clients not only contributes to a positive alliance, it also ensures that the outcome of treatment is no less that 30% better than in treatment without the use of compliments (7).
I myself use these research data as much as possible in my work as a mediator, coach, and psychotherapist. I do my best to be friendly, give many compliments and structure the meetings. I ask my clients for feedback at the end of every meeting, adjust my interventions as much as possible to my clients and I have faith in my model, although I may use other models in case my preferred solution focused model (8,9,10) does not work, since no model works all of the time. I personally do not think I belong to this group of Supermediators yet, although I would very much like to be one. How about you?