Overcoming Barriers to Mediation in Intake Calls to Services: Research-Based Strategies for Mediators



In this article, I investigate intake calls to community mediation services in which disputing neighbors ask mediators to help them resolve their conflicts. These calls are the first point of contact between potential clients and mediators. To maintain their organization's funding, mediators must convert a sufficient number of these callers into clients of the service. Intake calls, however, are not treated as part of the mediation process proper, and mediators are not trained to handle them. I audio-recorded and transcribed approximately two hundred calls to mediation services based in the United Kingdom and then analyzed them using conversation analysis. I identified several factors routinely present in these intake calls that seemed to prevent disputants from ultimately engaging in the mediation process; I characterize these factors as “barriers to mediation.” These barriers include callers' lack of knowledge about mediation as a service and mediators' often ineffective methods of explaining the process. In particular, callers rejected mediation services when the mediators explained that mediation is an impartial service. Some of the mediators, however, managed intake calls differently, describing it more effectively, expressing empathy or affiliation with callers, and thus were able to overcome many of the callers' most common concerns about the process. In this article, I also discuss this study's implications for understanding the institution of mediation and for training mediators.