Can Mediators Dress For Success?

Unlike some professions and careers, a mediator does not have a specific uniform. However, does what a mediator wears potentially change an outcome?

There appears to be fairly limited guidance on that topic.

As someone who has pursued a career in the law for over 30 years, as a male, in effect, there has been a uniform of suit, shirt and sober tie. Indeed, my occasional tendency towards bright ties has from time to time caused a stir, and during a limited period when we faced the trauma of “dress down Friday” a number of failed attempts of acquiring an appropriate wardrobe selection and a number of false starts when sent back upstairs by my wife before leaving the house with the cries of “You can’t go out looking like that” clearly demonstrated a tendency, where no rules apply, to face a potential fashion disaster.

It appears that this question is not unique to my thoughts and, by way of example, some years ago the following question was asked by potential parties to mediation in California. The question read as follows:- “My husband and I are going to mediation next week. Before we go shopping would like to know if my husband should wear a suit or shirt and tie or just a nice shirt. Should I wear a suit, dress, pant suit etc.? You are the first person I have asked the question on proper attire. Would like to look as professional as possible without looking overdressed in Southern California. If we do not get our problem resolved in mediation, then what would the proper attire be for court? My attorney bill so far is over $60,000. I have decided to ask you as it might be cheaper than asking my attorney.”

The response from a relevant expert is in itself interesting and is as follows:- “Normally, proper grooming and clean, conservative/traditional clothing that one may wear to a business job, religious services, or a graduation, etc. is appropriate, however, it is also important for people to be comfortable in the clothing they wear (looking uncomfortable may “communicate” a wrong message or heaven knows what).”

Insofar as one can find any comments regarding dress code, the general view seems to be to dress smartly but comfortably.

I suggest that an appropriate dress code is something that any decent mediator should consider in the context of both their role of understanding the nature of the dispute and the parties involved in order to take a sensible approach. It is part of a mediator’s armoury regarding making the parties feel at ease but also provide the appropriate level of authority.

For example, in the context of a mediation which perhaps involves financial issues, real estate issues or a high level commercial dispute that is in an environment where the parties are likely to expect and anticipate that the mediator will wear professional business clothing such as a suit.

However for education mediations, where the issues are often more significant and important to the parties attending than commercial mediations, smart but casual attire to make the parties feel at ease appears to be the sensible choice.

In any context, attire should not be distracting and taking into account the time of the year and the weather conditions, the mediator should not be either under or over dressed as both potential scenarios could cause discomfort not only to the mediator but also those attending. Clearly one does not want the parties to be nervous of losing an eye should a button under unnecessary strain finally give up its losing battle of remaining on a garment that is too small for the wearer.

One should also take into account any cultural and religious sensitivities of the parties attending regarding a level of dignity that will not make them feel uncomfortable because of their held views.

All of this goes to show that a good mediator needs to be the complete package and give appropriate thought as to what is going on inside and outside their being regarding preparation, content and presentation.

So whilst it is unlikely that leading toy shops are ever going to have mediator outfits for dolls as a best seller, the next time you set off to sit as a mediator, it can’t hurt to just check the mirrors in advance to ensure that your attire is sympathetic to the context of the day that lies ahead.

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