Sam Kagel, 98, a noted mediator and arbitrator, died recently. Among the thousands of disputes he settled, he is probably best known for his role in mediating a resolution to the 1982 National Football League strike. Famous for his salty tongue, he was also respected for his fairness, persistence, and insights about the path to resolution in complex and difficult disputes.
In 1990, he co-authored, with Kathy Kelly, “The Anatomy of Mediation: What Makes it Work.” The book includes his pithy description of a mediator as “neutral, but not neutered.”
Sam Kagel makes an important point: a good mediator isn’t passive or weak. A good mediator works with the parties to reach an achievable, effective resolution. At times, the mediator is the bearer of bad news: a reality check for one or more parties that their wildest dream for the outcome of a dispute is just that — a dream. At times, the mediator pushes the parties to think more creatively or flexibly to reach a solution to a dispute.
Throughout the mediation process, a mediator is impartial but not indifferent: the mediator’s goal is to help the parties reach the best agreement possible to resolve their conflict.