Safety Update: Safe practice for mediators and conflict coaches

Boundaries: Safe practice for mediators and conflict coaches

This blog addresses safety, including: mediation and domestic violence, safety in court ordered mediation, safety in child custody mediation, mediation and family abuse and those with a history of spousal abuse. Note that this blog may also apply to family lawyers, legal aid lawyers, facilitators and restorative justice practitioners.
Mediate to Go: Boundaries: Safe practice for mediators and conflict coaches

Introduction to safe practice


Regardless of the jurisdiction we work in, the risk of violence against mediators and conflict coaches is real. Some environments pose greater risk than others. Nevertheless, it’s time to take stock of our management of risk.

Violence in mediation and conflict coaching


Violence comes in a variety of forms and severity and sometimes so swiftly our next response can make a significant difference to our safety and those around us. If you want to learn more from a client’s perspective, read about destructive relationships.



Whilst we know that risk cannot be completely eliminated, we can fall into a trap of not planning for the inevitable. So if we accept that it is only when, not if, we will fall victim to a violent assault at the hands of a client, now becomes a good time to rethink our safety.

Mediation and coaching - a balance of safety and trust


Our work is a tricky balance of safety and trust.We work hard to empathize and build a strong professional relationship of trust with the people we serve. Here are some tips for you to consider. They are not golden rules, merely things to consider as you continually evaluate situations. The risk of developing hard-fast rules about safety is that we become complacent in a bubble of safety, and forget to be ready to react as the environment changes! We emphasize the importance of setting boundaries for our clients, but this blog is about the safety of us as coaches and mediators.


Mediate to Go: Boundaries: Safe practice for mediators and conflict coaches

What situations can pose the greatest risk? (Danger of the unknown)


  • Clients who have already demonstrated the use of violence to gain power in a dispute may turn their technique of control on the practitioner. For example, if there is already a restraining order in place against a party.
  • An already agitated and angry client mistakenly assesses your reality testing as a threat, resulting in an escalation of poor behaviour.
  • A client with a worsening undiagnosed mental illness lashes out at the other party or practitioner.
  • Our desire to work toward positive outcomes may provoke us to work outside the boundaries that normally ensure our safety.
  • Field appointments to environments not fully assessed for safety may place the practitioner in danger.
  • Constant exposure to highly charged situations, environments and personalities may make us less sensitive to our ability to assess safety and react to the normal fight or flight mechanism.

These simple tips can keep you from harm.


  1. Client assessment - using your intuition and experience, or maybe a more comprehensive assessment from a psychologist or MD is required.
  2. Healthy physical environments*.
  3. Rooms with escape doors into a secure area (or safe room)
  4. Peep holes so colleagues in the secure area can check on you. (and interrupt if necessary- see escape plan below)
  5. Glass (obscured / frosted) strengthened walls in meeting rooms ensure some added visibility whilst maintain privacy.
  6. Furniture that is so light that it could not make a good weapon, or so heavy (or connected to the floor) so it could not be used as a weapon.
  7. Exclude unnecessary furniture and nic-nacs (Those flowers look lovely but that vase might hurt you!)
  8. Use plastic cups and stationery water coolers for refreshments.
  9. Design a seating plan so that you can have free access to the escape door.
  10. Install alarm systems that warn your colleagues that there is a problem.
  11. Employ static guards to be in the room.
  12. Be sure that a loved one is aware of where you are when working
  13. Never visit people in environments in which you have no control.
  14. When you must work ‘in the field’ ensure that you work in pairs
  15. When you work in the field utilise GPS / emergency call systems. Such as: http://getbsafe.com/

These provisions might seem a trifle over the top in many situations. They are included as the ultimate in risk mitigation technique. Remember, if they seem impractical or too expensive to employ, your job is to do enough to ensure you are safe.

Conflict escalation and safety


Deal with escalations. Remain calm and de-escalate the emotion by building empathy – asking open questions to gather any new information. Remain respectful and be prepared to place limits on the other persons behaviour (“I’m sure we can begin to sort this. First, please take your seat and tell me about….” And “It’s ok to talk about this, so let’s do that about it without raising our voice”. (also, “I’m happy to continue discussing things, so long as you put the knife on the table”)



Read more about de-escalation in the helping profession. Also read about the science behind why some people demonstrate unhelpful behaviour at times of high emotion.

Remember these last tips about coach and mediator safety.


  • Escape plan – practice it, review it, amend it, including if you have colleagues working with you, pre-arrange interruptions.
  • Post incident process so that you learn from it so you can avoid it in the future.
  • Have people around – what if you work alone? – Don’t work alone at night.
  • Be consistent. Ensure your security provisions are the same for every client. Your clients deserve a no surprises approach to such things as static guards, the use of lockers for personal effects, seating plans.
  • Self-defence – Best choice is to escape (run like the wind). If not, can you defend yourself from a violent attack?
  • First aid – if someone is hurt, make sure you can render assistance and treat wounds.
  • Don’t let ANY of the above give you a false sense of security! Remain vigilant.

Why is it important to get this right?


Self-preservation is a great motivator. Not convinced? Then consider,

  • Income preservation – getting hurt or worse can affect your ability to earn an income.
  • Practice continuity – a violent incident is going to interrupt services to your other clients.
  • Valuable professional reputation – being unable to manage safety can have a detrimental effect on how others view your work.
  • Safety of other clients and colleagues – if you get it wrong, they can be consequences for others.


Prepared by:





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