The Railway Switchman and The Mediator: Your Relationship Guides


The railway switchman and the mediator. So different, yet so much alike. Both focus on relationships.

The switchman:

  1. Knows where the trains are coming from
  2. Sees where the trains want to go
  3. Looks ahead to the crossings and transfer points
  4. Safely guides the trains forward to their new destinations

Like a switchman, the mediator helps the parties:

  1. Understand their current situation
  2. Imagine alternative futures
  3. Discover their intersections; common ground
  4. Collaborate on a mutual resolution, going forward

The switchman need not know all the particulars of each train. What’s important is the relations between trains.

Similarly, the mediator need not know all the particulars about the individuals involved in the dispute. What’s important is their relationship and connections.

The railway switchman, a master or relations, and a metaphor for the mediator role.

What metaphor holds you as a model for managing relationships?  Leave a comment.

[Postscript: I came across the idea of railway switchman, as relationship master, on reading of Such Stuff of Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, where it was presented as an analogy.  And, I’ve always respected the challenge of train navigation, having observed it first-hand, many years ago, working as a railways’ land surveyor. ]

Photo credit: Nerovivo (on Flickr)


  1. This relationship guide is awesome, the differences between the switchman and the mediator are suprising, I guess inevitabely both there jobs are just as important as each other.

  2. Thanks Aman. And, good of you for pointing out how both are important. I like to believe that there is something important in every job, and its up to us to see it and apply it to our own contexts.

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