The A-Z of Mediation: Flexibility

Scott McIver Articles, The A-Z of Mediation

One of the most prominent advantages of mediation, and undoubtedly one of its greatest strengths, lies in its FLEXIBILITY.

When you consider the number of variables that can be involved in a dispute, flexibility is an important factor to consider when deciding on the resolution method. There are varying concerns, needs and motives for each participant, all of which must be addressed in order to resolve the conflict in the best possible way. After all, to truly reach a “win-win” solution, all of these needs must be met.

To do this, mediation takes a unique approach to resolving conflict, one that allows for a lot of freedom.

For example, we encourage participants to enter with an open mind. Very often, disputants approach the conflict with a clear focus of what they want and how they are going to get it – usually via a “showdown” or argument. However, that’s usually not the best way to reach a resolution.

As such, mediators must encourage the participants to consider other methods and adjust accordingly from there. No matter what approach the parties take, mediation is an open process that can be easily shaped and adapted to meet their needs. If something looks like it’s making progress, we can follow that route. If not, we can regroup and try another approach.

In addition to this, mediation is also unique in the contributions that the parties make. Contrary to other resolution methods, mediation is the only one where the approach, process and outcome are all decided by the participants. Throughout it all, the mediator remains entirely impartial and welcomes any and all contributions brought to the table (see our Disclosure article). As we do not know what ideas and opinions the participants are going to bring with them, it’s important to remain fluid and adjust to go along with them.

It’s also important to look at the flexibility of the outcome, which is unique in itself. When you are giving the participants free rein of the process and outcome, it is not going to be a black and white answer. For example, the agreement suggestions could be from one extreme or the other, or something anywhere in between. This will obviously vary from case to case and party to party, something which we need to be flexible with as mediators.

This is completely different to other resolution methods, such as arbitration or litigation, which are rigid in their structure. These approaches firmly set out what is right and wrong, have a strict formula as their processes, and decide the course of action through a third party. Of course, this can have a negative impact in that the structure can cause the participants to become more adversarial and uncompromising themselves.

To make the whole experience more flexible and adaptive, there are several steps in the process that are open to change and adjustment. These include:

• Structure – Will you go to a joint session? How do the participants want to proceed?
• Form of mediation – Which form of mediation would be most effective – face-to-face or over the telephone? Perhaps even via Skype or webchat?
Can be paused or suspended – Does one of the participants, or even the mediator, need a break? Are things getting too heated? Does it need to be stopped altogether?
Time and location – When’s the best time for each participant? Will there be a chance of them unknowingly meeting beforehand? What’s the best location for the mediation?
Number of mediators – Do you need more than one mediator (see our Co-Mediation article)? Are you going to split off with a participant each or go through the process side-by-side?

At the end of the day, it can be a little overwhelming to consider the sheer flexibility and attention to detail needed to put these changes into action.

However, when you ensure that each individual disputant gets the best and most suitable experience, it’s no surprise that mediation is such an effective method of conflict resolution.

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