There are few things in life quite as simple as sitting down and having a conversation with someone. Whether it be small talk about the weather, or debating the meaning of life, the actual process itself is very straight-forward.
However, mediation, on the surface, is no ordinary conversation. As a means of conflict resolution, it might actually look incredibly complicated, especially when you consider the role of the mediator. As a result, it can be very beneficial to just “keep it simple”.
For starters, mediators have to adapt to a potentially infinite number of possibilities and variables (see our ‘Flexibility’ article). Whether it be the types of participants, the different styles of communication, or even the agreement at the end of it all, there are many things that could go right or wrong. Of course, this could throw up a number of obstacles or challenges, all of which they need to be prepared for without any prior warning. As mediators, it is our job to facilitate the process, keeping it on track whilst also adjusting to what is happening in the present moment.
In addition, you have to remember the sheer amount of communication that is happening in a relatively short period of time. From at least two individual meetings, through to the joint meeting, most of the communication is directly to, or through, the mediator. Of course, we are not expected to remember every word of every statement. Instead, we must take it in, understand it, and appreciate the value in what is being said. This can help us to identify key issues in the dispute, or points at which we need to find out more.
And, to top it all off, there can be an incredible amount of pressure that could further complicate things. The case could be particularly volatile, or it could be on behalf of a large organisation – a case that could potentially make your career! Regardless, the mediator is still inserting themselves into a dispute that both participants are totally invested in. As a stranger entering that situation, a feeling of pressure is bound to be expected.
Despite all of that, however, the simplicity of the process is arguably one of mediation’s greatest strengths. When compared to other forms of conflict resolution, the methodology is very straight-forward, with just seven stages to go through:
1. Individual meeting with Party 1
2. Individual meeting with Party 2
3. Preparing to work on the dispute
4. Face-to-face session
5. Exploring and working on the issues
6. Building agreements
7. Closure and follow up
Through our experience, we find that this is by far the simplest and most effective model. We find that these stages allow for flexibility within them, whilst also keeping things straight-forward and easy to follow. This then allows the mediator to focus on the participants, rather than worrying about which stage is next or whether they had forgotten anything.
As well, this can also be comforting to the participants. Due to the unique nature of mediation, it is something that not many people will have been involved in before. Add this to the fact that they are confronting a long-standing conflict, most likely with the other party there, and they are bound to be stressed out and nervous. As long as the stages are explained simply and effectively by the mediator, it will be of great re-assurance to know what is coming up and what to expect in each stage. This can reap further benefits down the line, including increased trust and an improved willingness to co-operate.
On top of this, for the majority of the process, the mediator’s role almost takes a backseat. Especially in the individual meetings, they are there to watch over the process, whilst also using the basic skills of listening and feeding back to encourage open communication. Importantly, they are not there to lead or influence the discussion in any way. Compared to other forms of dispute resolution, which often require the third party to be much more actively involved, our role in a mediation is relatively passive.
Because of these reasons, simplicity is often mentioned as one of mediation’s major selling points. Compared to other methods of resolution, for example in tribunals or through the courts, there is a lot more going on that requires active input from both the third party and the participants.
Mediation does a great job of not making the situation entirely formal, reducing pressure and expectations, whilst also keeping the whole process straight-forward and easy to navigate towards an agreement.
Read all of our previous entries in the ‘A-Z of Mediation‘ archive
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