Designing the Mediation Process

It is often a good idea when you are thinking about going to mediation, to think about what kind of process is going to happen. There are mediators who try to encourage better communication between the participants hoping the participants themselves will work through the issues and reach a resolution. This kind of approach has huge benefits and at the same time, can be a drawn-out process and one the participants were not really expecting. A more evaluative approach uses a lawyer mediator who can understand the legal issues and then perhaps makes recommendations or offers opinions on what might happen if the case goes to court.

These are very different styles and it is important for you to think about what you might want from your mediator. Keep in mind, these styles can be interwoven through the process, and keep in mind that you might want an evaluative approach but the other participant might need more time to talk through the underlying interests and reasons for where things are. The point here is to make sure that when you are thinking about mediation, you are thinking about what kind of process.

As part of this thinking, you must determine what kind of process the other participant may require to actually help them move forward. Thinking only about what you might need may be great for you but remember, you are mediating to try and reach a negotiated agreement, so the other party has to want to be there. Making the process something that is attractive to the other party can really help move the negotiation forward. That does not mean you ignore what you need – it does mean that you perhaps discuss with your mediator what you want to get out of the process and what you think the other party needs. This way, you are helping define a process that has the best chance of success.

Sure, you can depend on your mediator to figure this out alone but you are taking a risk. Some mediators operate with only one style and that style is imposed on the process. Can you see how that can backfire for you? Other mediators can and often do successfully figure out and design a good process but that happens as the mediation progresses, taking time, sometimes trial and error, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen to cause participants to leave the process because they do not think it is working.

Do yourself a favor. Mediation is a great alternative to use. Generally speaking, however, people come in without thinking about the design of the process. Talk to your mediator about this issue and find out:

1. what style does your mediator use?
2. are they familiar with other techniques and does he/she use them? why or why not?
3. Does the mediator do any preliminary work to gain knowledge about designing a process? If so, what?

This will help you get a better understanding of the mediation process and a better design of a process for your particular situation.