In mediation, the parties in disagreement work out a mutually acceptable solution with the help of a neutral, third party mediator.
If you’ve been called to serve as a go-between in a dispute, here’s what you can do to help promote mutual understanding and resolution:
- Set ground rules. Agree on how much time you’ll give to the mediation meeting. Keep the meeting close-ended. If there’re more than two parties, each with different views of a dispute, engage more than one mediator.
- Have each party prepare a brief summary of their positions before the mediation and send them to you, and, ideally, to each other. The brief can explain positions, rationale, and motivation. The brief can also contain each party’s summary understanding of the opposing party’s arguments and counterarguments.
- Insist that the each party have a clear understanding of their underlying intentions. What’s their best understanding of the basic objectives? What do they want to achieve? What’s rigid? What’s flexible? What are they willing to bargain?
- At the start of the mediation meeting, remind each party that mediation is a voluntary process. Your role is to help the parties reach an agreement, not to reach an agreement for them. Say, “Nothing lasting will happen unless each of you participates in the solution. Any agreement you’re able to reach must be your own.”
- Announce that your intention is to foster the interaction by helping each party understand one another’s perspectives and expectations. Encourage them to consider a wide range of solutions and to shun false dilemmas (“either-or” approach.) Push them to understand the other party’s underlying interests, not just their stated positions.
- Outline how they’ll work together during the process. Get them to agree that they’ll deal with matters in a non-confrontational way and be open-minded about what the other wants.
- Let each party make a preliminary presentation without interruption from the other parties. Then, encourage each party to respond directly to the other’s opening statements.
- If the communications break down completely, restart the mediation process by separating the parties and talking to each party separately. Go between the two rooms to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each position and to exchange offers. Continue the interchange until you’ve helped define an agreeable compromise.
- When you’re talking to each party separately during a break down in the discussions, help each party hear the views of the other and identify areas of common ground for a resolution. After independent caucuses, if possible, bring the parties back together to negotiate directly.
- Don’t stop each party from venting their frustrations, but try to keep them under control. If there’s rambling, gently pull the conversation back. Refocus on what needs to be achieved. Encourage them to remain open to persuasion.
- Even with a well thought-out approach, some disagreements turn ugly. Re-focus the dialogue on the future. Remind the parties that they can’t fight over something that’s already happened, but they can set a course for going forward.
- If the parties come to a resolution, draft the terms of a binding agreement and have both parties review it and sign it. Make sure the parties own the resolution, because they’re the ones who’ll live with the consequences.
- If the parties don’t reach an agreement, help them decide whether it’d be helpful to meet again later, use a different mediator, or try other ways to resolve the issues.
These books are most helpful in negotiations, either when you’re the mediator or one of the parties in conflict: Roger Fisher et al’s Getting to Yes (1991, 2011; my summary) and Kerry Patterson et al’s Crucial Conversations (2011.)