A Mediator’s Ideological Orientation – Do You Know Yours?

One of the most important factors mediators needs to know, whether we are just starting out as a mediator or we are a seasoned mediator is, “What is your ideological orientation as a mediator?” All mediation is ideologically driven. Mediation practice differs because of different (whether implicit or explicit) ideological assumptions. The ideological assumptions evolve from the different types of models that Mediators receive training in, whether it’s Transformative, Facilitative, Evaluative or some other type of training. From these trainings, a Mediator decides which model fits more with their belief system in how mediation should be utilized. Professor Joe Folger explored the relationship between ideology and mediation practice in a graduate course in mediation I recently took at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. Folger, and his colleagues from the institute for the study of conflict resolution, base all of their conflict intervention work and training in an ideological perspective. I would like to share some of the core ideas about ideology and conflict resolution that Folger and his colleagues have advanced. (See the Institute website www.transformativemediation for a relevant bibliography.)


Our ideology of mediation is a system of beliefs that guide a Mediator’s thinking and shapes their behavior including their interaction with other people. It is important to know what a third party’s orientation is because this factor greatly influences the process and outcome of the mediation. One of the most important questions to answer is how you, as a Mediator, are going to practice mediation. The parties in mediation need to understand what your goal is as a Mediator.


There are four different ideological beliefs that are key that distinguish third party roles among mediation models. First, a Mediator will have different views and assumptions about human nature, which includes what the Mediator thinks people in conflict are capable of and what they believe the experience of conflict does to people. Second, Mediators using one model vs. another will have different views and assumptions about the nature of conflict such as how they define conflict and how they see conflict such as a problem to be solved, a difficult interaction, a power struggle, etc. Third, a Mediator’s view and assumptions are different depending on their ideological orientation regarding a constructive and productive view of conflict. For example, this would include what a constructive conflict looks like to them and what factor a Mediator believes moves them in a constructive direction. Last, the Mediator’s views and assumption about the role of social institutions that support conflict intervention work comes into play. This would have to do with a Mediator’s beliefs about the responsibilities of social institutions to the people they intend to serve. It is important for Mediators to be able to answer these questions when practicing mediation because their ideological orientation goes along any the model they are practicing. We will look at two different types of models and the beliefs behind these models, Transformative and Facilitative. It is important as a Mediator that you choose only one ideological orientation. These are two very different belief systems that include very different structure, framework, goals and thought processes. If you were to shift models in the middle of a mediation and try to utilize both models you would not only confuse the parties, but would possibly have a very disappointing outcome to the mediation. The more you know and understand your ideological orientation as a Mediator, the more chance you have of having a successful outcome to the mediation and parties that are satisfied with the mediation.


The Transformative Model is based on the theory that conflict is the crisis in human interaction and parties need help in overcoming this crisis and restoring constructive interaction. Successful outcomes can happen through conflict intervention by the parties shifting from destructive to a constructive interaction, which consequently increases the parties’ capacity for future decision-making and communication. The goal of the third party is to foster empowerment and recognition, in addition to enhancing the parties’ decision-making and communication. This type of mediation is “micro-focused” on the interaction. This means that the Mediator focuses on the moment-to-moment interaction and actively listens to what and how things are being said in order to identify opportunities for party empowerment and inter-party recognition. Finally, the hallmark of the Transformative practice is to support party deliberative & decision-making and inter party perspective taking.


The Facilitative Model is based on problem solving; focusing on the needs and interest of parties and how to meet those incompatible needs with limited resources. Facilitative (Transactional) Mediation sees conflict as a problem in needs-satisfaction. Success is defined as a settlement agreement that solves the problem on fair realistic terms. The Mediator has two goals 1) Encourage interest-based bargaining and 2) Generate an agreement that resolves tangible issues. The hallmark for this type of mediation is Macro-focus, which means to form global assessments of the “problem”, shape the settlement terms and drop the “intangible issues”.


In addition to the theories themselves of models, you also have to look at the difference between transformative and problem-solving models ideologically based assumptions about the roles of emotions each model supports, and therefore, the Mediators’ different theoretical framework for understanding and responding to the parties’ (inevitable) expressions of emotion.


Using the Transformative and Facilitative Model as an example, it is evident how important it is for a Mediator to know what their ideological orientation is before entering a mediation. In conclusion, if a Mediator knows his ideological orientation, s/he will be better able to communicate to the parties what s/he is trying to achieve during the mediation, which will result in a more successful outcomes.

                        author

Sheryl Ellis, PHRca, SHRM-CP, CLMS, ADAC

Sheryl has more than 20 years of experience in human resources. She is the author of “Making It Work” and a recognized expert in Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sheryl specializes in helping workplaces design ADA-compliant processes, workplace ADA accommodations, mediating HR and ADA related issues,… MORE >

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