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<xTITLE>In Mediation, Four Things Really Matter</xTITLE>

In Mediation, Four Things Really Matter

by Peter T. Coleman
May 2013

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

Peter T.  Coleman

The field of mediation is fractured.

Although the research on mediation is considerable and proliferating, our field still lacks a basic unifying framework which provides theoretical coherence and integrates our understanding of various research findings. Today, the research presents a piecemeal understanding of what constitutes “effective mediation” and how to achieve it. To address this gap, the ICCCR Lab launched a study aimed at identifying the most basic aspects of mediations that determine fundamental differences in mediator strategies and the constructiveness of mediation. We surveyed 149 experienced mediators who were asked to describe and reflect on their most recent mediation case, and then to answer a series of questions.

The findings reveal that there are four basic aspects of mediations, each distinguishing basic differences in the conflict (high-intensity to low-intensity), disputant relationships (positive to negative goal-interdependence), context (unconstrained to highly constrained), and process (overt-explicit to covert-implicit). These four aspects have direct effects on: the achievement of agreements, the constructiveness-destructiveness of disputants’ communications, perceptions of procedural justice in the mediation, relational-nondirective to settlement-directive mediator strategy, and degree of necessary mediator preparation. These four dimensions combine to create 16 qualitatively different types of mediation situations, where each type affords a distinct mediator orientation and strategy. Ultimately, the new model suggests the importance of the mediator competency of adaptivity; the capacity to read relevant changes in situations and employ strategies that fit with specific situation-types.

By weaving together the four most fundamental parameters the new situated model of mediation helps to integrate many disparate findings from decades of prior research on mediation, and therefore enhance our understanding of how a variety of different aspects of mediation ultimately affect conflict. The value of the present model, then, is less the identification of new factors and variables, and more in how the model shows how a minimal number of these factors—those deemed the most essential – is sufficient to capture the complexity of conflict mediation in a wide range of contexts.

Coleman, P. T., Kugler, K., Gozzi, C., Mazzaro, K., El Zokm, N & Kressel, K. (Working paper). Putting the peaces together: Introducing a situated model of mediation.


Peter T. Coleman is the Director of ICCCR and Professor of Psychology and Education. He holds a Ph.D. and M.Phil. in Social / Organizational Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University and a B.A. in Communications from the University of Iowa. He has conducted research on social entitivity processes (ingroup/outgroup formation), gender discrimination in organizations, the mediation of inter-ethnic conflict, ripeness in intractable conflict, conflict resolution & difference, and on the conditions which foster the constructive use of social power.  Professor Coleman recently co-edited a book entitled The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (2000), published by Jossey-Bass and The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts.

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