When I spend a day teaching mediators who were originally trained in a
Facilitative approach, many questions start with “So how do you get them
to. . . ?” That question reveals that the asker has a different sense
of what self-determination means than I do. That is, I don’t want to
get clients to do anything. I find that clients tend to do certain
things with my support, but it’s their choice whether and when they do
those things; and it’s their choice whether they want to do . . .
The following sort of conversation is common:
“But how do you get them to, say, be more reasonable?”
“Again, that’s not my goal. So I let go of that agenda. If I think of
them as being unreasonable and if I feel the urge to make them behave
differently I, first of all, notice that I’ve lost sight of my purpose.
My purpose is to support their process of decision-making and
perspective-taking. If they’ve decided to say something like ‘I will
not consider offering him anything. He doesn’t deserve it. He’s lucky
I don’t kill him, much less compromise with him,’ I support that
“But I thought you do transformative mediation! How do you get them to
“Ah, common misunderstanding. Transformation happens in transformative
mediation, but not because I tried to get them to transform. It happens
because clients have the ability and the preference to behave with
strength and responsiveness; and it happens more easily when a mediator
is actively supporting a conversation, if the parties wish to have a
conversation. The support that a mediator provides creates more
opportunities for clients to shift toward greater strength and
“Ah ha! So you do try to get them to transform!”
“No I really don’t. I try to support the conversation. What they do
with that is their choice. If they don’t move toward greater strength
and responsiveness, that’s ok too.”
I’m curious how other transformative mediators communicate this point?
How do you explain to people that you really want parties to make their
own choices about everything, but that at the same time, you like it
that they often make shifts?
Dan Simon writes the blog for the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation. He is a national leader in the field of transformative mediation. He practices and teaches it in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He's trained mediators throughout the country for the U.S. Postal Service, the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation, and as an Adjunct Professor at the Hofstra University School of Law. He serves on the Minnesota Supreme Court's ADR Ethics Board, is the Immediate Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's ADR Section; and he serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation. He has been the director of Twin Cities Mediation since he founded it in 1998. He helps with divorces, parenting differences, real estate issues, employment cases, business disputes, and neighbor to neighbor conflicts.