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<xTITLE>Establishing Rapport in Mediation</xTITLE>

Establishing Rapport in Mediation

by Dan Simon
July 2018

Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan Simon

Dan Simon

Establishing rapport seems like a nice thing to do, right? I don’t think so.

Ever have someone try to establish rapport with you?  If they’re not good at it, it feels phony and manipulative. If they’re good at it, then it’s more effectively manipulative.

Nonetheless, many mediators see establishing rapport as an important way to start the process.  For many mediators, the purpose of establishing rapport is to make the parties more likely to comply with the mediator’s later nudges.  If the mediator can make you trust her, you’re more likely to go along with her suggestions later.

It’s often a lovely thing for people to have rapport with each other.  Feeling connected to other people is an important, and maybe the most joyful aspect of life.  But shouldn’t it happen naturally?  Shouldn’t it happen because people are being transparent, vulnerable and honest with each other?

In the case of many mediators, it’s not about real connection, it’s about the outcome.  If it’s done well, the mediator is more able to get the parties to do what the mediator believes is best.  It’s not about the parties’ autonomy.  It’s not about party self-determination. It’s about successfully causing parties to behave the way the mediator thinks they should.

And there’s evidence that what’s good for mediator rapport is bad for the party.  Several recent studies have shown that more time spent in caucus is associated with parties’ feeling better about the mediator but also with the parties feeling worse about their situation and the other party.  See the ABA’s meta-study here.

Apparently, in caucus, mediators succeed at making the parties feel good about the mediator, but the more time spent in caucus the worse parties feel about their situation and each other.  These findings support the idea that from the parties’ perspective, self-determination is more important than, and sometimes inconsistent with, rapport with the mediator. The transformative framework, with its focus on moment-to-moment self-determination of the parties, provides a way to keep the mediation focused on the parties’ needs, instead of the mediator’s.

Biography


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.



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