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<xTITLE>The Mediator’s Moral Imperative: Neutrality & Bias</xTITLE>

The Mediator’s Moral Imperative: Neutrality & Bias

by Brandon T. Taylor
November 2010

I believe that the importance placed on mediators being unbiased or neutral is reasonable. The weight placed on mediators being unbiased and neutral is more advantageous to parties engaged in mediation than having little or no importance placed on mediators being unbiased or neutral. River (2002) argued that, “the assumption that a mediator has the implicit or covert power to determine the outcome of mediation seems to justify the pursuit of neutrality”. In fact, one of mediations most commonly used strategies highlight’s the significance of the emphasis placed on checking bias and neutrality. That strategy is the caucus. Moore (2003) wrote that, “caucuses give mediators the greatest opportunity to manipulate parties into an agreement because disputants do not have the advantage of face-to-face communication to test the accuracy of information exchanged” (p. 375). It is imperative for mediators to understand the importance of neutrality and of practicing without bias with the enticing powers of influence, proposition, and appraisal at their disposal.

Accomplishing Neutrality

I recognize that remaining neutral or omitting biases in mediation may be hard to accomplish for mediators. In fact, Mayer (2004) wrote that, “Neutrality is a hard concept to nail down” (p. 83). But, all though neutrality may be hard to achieve and biases may be hard to overcome, something being hard to achieve does not mean that it is impossible to accomplish. I maintain that biases can be checked and neutrality accomplished through internal reflection and personal cognitive growth. Achieving neutrality, in my opinion, is contingent on the mediator’s perception of neutrality. If mediators perceived neutrality in terms of total perfection and imperfection, then yes, being perfectly neutral and unbiased would be difficult to achieve. However, very few, if any social science practitioners can claim procedural or operational perfection so mediation should not bear the burden of practicing within the realms of total perfection with regard to neutrality and bias. However, I do believe that achieving neutrality should be an ethical ambition for mediators; an obligatory objective in all mediation’s that is directly connected with a mediator’s skill to adapt and change when confronted with party values or beliefs that are contrary to their own. In other words, mediators should remain flexible in their approach while working toward the objective of achieving perfection of practice with regard to neutrality and bias. Schofield (2005) wrote with regard to bias in mediation that, “remaining flexible rather than rigid, especially during mediation, is the challenge. Values can and do shift/shape through deep reflection and psychological expansion”.

Expectations for Mediators

If I were part of a party of two paying clients for mediation services, not only would I want an unbiased mediator, but I would have an overwhelming expectation that a professional mediator would have the capacity to set down any personal bias with regard to our (the paying clients) problem. It would be somewhat hypocritical for a mediator to make an attempt to enlighten disputing parties on the importance of separating the person from the problem or positions from interests as a goal of the mediation process, if the mediator is incapable of setting aside there own personal bias in an effort to uphold neutrality when dealing with parties engaged in conflict. Personally, I feel that most people moderately familiar with mediation assume mediators are unbiased and impartial. In fact, authors Bush & Folger (2005) exemplified this opinion when they wrote, “Across the mediation field, mediation is generally understood as an informal process in which a neutral third party with no power to impose a resolution helps the disputing parties try to reach a mutually acceptable settlement” (p. 8). Again, this further substantiates the importance placed on checking mediator bias and neutrality. If mediation is generally understood as an informal process involving a neutral third party with no power to impose a resolution throughout the mediation field, then how is it unreasonable for parties engaged in conflict to have those same expectations of their mediator?

Conclusion

“As mediators...we are always considering how deeply to probe, how much dirty laundry to air, and how much to delve into the emotional and attitudinal dimensions of conflict, as well as its behavioral or substantive aspects (Mayer, 2004, p. 181). Again, given this illustration of a mediator’s influence, how can anyone minimize the importance of maintaining neutrality and practicing without bias? The stress placed on the importance of upholding neutrality and of practicing without bias functions as an egalitarian-like system of checks and balances for skilled mediators; which as illustrated previously, can be accomplished through an acknowledgement of the mediator’s own perception with regard to neutrality and bias, internal reflection and mental expansion. Additionally, in the general public’s view, the mediation field and the concepts of neutrality and impartiality have become synonymous with each other. It is because of these reasons I enthusiastically deem that the importance placed on mediator’s being unbiased and neutral in practice as absolutely, unequivocally, and indisputably reasonable expectations.

References:

Bush, Robert & Folger, Joseph (2005). The promise of mediation: the transformative approach to conflict. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Mayer, B.S. (2004). Beyond neutrality: confronting the crisis in conflict resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Moore, Christopher W. (2003). The mediation process: practical strategies for resolving conflict. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

River, David (2002). Losing neutrality. Retrieved March 21, 2007 from www.rivercadiz.com/articles/neutralityarticle.htm

Schofield, Ana (2005). Bias in mediation. Retrieved March 19, 2007, from http://www.mediate.com/articles/schofieldA4.cfm

Biography


Brandon T. Taylor, MS – Negotiations & Conflict Management, University of Baltimore  Concentrates on conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution systems research; improving organizational and business conflict and communication.



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