The complex emotional state of the disputing parties, and our past failures to attain reconciliation have increased our recognition of the need to prepare parties entering mediation to participate effectively. Mediators are sometimes stymied by the lack of negotiating skills that parties exhibit.
Case development (also known as pre-mediation) is an important process for increasing the success of mediation. These private caucus sessions are confidential and part of the mediation process. During case development, the mediator or convenor formulates an in-depth analysis of the parties’ unique situation, needs and abilities, in relation to resolving their dispute.
The convenor undertakes mediation orientation, conflict resolution coaching, and skill building, which leads to the compilation of a comprehensive case file. The practitioner is responsible for ensuring that disputing parties are prepared for success in mediation, and should encourage even reluctant parties to include readiness as a part of the process.
Mediation preparation presents the practitioner with an opportunity to analyze each party’s individual:
Suggestions of negotiation and collaborative interchanges are counter-intuitive and often resisted by disputing parties. The case development process provides the practitioner with an unparalleled opportunity to introduce the disputing parties to the notion of negotiating, mutual decision- making, collaborative approaches, and interest-based interchanges. Individualized pre-sessions that include coaching and skill-building, allow parties — who might otherwise be unsuccessful at mediation – to be assisted to effectively participate in the process.
Practitioners should provide no less than two hours to meet privately with each party. This should comprise reflective opportunities to help the party develop a deeper awareness of the issues of the conflict. Discussion should be aimed at alleviating anxieties concerning the issues and the mediation process. Collaborative, persuasive, and interest- based exchanges should be encouraged and practiced, to increase the party’s ability to negotiate effectively in mediation. In some cases, the practitioner may need to work with a person with a cognitive disability to ascertain what kind of support or process adaptations may be required for the person to be successful in mediation.
Lack of party preparation for success in mediation represents a missed opportunity. Mediators who do not conduct their own pre-sessions should thoroughly review the case development report to be familiar with the unique needs and situations of the parties, and to prevent awkward moments and uncomfortable experiences in the mediation. The report needs to include a summary of issues assessed as potentially challenging for the parties in the mediation process.
Preparation for mediation has proven very effective and compelling for the parties who have reported a great satisfaction with case development sessions.
The mediation process can be effective and compelling for the parties when they have the benefit of efforts to enhance their readiness for mediation.
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