My disagreement stems from the author’s beliefs that mediators need legal expertise and his statement “the best mediators use both” in referring to style. The article feeds into the misguided belief that “good” mediators are attorneys and/or retired judges. A prime example of this not being true is community mediation centers. The center I am involved with only practices the facilitative approach. We receive referrals from the court, community, attorneys, State’s Attorney and a wide range of government agencies. As a whole the Center has an 85% - 90% success rate. Very few of the mediators have a legal background.
Individuals interested in mediation should ask questions regarding the approach, training and success. One style or combination of styles does not guarantee the disputants will reach an agreement. The author used the term settlement and this gives the impression that the participants will not have all their needs met. Mediation should be about helping the participants identify the issues and have an open discussion about what his/her needs are. During moments of impasse the mediator should do reality checking and ask questions about what the future may hold if the conflict is not resolved. I do not necessarily agree that this includes the mediator guessing as to what may happen in court. In court there are no guarantees.
The types of disputes mediated by the author may involve legal teams on both sides and mountains of evidence. This has not been my experience when assessing the needs in my community. The majority of community referrals involve individuals not represented by council and who simply want to be heard. My goal is to open the lines of communication for the present but also for the future.
The cases referred from the court normally involve attorneys and the most want their client to represent himself or herself. Their attorney has already discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the case. In mediation it is important for both sides to tell their perspective of the problem and to truly feel heard. It is one’s perspective of the situation that tends to be root of the conflict. A good mediator will help the participants identify common ground and then the issues that need to resolved.
As a community we need to recognize not every approach will work for every situation. We need to identify those quality assurance items that will help individuals make informed decisions. As mediators we need to be upfront with disputants about the type of service we offer. There is a wide mix of individual mediator styles and services provided.
I would love to read an article that truly informs the public about the various mediation styles and yet does not say this is how it should be done every time. There is even great debate about the physical setting. It is misleading to say this is how it should be done and this is what one should expect.