Baby Steps to Agreement
So, given the "declaration of conflict," just how does the mediator assist parties to enter the "circle of agreement?" The short answer is "not all at once." In other words, there is no single question or other act that will suddenly leap-frog the participants into spontaneous and instantaneous agreement. Rather, the mediator learns that the progress toward agreement is made gradually and, if the mediator is skilled (and fortunate), steadily.
To the extent that this is true, that participants move toward agreement incrementally, in "baby steps," then it may be said that the mediator is ever-interested in skills, techniques and approaches that will assist the participants to take "baby steps" forward toward agreement. A helpful question for mediators to ask themselves is: "Specifically, what can I do now that will assist the participants to take their next substantial step toward agreement."
This concept of focusing upon the process of incrementally assisting mediation participants to make progress toward agreement relates to the issue of just what is "success" in mediation? Rather than defining "success" in terms of achieving a particular result at a particular time, the mediator is advised to judge his or her own success in terms of the quality of their facilitative process in seeking to successively help the parties to take "baby steps" toward agreement. We, as mediators, must ask ourselves: "What can I say or do next to best assist these participants to reach agreement?