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Less is More

The "Columbo" Approach to Mediation

Just as it is suggested that the mediator always does the exact thing the mediator believes will best assist mediation participants to take their next substantial step forward towards agreement, it is suggested that the mediator do that thing "only so forcefully as necessary to get the job done." In this sense, "less is more" in mediation. The less that the mediator can do and still get the desired result, the more participants will own the progress as their own and not imposed upon them.

Thus, for example, in working with doubt and dissonance in mediation, the mediator is better off using a feather than a sledge, if the mediator can get the job done with a feather. Similarly, the mediator gently floating options for consideration, rather than specifically recommending solutions, is an example of this understated approach. Rather than saying "Why don't you . . . ," the mediator can say: "Might one option, among others I am sure, be something along the lines of . . ." A wonderful approach for so gently raising possibilities is the use of "normative stories" (discussed in detail later in this manual). So introducing possibilities with: "It's common for folks in your kind of situation to consider . . ." or "Among the options people in your position commonly consider are . . ." are elegant ways of introducing possibilities without creating resistance. When so talking about other similarly situated people, mediation participants eagerly await the information. They don't resist the information as you are not talking about them.

This type of approach has the advantage of "always leaving an out." Mediation is not too different from learning to drive. You may remember the driver's education text or videotape saying: "always leave an out." As a mediator, you always want to have a planned next move if a participant, or both participants, are resistant to a certain possibility. If the mediator gives personal recommendations, advice, or opinion, the risk is that there will be no elegant next move. In a multi-issue mediation, the mediator can not afford to risk his or her facilitative capacity by offering personal recommendations, advice, or opinion. It is perfectly ethical to offer personal recommendations, advice, or opinion. The problem is that doing this does not leave you an out and a planned next move.

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