It’s time for mediation to claim its place as a stand-alone profession freed from being just an alternative to the law and adversarial litigation. It is time to embrace the human element that is at its core.
I am suggesting the title ‘Humanistic Mediation’ represent the human centric approach to mediation practice in honour of the work of the distinguished French mediator Jacqueline Morineau who established mediation in France in the 1980s and who has influenced the development of mediation in the Latin countries of the Mediterranean, North Africa and South America.
While I am not keen to add to the proliferation of mediation models, I would submit that there are really only two models of mediation – the model that focuses on the human connection to drive the process (humanistic mediation) and the model that avoids any meaningful connection between the parties (solution focused shuttle mediation).
Let the legal profession continue alone healing its dehumanised adversarial culture that the Dean of Harvard Law School, Roscoe Pound, described in 1906 as dissatisfactory with respect to delays, expense and game playing. Simply colonising the mediation product into this existing culture will not help the legal/judicial structures integrate into the more complex interrelated 21st-century commercial and social culture that we now inhabit. See Part 1 of this two-part series.
Many of the foundation mediation theories grew out of trying to prove mediation was of equivalent value to litigation. Neutrality, balanced power, self-determination, just outcomes were defensive responses to attacks from both the legal and the social sciences professions on mediations legitimacy. These theories do not serve mediation well.
They are static one-dimensional concepts that do not relate to the multidimensional environment of the mediation session. They are devoid of context which is fundamental to the practice of mediation. Context changes everything.
Humanistic Mediation can still be a light on the hill, a beacon, for the law to find its way out its dehumanised command and control approach to dispute resolution. But it should not define itself by such reference.
I propose a human centric definition of mediation.
“Mediation – A process of a mediator creating a venue where people get close to each other in order to move an issue forward”
This contains the three basic elements of mediation.
I would start by keeping the basic mediation training model with its focus on facilitative role-plays. It fits the apprentice model of learning and is a good starting point.
The Elements of a Humanistic Approach to Mediation
I have set out below examples of theories that parallel mediations fluid nature.
Firstly, two institutes that model higher ordered ‘thinking’ grounded in the present over lower ordered ‘understanding’ grounded in the past:
Two founding members can contribute to mediation theory. Murray Gell Mann on the importance of allowing things to emerge of their own accord and Stuart Kauffman on the value of making small incremental steps into the possible (The Adjacent Possible).
And Wilfred Bion who warns against the attachment to our memories, desires and, most importantly for mediators, our need to understand. Both Ogden and Bion are about experiencing the experience of the moment with an uncluttered mind.
And the work of Marcel Mauss – the power of gift giving is universal and requires reciprocity. A small concession can have a big impact in a mediation.
And Adrian Bejan’s Constructal Law – that when continuous flow stops things decay and die. Mediation is fundamentally about flow based on necessary endings and new beginnings.
Non-dualistic theories are also key. Daniel Kahneman is a serial offender in this regard particularly with his dualistic good/bad theories. Systems One/Systems Two – Noise/no Noise- Bias/no Biases (presumably autism) are examples.
And the Economist Charles Goodhart on the distorting effect of targets and measurement. Goodhart’s Law- When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure as it distorts behaviour so as to meet the target. As an example, positional bargaining targets in litigation and mediation encourages consensual deceit and benign fabrications to try to alter the outcome. An example of Roscoe Pounds game playing.
The problem with much of current mediation theory is that describing the issues and challenges is not the whole story and certainly not the most meaningful part. It seems to be just about naming the problem. That’s where it starts and ends.
It satisfies our need for simple answers to complex issues. It can be a psychological defence mechanism to deal with the uncertainty and unpredictability of 21st-century commercial and social life.
It is through letting go of the need to control and understand that allows us the freedom to go with the flow and experience each mediation afresh as if it is our first. It allows us to join with the parties in experiencing the experience of the moment.
Mediation theory should therefore be about questions not answers. ‘What is going on here?’ (John Kay and Mervyn King) and ‘Why is it so?’ (Prof Julius Sumner Miller).
This is the Part 2 of this mediate.com series. Part 1 titled “ Why I argue that the mediation profession break from the dehumanised legal mediation model. Goodhart and Constructal Laws” can be accessed on Mediate.com
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