Searching for the Bright Mediation Bulb: Criticisms from Across the Pond

Thanks to Geoff Sharp at mediator blah blah for directing us to this great U.K. Mediation resource, The Mediator Magazine which is great to poke around in a little when you’re home for mother’s day and mom’s gone off to bed.  Here, for instance, are some well taken criticisms of mediation practice by in-house counsel from the article Where’s the Magic?

Top of the list of issues which invite scorn is perceived weakness on the part of the mediator. Giving palpable nonsense and well documented fact equal air-time in the interests of appearing open-minded has backfired for a number of mediators. ‘It can be frustrating where they [the mediator] can see the irrationality of the other party, how their claims and positions are unsubstantiated, and choose to ignore it,’ says Frank Aghovia, legal adviser at Exel Plc. He continues, ‘It’s like saying, “I know he’s talking out of his backside, but can you give him what he wants anyway.” He concludes that ‘steadfast neutrality is irritating and wastes time.’

One public sector lawyer, though generally more favourably disposed towards mediation, shares a sense of frustration with the purely facilitative model: ‘If a mediator is too passive,’ he says, ‘there isn’t going to be any realignment of expectations, there isn’t going to be the refocusing of the parties on the strengths and weaknesses of their own and the other party’s case. It’s simply not going to happen. You’re not going to facilitate the movement.’

Naturally it is all a question of degree, but frustration with a style perceived to be ‘slow’, ‘wet’, ‘namby-pamby’, or worse, ‘like therapy’ is real, and stands in the way of mediation increasing its meagre market share.

It is also evident that some mediators have failed to manage the process with sufficient vigour, fuelling comments like ‘I’ve been at quite a few [mediations] and question what the mediator actually does.‘ No doubt they’ve had to spend all their time working with the other side, but if so, this needs to be communicated.

This lack of robustness which for many is synonymous with mediation has bred the widespread belief that mediation only works when both sides want to mediate. And where that’s the case, without prejudice discussions will do the job. Until mediation’s image hardens to the point where people realise that great mediators can deal with the shirty, dismissive and gratuitously rude types, mediation will remain in the shadows. . . .

These criticisms are real and require attention.  I’m uncertain of the state of “professional” mediation in the U.K., but here in California, its all over the board.  For the mediation advocate and his client, finding the right mediator for the right case at the right time is not only more art than science, it’s often more guesswork than art.

I’ll be dealing with the issues raised by this U.K. article in the coming weeks.  For the full article, click on the link above.

                        author

Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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