The Problem with the Transformative Model of Mediation
When I first became aware of the Transformative Model of Mediation I was stunned. Jeffrey Rubin wrote the forward to the first edition of the ground-breaking book by Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation. In it Rubin captured the seismic shift. “Even if no agreement is reached, even if no reconciliation results, mediation should still be regarded as a success if it brings about empowerment and recognition.” Rubin went on to call this “a unique perspective on the function of mediation and the role of mediators.” According to Bush and Folger, “in the transformative orientation, mediators simply have no incentive to influence outcome, in any way whatsoever. Reaching settlement, or any particular terms of settlement, is not something that matters to the mediator because it is not a direct objective of his or her intervention into the conflict” (pp. 104-105, first edition of book). Within this framework, a completed mediation may be perceived as “mission accomplished” even though the dispute that brought the parties to mediation in the first place is no closer to resolution.
Consider this example. A married couple of 18 years with three children are contemplating divorce. They go to a transformative mediator. Throughout, the mediator encourages each party to be more self-assertive (empowerment) while truly listening to what the other says (recognition). At the end of the process, the one spouse, who had come into mediation being quiet and withdrawn turns to the other and confidently asserts, “I have carefully listened to all you have said and I have reflected back to you what you have said. I can honestly and sincerely say that I have now come to know you better than any other person on earth, and I can’t stand you! I want a divorce, and I want sole custody of the kids.” Given the shift from “weakness” to “strength” this discordant outcome would be declared a mediation “success” from a transformative perspective.
By way of parallel, consider the couple that went to a marriage and family therapist who held a transformative mediator’s mindset. The wife wrote, “we were looking for someone to work with us on a specific plan for our marriage. Instead, we got a totally neutral counselor who didn’t seem to care whether or not our marriage survived. We weren’t neutral about wanting to save our marriage, he was.” Many marriage counselors, like all transformative mediators, take a non-directive approach to their work. Yet recent research suggests that when marriage counselors do not incorporate reparative goals in their practice, the likelihood of a couple divorcing increases significantly. Is this another example of a successful mediatorial practice?
The Reconciliation Model of Peacemaking stands in stark contrast. It is of particular value and importance to those counselors and clients and those mediators and disputants who are not inclined to allow their marriage or relationship to fail without a fight.
The Reconciliation Model of Peacemaking
There are 12 distinct stages in the Reconciliation Model of Peacemaking. In a nutshell, here are the model’s major characteristics. The model:
1. is mediatorial in nature.
2. treats participants in a respectful manner, one in which each person will be heard and no one will be marginalized.
3. seeks to create a just outcome.
4. has reconciliation as its overarching goal.
5. targets the true root causes of each conflict.
6. calls upon each participant to be open to adjust their opinion of their adversary, and to come to appreciate that he or she is a person like they are with character strengths and flaws.
7. asks each disputant to examine their own contribution to the conflict.
8. encourages offenders to offer a sincere apology and do what they can to make things right.
9. asks those who have been hurt to be ready and willing to forgive.
10. encourages the participants to develop specific solutions to outstanding issues in order to be able to harmoniously relate to one another in the future.
The Role of the Mediator
The role of the mediator in the Reconciliation model is both “permission-based” and “directive.” In other words, if the parties understand that the goal of the mediator is to help them resolve their conflict and establish relational harmony, and they give their permission to participate in such a process, the mediator is free to use his or her creativity, insight, interpersonal skills, and energy to help forge a path forward. Let me restate that. Once the parties have given their assent, the mediator in the Reconciliation Model of Peacemaking has the freedom to address past issues, to help the parties find new ways to resolve outstanding issues in the present, and to forge a path toward reconciliation in the future in any ethical manner he or she deems best.
This role for mediators is an important development. It removes the overhanging cloud of disapproval and pangs of guilt from those mediators who transgresses artificially narrow prescriptives of mediator involvement. Contrast this mindset with the mediator who sheepishly wrote, “I admit it: I have tried to nudge participants in mediation towards agreement… I know we are supposed to be indifferent to whether or not agreement is reached.”
The role of the mediator in the Reconciliation model works hard to do what the parties have not been able to do for themselves, make peace. As one participant said in a multi-party conflict I was personally involved in, “I was skeptical until I saw the process work. I saw the two major antagonists apologize and hug one another. Where there was tension, there is now a spirit of love.”
It should go without saying that head-banging and arm-twisting have no place in this process. It wouldn’t work anyway. Whereas it is possible to put pressure on parties to settle a given issue, parties who are unwilling to reconcile a relationship cannot be forced to do so anymore than one can be forced to love someone.
“Peacemaking mediator” is probably the best way to describe the role of the mediator in the Reconciliation model. Given the significance of the undertaking, such individuals can be hailed as “the active heroic promoters of peace in a world full of alienation, party passion, and strife.” This model is worth understanding and particularly important when the relationship matters!
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