Because a reader recently suggested that “facilitative” mediators “tell the parties what to do,” I decided it was time to revisit our terminology.
Mediators! Litigators! Please feel free to weigh in!
FIRST, LET’S JUST GO AHEAD AND ADMIT UP FRONT THAT NEGOTIATION IS A COMPETITIVE SPORT — the goal of which is to take the largest part of the delta between the two parties’ real bottom lines.
Evaluative mediators provide the parties with an evaluation of the strength and weaknesses of their legal positions, usually in separate caucus. If asked, the evaluative mediator will give his/her opinion about what verdict a jury would likely deliver. Though I’ve co-mediated with sitting Judges quite a lot (the paradigm of evaluative settlement officers or mediators) I rarely see them tell the parties what to do — see DIRECTIVE MEDIATION below.
Evaluative mediators often end a session with a mediator’s proposal, i.e., the mediator chooses a number he/she believes would be acceptable to all parties (not necessarily what he/she believes the case is “worth”) and tells the parties. If both parties accept, the deal is done. If either rejects, neither will know if the other party accepted.
I rarely make a mediator’s proposal — preferring to help the parties move toward resolution so long as no one is walking out. They really do feel better making their own decisions. That’s why they’ve come to mediation and not arbitration. So long as I believe the parties’ differing “bottom lines” might overlap, I encourage continued discussion even when the parties are feeling exhausted and cranky. Persistence and optimism about resolution in equal measure. Sometimes the process just needs a cheerleader.
Faciliatative mediators assist the parties, again often in separate caucus, to decide how the bargaining session will proceed, i.e., how high a first offer or demand should be; which party might benefit the most from making the initial offer; how many concessions the parties should consider making during the course of the negotiation; and, what reasoning might spur their opponent to make another concession. Once again, I rarely see the mediator, settlement officer or Judge tell the parties what to do. But see DIRECTIVE MEDIATION.
Transformative mediators strive to empower the parties to express their true needs and desires; to shift from self-concern to understanding of the other and to move from entitlement and blame to accountability. Transformative mediators do not direct the process of the mediation, which is always held in joint session.
Transformative mediators encourage the parties to set their own ground rules; state what their own desires and interests are; and, express themselves as fully as they wish, even if that includes persisting through angry outbursts, tears, recriminations, and the like.
In its pure form, the mediator acts something like a therapist. Uh, huh, uh huh, anything else? Have you said everything to Jim or Julie that you want to say? Uh, huh, uh huh? Jim/Julie, what do you want to say back to Julie/Jim about that? The purpose of transformational mediation is to resolve the conflict completely to the parties’ mutual satisfaction even if that does not settle the actual dispute. See Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation.
DIRECTIVE MEDIATION — Once again, I’ve never see Judge or mediator tell the parties to do anything other than to bring all the stakeholders and their insurance carrier representatives. I have, however, seen and done the following:
I need $X from you to settle the case — $Y is not going to do it. Please talk to you client/carrier and bring me back that number if you want to settle the case today.
This directive usually occurs very late in the proceeding and most often in a multi-party mediation in which a dozen or more defendants are contributing to the settlement. I also call this type of mediation FUND RAISING MEDIATION. I’ve never seen anyone do this better than Judge Victoria Chaney in the Complex Court in Central Civil West, Los Angeles.
My own “directive” suggestions to the parties generally concern the need for at least one party to step up to the line of impasse. If I believe the parties are bargaining in the nano-and stratospheres and are not getting within a hundred yards of where they’d really settle the case, I’ll generally tell them so — i.e.,
someone needs to step up to the line of impasse for this case to settle. If you don’t do it, you’ll likely lose your opportunity to resolve the matter today.
That’s about as “directive” as I get, although I have been known to say I need $5,000 or $500,000 or $1 million more NOW. Or, I need you to drop your demand by $10K or $500K or $50 million NOW.
You can only do this if you have established a strong relationship of trust and confidence with both sides. Each side needs to know that you are not simply carrying the other side’s bluff to them with your extra weight behind it. So directive and evaluative techniques — I don’t know their bottom line but I believe we’re getting pretty close to it — go hand-in-glove.
INTEREST-BASED OR INTEGRATIVE MEDIATION
Ideologies aside, here’s the real reason to probe party interests — i.e., their genuine desires, expectations, fears, business needs, financial situation, lines of authority, reserves, reporting relationships, etc. — it’s the only way you can offer, with any credibility, your opinion about the “temperature” in the “other room” and the likelihood that party A might settle the case somewhere in the range of $X and party B somewhere in the range of $Y.
But as I tell my litigants — “You only truly know what their bottom line is by negotiating in its direction.” I am often as shocked as the other side when the case settles for a number that one side said they would not accept. “As long as they are not walking out,” I say, “they are willing to continue moving in your direction. Let’s see where that takes us, shall we?”
DESPERATION MEDIATION: ANYTHING THAT WORKS!!!