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Future of Mediation: Uphold the Process

I once read that to think that you know what people need is the ultimate in arrogance; so allow people the dignity of their own struggle. I surface this thought with regard to the future of mediation.

Many agree that mediation is often under-utilized. There is a proliferation of reasons for mediation underutilization: a) the belief that the mediation process is inappropriate for certain types of disputes, b) lawyers thinking that they need to control their clients by giving orders, c) lawyers believing that parties are incapable of making good decisions on their own, and much in between.

Many mediators share the viewpoint of lawyers who “give orders” and “believe that parties are incapable of competent decision making on their own. ” Some mediators are known to engage in mediation more from a posture of controlling the process rather than “ordering” it.

While mediation training, styles, approaches, and professional backgrounds may vary, one point to consider is clear: being evaluative can be dangerous to the mediation process. Being evaluative and giving recommendations can not only impede, influence, or undermine the parties’ decision making abilities, but it might not make good business sense. Being evaluative can appear less like a smart business decision, and more like a need to seek a negotiator whose brand is a reputation for creating quick settlement agreements. On the surface, that skill set seems good for the mediator and parties presently involved, but could be detrimental to the future of mediation.

For me, the future of mediation will be valued more by a mediator’s forethinking, wisdom, and leadership; and less by a mediator’s word infusion to influence “the way” toward party clarity. To maximize clarity, authenticity, and honesty for sound decision-making, the role of a mediator should, still, include good faith efforts to cultivate a genuine belief to trust in the process more than the authority of the mediator (although, that is easier said than done).

What’s the down side of mediator self promotion over promotion of the mediation process? I think that the future of mediation could be put at-risk, or minimally compromised, by those in the profession who consciously, or unconsciously, leverage a belief system of “who knows best.” It could lock parties into a mediator “co-dependent” route over one collectively designed to discover that going it alone is not the best route to prompt resolution or restorative relations, hence the mediation process.

Keeping our mediator eyes on the prize–a thriving mediation field–more than to be sustainable or for individual practices to survive, would still provide an unmatched divinity for resolving conflict struggles. In essence, providing mediation process underpinnings that teach a disputant “to fish” vs. giving a disputant “the fish” so that people can become more conflict competent, is not going to undermine a mediator’s job security nor place the mediation field in jeopardy of extinction. That’s my prediction and I am sticking to it!

Perhaps, a new generation of mediator thought leadership would protect the future of mediation. This new generation could be to embrace and lead the challenge of opening to, and accepting, vulnerability as part of the mediation process. If we can promote “courage by association” and place “engagement vulnerability” among the ground rules of the very process we seek to uphold, perhaps mediation’s future will become more grounded and valued for the knowledge work it provides. Then the team of mediator, process and parties can, collectively, transform the undermining conflict that brought them together and, further, help parties find their dignity to generate thoughts for resolution that are prompted by a mediator’s skill set and purpose-led way. This would be one small step for a mediator and one giant leap for the future of mediation.


Steffi Berkowitz

Steffi Berkowitz, an award winning educator, national and international trainer and former school district ombudsman-mediator, earned  bachelor and master’s degrees in speech/language pathology and communication disorders from the University of Miami. Steffi earned a second master’s degree in dispute resolution from Pepperdine University School of Law-Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. … MORE >

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