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The Missing Spice: How Mediators Supercharge Collaborative Practice

Imagine a complex culinary creation – a dish bursting with flavor, requiring a symphony of ingredients to come together perfectly. Collaborative practice is akin to crafting this masterpiece. Individuals facing conflict, whether divorcing couples, business partners at odds, or families grappling with challenges, work together with a team of expert professionals in different disciplines to find seamless solutions addressing everyone’s needs. This emphasis on shared goals and self-determination fosters a sense of cooperation, leading to more efficient, often times quicker and more sustainable agreements.

A Simmering Pot of Cooperation

Unlike the adversarial approach of litigation, collaborative practice prioritizes
teamwork. Participants aren’t adversaries, but teammates working towards a common goal. Forrest Mosten, a leading figure in collaborative practice, states: “Parties need each other to get an agreement. They can have conflict unilaterally, but agreement is a game that both must play” (Collaborative Divorce Handbook). This fosters a more respectful environment where open communication and creative problem-solving take center stage.

Unlocking Collaboration’s Full Potential: The Role of the Mediator

While collaborative practice offers a compelling alternative, achieving a successful outcome requires a significant shift for all involved, particularly lawyers. Mosten emphasizes in his Collaborative Divorce Handbook the need for lawyers to transition from “gladiators” to “peacemakers,” adopting new skills and perspectives. This extends to both their thought processes and how they manage client relationships.

However, achieving such a paradigm shift can be challenging, especially for lawyers accustomed to a win-lose approach. This is where a skilled mediator becomes critical. David Hoffman and Dawn Ash, in Building Bridges to Resolve Conflict, highlight the “dense fabric of professional relationships” as a key strength of collaborative practice. They explain this through the Prisoner’s Dilemma, where mutual trust and commitment are crucial to avoid reverting to adversarial tactics. The mediator’s neutrality and impartiality can ensure all parties, including lawyers, prioritize the clients’ best interests and collaborate effectively. This safeguards against any individual professional’s interests overshadowing the collective goal.

By facilitating communication, managing the process, and reminding everyone of the collaborative spirit, the mediator unlocks the full potential of collaborative practice, leading to more sustainable and mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone involved.

The Power of Flexibility

The core strength of Collaborative Practice lies in its adaptability. The foundation rests upon two lawyers and a mental health professional, but the team can be enriched by additional specialists. Financial Advisors, Children’s Specialists, and Divorce Coaches are often brought in depending on the case’s specifics. This flexibility ensures the team has the necessary expertise for all relevant aspects of the conflict both in the present as well as in future circumstances that might evolve in the future.

Fresh perspectives are valuable. As Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change: to be perfect is to change often.” Even successful processes can benefit from a new viewpoint.

My in depth and thought provoking recent training in collaborative practice at Mosten Guthrie opened my eyes to the potential benefits of including a mediator as an integral part of the team. While it might seem at first glance like an added cost, the mediator’s skills in communication, creative problem-solving, and emotional intelligence can streamline the process, potentially leading to faster resolution and ultimately cost- effectiveness for everyone involved. Also, by fostering out-of-the-box creative problem solving, both parties may end up with a better agreement from both of their perspectives, a true win-win.

Consider John and Jane’s divorce. Their collaboratively trained attorneys, Sarah and David, ensure legal compliance and advocate for their clients’ best interests. Dr. Lee, the mental health professional, provides emotional support and communication skills development. However, a skilled mediator adds another dimension. They act as a neutral facilitator, ensuring open communication and preventing emotional roadblocks. By introducing creative solutions, like delayed closings or neutral appraisals, the mediator helps John and Jane find common ground beyond the initial “sell” or “keep” options for the family home. This comprehensive approach, with the mediator’s added
expertise, empowers John and Jane to reach a sustainable and efficient resolution.

The Missing Spice: A Chef’s Touch for Collaborative Success

Think of a skilled mediator as the missing ingredient in collaborative practice. While collaboration offers a flavorful alternative to litigation, a mediator elevates the entire process and outcome. Just like the right spices enhance a dish, a skilled mediator brings additional benefits:

  • Balancing Flavors (Facilitating Communication): A skilled mediator tempers emotions during discussions, ensuring all voices are heard respectfully and preventing emotional outbursts from derailing the process. Mediators also draw out the unique perspectives of each participant and infuse them into the overall agreement.
  • Experimenting with Techniques (Creative Problem-Solving): A master chef isn’t limited by recipes; they experiment with techniques to create innovative dishes. In the same vein, a mediator encourages creative problem-solving. They facilitate brainstorming sessions, helping participants explore alternative solutions that address everyone’s needs.
  • Identifying Hidden Ingredients (Addressing Underlying Issues): A skilled mediator can identify hidden biases that may be hindering progress. They can then guide the team in exploring these and finding solutions that integrate them seamlessly into the agreement. Also, strong mediators may often times figure out that the root causes of a particular position are different from those stated and can get to the bottom of the problem.

Beyond Communication: The Mediator’s Multifaceted Impact

Just like a master chef wouldn’t send out a dish without the perfect finishing touches, a skilled mediator brings additional benefits:

  • Impartial Guidance and Process Management: Acting as a neutral head chef, the mediator ensures the collaborative process is fair and follows best practices, preventing any one perspective from overpowering the others.
  • Long-Term Sustainability of Agreements: A skilled mediator ensures the collaboratively crafted agreement is clear, well-defined, and anticipates potential challenges. This “beautifully plated” agreement is more likely to stand the test of time.
  • Emotional Intelligence and De-escalation: When tensions rise, the mediator uses their emotional intelligence and well-honed techniques to de-escalate situations and ensure everyone remains calm and focused on creating a successful outcome.
  • Empowering Participants and Building Trust: A skilled mediator equips participants with effective communication and conflict resolution skills throughout the process. This fosters a sense of ownership over the agreement and builds trust in the collaborative approach.


Collaborative practice offers a powerful and empowering approach to resolving
disputes. By incorporating the skills and experience of a well-chosen mediator, the process can be further strengthened. The mediator acts as the missing spice, not just for communication, but for crafting sustainable solutions, managing complexities, and empowering participants. The result is a more effective and successful collaborative process for all parties involved, just like a beautifully crafted dish that tantalizes the taste buds and leaves a lasting impression. Moreover, by potentially reducing the overall length of the process, a skilled mediator can contribute to a more cost-effective resolution for everyone involved.


Yanine Simpser

Yanine Lijtszain-Simpser is a professional mediator. In addition to having extensive experience and training, Yanine is a committed peacemaker, particularly for the underserved. Yanine is in continual training as she believes that her mediation skills always need to be at the highest level. In addition to earning a Masters in… MORE >

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