The importance of the authority to settle in mediation
Mediation is about finding a mutually acceptable solution to a problem, and usually requires some movement on both sides of the table. This also means that whoever is sitting at the table has to be able to agree on compromise! That’s why most mediations have written into their pre mediation agreement (signed by all parties) that those attending need to have the “authority to settle”. Whilst this can sometimes be very hard when institutions rather than individuals are involved, i.e. a department head of an organisation that might have two or three more senior staff within in, but it is pretty important to the end result of the mediation if one side hasn’t got the right to resolve anything without checking with their boss!
One or two ways that I have found to resolve this include:
In your clarifying discussions with both sides before you get to mediation, ask the question about authority, and if the person attending doesn’t have the authority, ask if it is possible for the person who does to attend.
If the person with authority is unable to attend, see if the date can be changed to suit their attendance
If this is really not possible, seek to have them at the other end of a telephone line so that they can be consulted
And finally, if they are absolutely unavailable, ask yourself whether there is a genuine interest in resolving the issue. Sometimes there is – big institutions sometimes just won’t agree to settle anything without going back to a committee or other person but the mediation can still be helpful. But sometimes there is no genuine interest in resolution and in these cases, I wonder if we should refuse to undertake the mediation? What do you think??
FMA and ADR Accredited Mediator
BA (Hons) English and History, MA in Industrial Relations, Chartered MCIPD