Mediation is a Science

Mediation is a Science

Mediation is a broad church; its academic base extends from anthropology and psychology through political science, and on to mathematics and economics. Mediators themselves are a disparate group; with backgrounds as diverse as social care, therapy, marketing and litigation. A ‘common concern’ in all mediators is however ‘conceptualizing how human social conflicts may be expressed and resolved’ (Schellenberg, 1996:p12)

Most mediation training courses are based on teaching trainee mediators either Problem-Solving (Fisher & Ury, 1991) or Transformational (Bush & Folger, 1994) – perhaps with a little Narrative (Cobb 2003, Winslade & Monk 2001, 2008). There are many more, which can be summarized as a ‘general intellectual framework for understanding what goes on in conflicts’ (Deutsch 2006:p33) ranging from constructive to destructive process, utilizing cooperative to competitive problem-solving processes. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ method; indeed the best mediators will be able to utilize tools across the range to help parties in dispute get from where they are, to where they need to be.

Mediation is therefore a science. Most people are surprised when I state this, thinking that mediation is perhaps more of an art, dependent perhaps on the litigation experience or personality of the mediator. Surely this cannot be the case, as mediation needs to be objectively grounded and empirically proven and reproduced, in order for parties to have the confidence to use the process to make ‘fundamentally wise’ decisions?; otherwise they are at the mercy of a narrow and opaque process, variable individual and resulting lack of control of outcome.

I find it helpful to be able to delineate to parties (and their lawyers) the various techniques applied in mediation; where they come from, why and how they work (and sometimes don’t, or are inappropriate in the context of the particular dispute). This degree of scientific clarity enables parties (and especially their lawyers!) to better understand what it is we do as mediators, why and how it works (or will not, given the unrealistic positions or expectations of particular teams or individuals).

The list of techniques below arose in the course of my own research for my Master’s Degree dissertation; both it and the references cited are not intended to be exhaustive, but merely indicative of the very wide range of techniques, approaches and styles available to mediators in the course of assisting parties in conflict.

1.  Formal: ‘understanding social conflicts in mathematical terms’.
(a) Game Theory (von Neumann and Morgenstern, 1944)

2. Social Psychological: ‘reversing of malignant spiral processes.’
(a) Osgood’s GRIT (Osgood, 1962)
(b) Kelman’s informal workshops (Kelman,1992)
(c) Allport’s contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954)
(d) Tetlock’s integrative complexity (Tetlock, 1988)
(e) Janis’s groupthink (Janis, 1982)
(f)  Bales’s dimensions of social interaction (Bales, 1979)

3. Problem-solving: ‘assisted negotiation’
(a) Facilitative (Fisher & Ury 1991, Ury 2007, Pruitt & Kim, 2004)
(b) Evaluative (Riskin, 1996)
(c) Problem Solving Style -v- Solution Oriented Style (Kressel, 1994)
(d) Root Cause Analysis (Anderson & Fagerhaug, 2000)
(e) Strategic – ‘Latent Cause’ (Kressel, 2007)
(f) Integrated – PSDM Model (Weitzman & Weitzman, in Deutsch 2006)

4. Relational: ‘less on agreement and more on clarification and communication’
(a) Transformational (Bush & Folger, 1994)
(b) Narrative (Cobb 2003, Winslade & Monk 2001, 2008)

5.  Contingent: ‘diagnosis, followed by a choice among treatments’
(a) Time-frame Model (Gray, 2006)
(b) Escalation Model (Fisher & Keashly, 1990)
(c) Underlying Structure Model (Dugan, 2001)

6.  Non-linear: ‘less on the specific parts, more on the systemic and holistic dimensions’
(a) Systematic Intuition (Benjamin, in Bowling & Hoffman 2003)
(b) Constructive uses of deception (Benjamin, 1995)
(c) Gut instinct (Benjamin, 2001)
(d) Second Generation (Cobb, in Bowling & Hoffman 2003)
(e) Gestalt whole picture approach (Schon, 1983)
(f) Emotionally Intelligent (Johnson, Levine & Richard in Bowling & Hoffman, 2003)

Charles Horn, MSc MCIArb CEDR Accredited Mediator
Conflict Resolution Consultant
Global Mediation 

Go Back