Mediation Styles - Choosing the Right Style for Your Dispute

Mediation Styles - Choosing the Right Style for Your Dispute

Mediation Styles - Choosing the Right Style for Your Dispute

Mediators are known for their commitment to their craft and to the quality of the service they provide. This has resulted in different schools of thought on how mediators can best serve their clients. The four most common approaches are: Facilitative, Evaluative, Narrative, and Transformative. While these four differ types in various ways, each of them adheres to the core principles of mediation and they all share the common goal of helping parties to determine and reach their own best outcomes.

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

In mediation, a neutral third party helps people come to an agreement or resolve a disagreement. Instead of imposing an outcome like would happen in court, the mediator helps people reach an agreement on their own. With the growth of mediation, both within countries and internationally, differing approaches to mediation have emerged and gained prominence. Chief among these are: Facilitative, Evaluative, Narrative, and Transformative Mediation. 

In each of these approaches, the mediator requires formal training so that they can provide structure and leadership to the process and use their skills to help move the parties to a mutually agreeable resolution. And the mediator still holds true to the core values that most mediators follow: self-determination, neutrality, confidentiality, safety, and quality. The following is an overview of how these four approaches differ and how each can be useful depending on the nature of the dispute and the needs of the parties.

A. Facilitative Mediation
This was the earliest developed of the four approaches, is perhaps the most commonly used, and is Venn Mediation’s preferred option. In this approach, the mediator is ‘completely neutral’ in that they don’t offer advice, opinions or recommendations. Their role is to guide the process and improve communication. They do this by helping parties to articulate their own interests and better understand those of the other party. And they help the parties work together to explore potential outcomes that they can be happy with. The goal of facilitative mediation is to empower parties to find a solution and have them take responsibility for it. This type of mediation tends to have the most structure but still allows for creativity as the parties are in control of the outcome. This can require a varying number of private sessions. And facilitative mediation may take longer than evaluative mediation to reach a result, and can end without an agreement if that’s what the parties decide.

B. Evaluative Mediation
This is principally used in cases already in court or heading to court. In this approach (unlike in facilitative mediation) the mediator gives their opinions and recommendations and as such usually has a legal background and subject-matter knowledge. As the parties discuss their perspectives and explore potential options, the mediator can point out strengths and/or weaknesses based on their own assessment of the law and how they believe a judge or jury may react. This approach can be helpful when parties are stuck but still seek an agreement that is fair. Evaluative mediators focus on the legal rights of the parties instead of their personal and particular needs and interests, and evaluate the dispute based on legal concepts of fairness and equity. The outcome of an evaluative mediation is still determined by the parties but influenced more directly by the mediator. And it is dependent on the mediator accurately determining how the courts would handle the matter, which isn’t always the case. Evaluative mediation tends to have more private sessions so that the mediator can confidentially share any concerns they may have with a party’s position or proposal. 

C. Narrative Mediation
This approach is used more often in personal disagreements than commercial issues. The mediator helps the parties to take a step back from the disagreement with the use of storytelling. Once each party has been given the opportunity to share the circumstances that led to the conflict and how they feel now, the mediator works with all parties to create a new story together that usually leads to resolution of the dispute. Often, narrative mediators will have a background in mental health. And this type of mediation can have fewer private sessions as the purpose of narrative mediation is to get the parties to work together. 

D. Transformative Mediation
This is the newest approach of the four and like narrative mediation is also used more for personal disagreements than commercial issues. Transformative mediation is based on the idea that the right process can help the parties involved in the conflict; both in the current matter and for future disputes. Like facilitative mediation, transformative mediation is a more structured process. But it differs in that it focuses on repairing the relationship before resolving the dispute. It achieves this by encouraging each side to recognize the other side’s needs and point of view. And it empowers all parties to retake control of the dispute. The mediator de-escalates the conversation by reframing hurtful language and redefining the conflict as a unifying goal that the parties work together to resolve. It remains up to the parties to determine their own outcomes but sometimes their priorities can shift from what they initially expected. This approach can have private sessions, though most breakthroughs happen when the parties are in the room together. 

Mediation is an evolving field with new perspectives and innovations on a regular basis. This includes the growth of online mediation. An idea that Venn Mediation has been exploring is ‘Guided Mediation,’ in which the mediator coaches the parties to reflect and reframe each other’s sentiments, in an effort to foster deeper understanding. At present, however, we follow the ‘toolbox’ approach. This means that while we mainly adhere to the principles of facilitative mediation, we are principally responsive to our clients needs and flexible and skilled enough to adapt as required. 

But facilitative mediation is still our go-to approach because we believe that the best outcomes tend to be generated by those involved. And though we generally do not give advice or make recommendations to our clients, we do help them to evaluate the validity and viability of outcomes and encourage them to explore all of their options. We do all this to make sure our clients can be happy with all agreements they reach with us.  Disputes are never easy, but dispute resolution doesn’t have to be hard. If you or someone you know has a dispute that seems stuck, please give us a call. We are based in New York but are leaders in online mediation and can work with clients anywhere.  We would love to help.

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