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Mediation, Not Persuasion

By Christina L. Scott, J.D.

Mediation is perhaps one of the greatest processes people can use to resolve conflict. Many people unfamiliar with mediation, however, have varied opinions about the role of the mediator in the process. Many think the mediator’s role is to be a magician, a case evaluator, a judge, a counselor, an investigator, a bully, an advocate, and other roles but this is not so. The role of the mediator is to provide and facilitate a fair and confidential process in which the parties can openly discuss their issues and concerns. When such an environment is created, the stage for resolution is set and the parties can now do their part. A mediator, however, does not settle or fail to settle people’s disputes; they do. If the mediator takes on the responsibility to resolve the dispute, then he or she has become a persuader and controller, rather than a mediator.

Control is exhausting and counterproductive. Persuasion is equally so. When you try to persuade people to change their minds or accept less than they believe they’re entitled to, they experience discomfort. Any information that challenges a person’s deep-rooted thoughts and behaviors will cause a distraction. This distraction compromises a person’s ability to think clearly. The amazing thing is that mediators don’t have to change anyone’s mind to resolve a dispute. Instead, mediators use a variety of unique skills and techniques to help parties become unstuck in their positions and move toward resolution. One of these skills is the ability to help parties brainstorm and uncover all the “things of value” that can be negotiated. Reality checking, sensitivity, creativity, and persistence are just some of the other skills. Good mediators know that “skill” always trumps “control” and so long as the integrity of the process is maintained, then the mediator’s job is well done.

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