I continue to think a lot about all that I learned in the recent mediation training I attended.
We learned that good mediation requires discipline. The particular kind of discipline it requires is that you have to get out of the way. The version of mediation we learned in a kind in which the mediator is not supposed to interject his or her own suggestions or opinions. This is because this version of mediation is one whose purpose is to empower the participants. But there is also a pragmatic consideration. If the participants start looking to the mediator as an authority or expert, or begin to think that they need, to some extent, to please the mediator, not only is their confidence in themselves diminished, but they become less likely to take full responsibility for the agreement reached, since it was not their own agreement, but something borrowed from someone else's suggestion. They don't feel a full sense of ownership. Thus they are not as inclined to invest themselves fully into it. If it goes wrong, they can blame somebody else (the mediator).
But if the mediator is not making suggestions or offering advice, what is the mediator's role? It is primarily to listen well: to listen through emotional and often harsh language to the underlying issues and needs, and reflect those back in neutral language. First the mediator lets the participants vent (while still ensuring all participants' protection). Throughout, the mediator listens carefully to what issues and needs emerge. Then the mediator frames the issues and needs in neutral, non-blaming language, always checking with the participants to make sure she or he is hearing them correctly. Finally, the mediator frames good clear questions of how each issue can be solved in a way that addresses Participant 1's need for X and Participant 2's need for Y. It's up to the participants to actually answer these questions by brainstorming possible solutions, and finally selecting one.
Does the process work? Often it does. Sometimes there is an impasse. But the person who facilitated our training has a lot of confidence in the process if the mediator stays disciplined and focused on letting the participants find their own solutions. In fact, he suggested that an impasse is when the participants do not find the mediator's own secret preferred solution!
How much are we willing to really trust others? How capable are we of letting go of the need to control everything ourselves?
These strike me as very important questions.
7 years ago