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Solution to the Mediation Crisis

Solution to the Mediation Crisis

If you say lawyers are the gatekeepers, does the solution to the mediation crisis lie further upstream?



Full Transcript

Well, certainly we do. But we also need to go downstream too, after the suits, after the legal settlement, after a resolution has been handed out. For example, some of the most important work I’ve done in work-place issues has been after a brutal collective-bargaining agreement has been reached. Then there is some real work for healing, and there is some real work for figuring out: how to connect people to each other in a new way, and create new structures. But we need to go upstream too.


We need to look at whether our latent conflicts that have not yet become manifest or where there are issues that people need to talk about, but they haven’t yet generated themselves into a . . . . The process is sometimes called ‘Naming, blaming and claiming’.


What I also suggest in ‘Beyond Neutrality’ is a more fundamental thing, is that we really re-think our role. Our role isn’t simply about resolving conflict, but it’s about helping people engage in conflict constructively, irrespective to where they are in the process. That is upstream. That is in the present. The right time that involves solving conflict and settling things is downstream, but that’s not all.


We’re not just about resolving conflict. We are about helping people engage in it as productively as possible, and sometimes that means upping the ante, in fact. Sometimes that means escalating the conflict.


We really need to be able to be part of that whole . . . We need to feel this part as helping people engage constructively sometimes, meaning in escalating conflict,  using power effectively, not just settling things down, which is how people see us. People see us as . . . and actually people very often just don’t want none of that.


But people see us as people who say, ‘Be nice, calm down, get along, cooperate.’ I think we also have to be able to say, ‘Compete, escalate when it’s necessary, be uppity if you need to be that.’ We need to help people be powerful, not just resolve issues. That’s part of our responsibility.


Let me just say one other thing. The reason this is called ‘Beyond Neutrality’ is I’m not necessarily saying mediators shouldn’t be neutral. I think the concept of neutrality is a very illusive concept. But if we say we’re not going to be on one party’s side or the other, we’re going to try to help both parties. Then we should follow that.


I think in terms of the broad set of roles we play as conflict intervenors, we have to look beyond the third-party neutral role. We have to look into ally roles, into system roles, into advocacy roles as part of what we do, as in a range of conflict intervention roles our field offers.

About the mediator

Bernie Mayer Profile Pic

Bernie Mayer, Ph.D. is Professor of Dispute Resolution at The Werner Institute, Creighton University. He is without doubt a leader in the field of conflict resolution. Considered by many in the field of conflict resolution as an icon, Bernie has over a quarter century of experience in the field and was a founding partner at CDR Associates, the internationally recognized mediation and conflict resolution organization. Bernie originally trained as ... View Mediator