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Delving into a Conflict

Delving into a Conflict

How deep should mediators delve into a conflict?



Full Transcript

Right. That goes to a little bit of the work another colleague of mine, Len Riskin did, the original grid. Again, that’s a negotiation between the mediator and the parties. How much of this conflict do you want to dig into? How deep do you want to go? Do you want to do broad problem solving where we take this dispute that you have and we actually try to work on the whole relationship or the whole context? Or, are you here just because you want to resolve a particular dispute, get on with it, and get on with life?


That’s hard because lawyers, parties, and mediators, all of us have very different levels of tolerance for going deep, or broadly defining a conflict. Some people just want to fix this case and get through the day. Others are quite willing to look more deeply. A good mediator has to be able to ascertain the levels that the parties are willing to work at.


I’ve seen very talented mediators psychologically go too far, thinking that the parties really wanted to work on – it doesn’t have to be family, but a family dispute would be the most likely. For me, I did a lot of employment mediation. I was an employment discrimination lawyer for some time.


I’ve done a lot of employment work. That’s a very touchy area because if the employee is going back into the workplace, then the conflict has to be resolved at a deeper level. Employees almost always feel disempowered. It’s not an equal setting. They’re afraid that if they put too much of themselves on the table and if the manager or the supervisor doesn’t, it’s very unequal. Those are very, very hard.


I like employment cases because they’re an example of where it is not just about the money. It is not just about the dispute. There is a relationship there if the employment is going to continue. It does need to be worked on at a different level. But only, in my view, with the parties’ agreement to do that.

About the mediator

Carrie Menkel-Meadow Profile Pic

Carrie Menkel-Meadow is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California Irvine Law School, and A.B. Chettle Jr. Professor of Law, Dispute Resolution and Civil Procedure at Georgetown University Law Center, where she teaches a variety of international and domestic dispute resolution courses, including Negotiation, Mediation, International Dispute Resolution, International Legal Analysis, Comparative Constitutionalis... View Mediator