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The Problem with Traditional Mediators

The Problem with Traditional Mediators

Why do you say other models of mediation can be ‘manipulative’?



Full Transcript

Well first of all I want to acknowledge that it probably comes off as not a particularly kind way to refer to my fellow mediators. At the same time, I’m afraid it’s an honest statement of what, particularly here in the U.S.A. is called ‘mediation’, I do see as a very manipulative process. I see it as very outcome-focused. And just by virtue of being outcome-focused, to me that means that the process itself, is being managed in a way that is not focused on the truth in the moment, but on getting people to a certain outcome. It’s an attempt to get people to a certain place. Therefore it’s not completely transparent and the things that the mediator says are designed to get people somewhere. So it’s not fully within the parties’ control. Maybe I should be more specific about that.



I do feel that some of what is espoused is not consistent with what is practiced. And yes, when I was originally trained as a facilitative mediator, we were encouraged to say things to the clients like, ‘Trust the process’. The thing about ‘the process’ was that it had been designed to maximise the chances that people would come to an agreement. So the process was, ‘Buy into this agenda of mine, comply with what I’m trying to do here,’ and then my justification internally was, ‘If you comply with what I ask you to do, then you’ll get to a settlement which I assume is what we’re all here to do’. Which doesn’t sound that evil really, but it is what I’m calling ‘manipulative’.


So for example, a simple act of reframing. So let’s say that I, for example, I’m doing a family case and I hear Dad saying, ‘I want to see those kids on Thursday and Friday and Monday and Tuesday’, and I hear Mom saying, ‘I want to see the kids on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday’. And then a reframe of that might be, ‘I see, so you both would like to see the children as much as possible’. No, that’s not what they said exactly. Dad said Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Mom said Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or whatever. I am kind of using my perceived authority to change what they are saying. The reason I’m doing that is because I think that that will make the problem more solvable and will lead them to a settlement. I’m not doing that because I’m being genuine in reflecting what they have said. I’m trying to get them somewhere other than where they were.

About the mediator

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As a teacher and practitioner of the transformative approach, Dan helps parties have a constructive conversation about their differences. He received his law degree, cum laude, from the University of Minnesota School of Law, his M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Minnesota, and his B.A., with honors, from the University of California at Berkeley. Although he is licensed to practice law in Minnesota, he prefers to practice mediat... View Mediator