It is no secret that there are many different approaches to mediation. In the world of mediators, we often classify them as facilitative, evaluative and transformative. Even these labels are unclear and possibly incomplete. Why do we have such vast differences in our approaches? I think one reason is that mediators are “called” to the practice of mediation for different reasons. So, some mediators want to help resolve disputes that are in the court system. They are often familiar with the delays, expense, and global dissatisfaction in litigated cases. For them, the goal may be primarily settlement. They often believe that any settlement on reasonable terms is a win-win situation and that the means to the settlement (within reasonable bounds) is less important than the fact of getting to a settlement.
This could not be further from the thinking of transformative and facilitative mediators. For many of these mediators (including myself), what draws them to mediation is — to put it broadly — the desire to help parties feel more satisfied. Many facilitative mediators believe that when the parties are able to craft the terms of the resolution for themselves, it will make that resolution satisfying. For other mediators, they see the added value of an opportunity for parties to grow in humanity and relatedness by engaging in a process that helps them hear and respect the concerns of others and consider them with their own concerns. For still others, there is the desire to help parties reflect upon their own needs and desires more meaningfully and to understand themselves better even as they focus on understanding the needs and desires of the other. In my mediation practice, I often find that parties are at loggerheads because they each have certain set assumptions about themselves, the other, the world at large, the way things “should be”, what is “right”, etc. I enjoy helping parties reflect upon their own assumptions and decide for themselves whether they want to follow those assumptions or re-think them. I find it satisfying that this process both helps parties feel more at peace with themselves and helps them become more flexible regarding the objectives of the other party.
The thing that draws each of use to mediation is likely to cause us to mediate differently. And those differences in approach will make certain types of mediators better than others for a given type of case. I think it would be helpful for mediators to reflect upon what draws them to mediation and what they value about it. If potential parties understand what the mediator’s “mindset” is, they may be able to select the mediator whose mindset is most appealing to them.