It is a basic principle of mediation, that mediators should focus on the needs of the parties. While the needs of parties are always relevant, in my view, focusing exclusively on the needs of the parties as the mediator understands them or as the parties express them is often insufficient.
Why is this so? Well, the mediator may not intuit all the needs of the parties and the parties themselves may not understand all their needs. Moreover, it is probable, in my view, that nearly all individuals have needs that they are reluctant to admit to themselves let alone tell anyone else. And some of these needs may not be odd. In fact, I suspect that some of these needs are common to most people and may even form the foundations of our society. For instance, one need might be to conform to society’s expectations. Another need may be to not disappoint friends and family. Another need may be to feel successful, smart, capable, or to feel like a winner rather than a loser.
If all this is correct, how can the mediator address the dilemma that parties have needs they don’t understand or would not want to discuss?
In my experience, the way to address these below-the-surface needs is for the mediator to simply be sure to give plenty of space for each party to consider how things are going in the mediation, how they feel about the discussion, the agreement being developed. The intuitive or subconscious parts of the mind of each party will alert them to whether any needs are being unfulfilled and will inform their responses. As the mediation continues, the intuitive part of the mind of each party will continue to reflect, consider and rebalance their needs. The creative parts of their minds will find a way to address the needs that are most important and reconsider and rebalance the needs that are of less significance. Finally, if the mediation is successful, the parties will check in with their intuition and say: yes, this feels good.