Structural Mediation vs. Interpersonal Mediation

In the ongoing debate among mediators, questions frequently arise as to whether one needs subject matter expertise; whether a mediator should be evaluative or not; and how much training in the process of mediation is necessary.

I posit that there is no real debate. One must simply figure out what kind of mediation one is offering, and the process defines itself.

Specifically, when one is offering the service of helping parties structure a deal — whether it is a divorce, a commercial matter, a business relationship, or a matter in probate — the answer is clear: one needs training and experience in the subject matter to help the parties figure out their options and address all the necessary issues.

However, not all mediations are structural. Situations frequently arise either in the middle of a settlement negotiation or in the middle of a structural mediation; or simply in the course of ordinary life, when parties lock horns on a specific issue. The issue involved may be the entire issue between them or it may be a piece of a larger issue. In that context, they and the professionals working with them may feel that there is an impasse. However, a mediator who is expert in facilitative or transformative mediation can help the parties find a way to have the conversation they need and want to have and to work their way toward a resolution of their own making.

When we think of mediation in these terms — that there are two different types of mediators and two different types of mediations, it becomes easier to understand what type of training and experience — and what type of mindset and approach is most helpful for each.

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