Interacting with Parties during Mediation

Mediation involves four formal stages.  First, the mediator introduces the parties to the process.  Second, each party presents a narrative detailing her perspective.  Third, the mediator engages the parties in problem-solving activities, such as identifying mutual interests and brainstorming.  Finally, in the event the parties reach a settlement, they prepare a written agreement setting forth its terms and conditions.

Mediation also includes interactions outside of this formal process.  An example is the mediator speaking separately with each party before the mediation commences.  In doing so, he begins to learn about the dispute and demonstrates his commitment to working with the party to resolve it.  In addition, the party receives an opportunity to raise questions and concerns she may feel uncomfortable discussing in the other party’s presence. 

Conversations during breaks in the mediation are another example of interactions outside of the formal process.  When the parties have no personal relationship, which frequently is the case in strictly commercial transactions, the more relaxed atmosphere prevailing during these breaks should facilitate getting to know one another beyond the parameters of the current dispute.  The parties may discover that they share a common hobby, have children of similar ages or have traveled to the same places.  These discoveries can provide the impetus for building a foundation of mutual respect and trust, which are necessary ingredients to reaching an agreement.

Contributor: Ben Jacewicz, NVMS Mentor Mediator