Shuttle Mediation: Advocate Strongly Transform the Conflict

on Monday, 12 January 2015.

As a mediator two things are of huge importance in conflict resolution, one is neutrality (and the perception of it) and the other is trust. The parties to the mediation need to experience the neutrality of the mediator from the outset and they need to trust the mediator fully as someone who will try to facilitate them in getting to a manageable resolution. This is never more the case than in a shuttle situation where the parties not only can’t see each other but can’t see how the mediator behaves when working with the other party.  

As always this offers both opportunity and challenge. The challenge is that the mediator must show that he/she is neutral and is operating in a fair manner. The opportunity is that is allows the mediator to advocate for each party in a stronger manner, suggestions for solution can be reality checked in a more robust manner. This is because the party is protected from their counterpart and doesn’t feel like suggestions are offers. In other words the mediator can hold a brainstorming style session where all ideas can be expressed with no commitment and no ownership. He/she can then go through each option and reality check them. The difficulty here is that it can be quite challenging for the party in conflict to hear that their ideas are not as workable as they think. It is possible that they will perceive that the mediator is striking out all their ideas for resolution and therefore in some way siding with the other party…neutrality gets questioned. However once the guarantee is given that the mediator advocates as strongly for each party with the other it can become a transformative mediation. By simply saying “look here’s why that idea might not work” or asking the correct “What if Questions” the possibilities for lasting resolution become clearer. 

Transformative Mediation Moving The Conflict Forward:

During the hard work of prioritising the issues, teasing out and testing the resolution the mediation can become deadlocked, the participants get emotionally drained and fatigue can set in. The mediation appears to stall, but at this point the mediator must be able to transform the conflict and the energy by presenting a BATNA and WATNA to the participants. Simply reminding them why they have come to mediation and what happens if the mediation doesn’t achieve a resolution. That is what are the Best and Worst Alternatives To A Negotiated Agreement. The question “do you want things to go back to the way they were?” or “Would it not be better to resolve it some way than not at all”. In my experience this transforms the parties and the mediation into positively seeking solutions and conflict resolution and lifts the energy when all looks to be lost. This is not to say that the mediator becomes an arbitrator and provides the resolution, more that she/he re-energises and refocuses the parties to facilitate a resolution. Again guarding neutrality and impartiality is paramount as it can appear that the mediator is advocating for the other side when challenging ideas and commitments.

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