"This is your mediation. You are in control of your own decisions," said the mediator in the first few minutes of her introduction.
"Great," responded one of the participants. "Skip your introductions and let's get to work."
Mediators have all sorts of sage advice and guidance to share during their opening remarks. How do you begin without at least some direction on the way the meeting will proceed?
Here is how: consider listening and adjusting to the participants' preferences when they all agree. And when there is not consensus make a judgment on how to proceed.
Keep in mind that a mediator has many opportunities, if need be, to enhance the discussion by returning to planned opening remarks during appropriate points in the meeting. Not all guidance has to be part of the few minutes set aside for opening remarks.
On occasion I have been asked to disregard an agenda entirely. I hesitate to do that. I believe that part of the reason I am asked to mediate is to assure the best opportunities for success are put into play. I can give up the "how's the weather" intros and move directly to working out the differences. But I find it difficult to get the parties focused on a resolution without a definition of the problem. Nor can I ignore taking a few moments for the group to discuss their common interests in settling. Too directive? I don't believe it is. I say that because I have never mediated an issue that failed as a result of the parties defining the problem and their common interests.
A laissez-faire approach to mediation might work. However in workplace mediation I have found a total hands-off style is risky. The central reason is that company settings rely upon a leader. That simply is cultural. And so I have essentially dismissed that free-style option from my choices in technique. I believe that a complete hands-off mediation style undermines the central reasons for seeking out a mediator -- counsel, guidance, experience, and leadership in surfacing an agreeable conclusion for all participants.
I continue to learn from colleagues and from clients alike that the participants are the customer in all matters. But should mediators always take their lead from the parties?
Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 750,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.