In the mediation literature and among mediators, one often hears the expression, ‘the magic of mediation’ (German-language website). It’s a fuzzy term, in my view, that is used to explain what for many otherwise seems to defy explanation — the seemingly surprising shifts that take place in mediation sessions when parties who have been adversarial suddenly start to work together to resolve their differences.
For me, what is going on is neither inexplicable nor surprising. I look on the parties’ interaction in the mediation room in two ways:
- I look at what and how they express their differences at the level of their conversation as a whole, and
- I look at what is going on for each party at the micro-level of their conversation, the parry of comments back and forth.
In trying to do that, I also am considering what I can say, if anything at all, that will support, but not supplant, each of the parties in becoming clearer about the decisions they face, and that they alone can make, as well as about the options open and the resources available to them. I believe that every party to a mediation has the right to make their own decisions, including those they may come to regret at a later time.
So what happens in the mediation room can be viewed in relational terms, not as a contest between individual needs, interests, cares, concerns, etc. but as a breakdown in communication between the parties. The interaction can be seen not only as an expression of where each party is individually but also in relationship to (or, just as likely if not more so, not in relationship to) the other party. In supporting parties as they express themselves to become clearer about how they view the situation and what the decision-points are for them, the mediator does a great deal without subtly influencing outcomes for the parties. In this way, the ‘magic of mediation’ is accounted for; any shift to or regression from collaboration can be seen for what they are, natural moments in human interaction.