Tool-box of mediation skills

The notion that mediators have a tool-box of techniques and skills that can be applied to the mediation process is one that has ‘legs’ in the literature, the classroom and among practitioners.

It is undeniable that mediators can ‘mix and match’ skills and techniques from different approaches to mediation:

  • the evaluative model, where disputants get a reading from the mediator on how viable their positions would be in court;
  • the facilitative model (interest-based), where the mediator works with the parties to separate their problem from the people involved in order to arrive at a mutually satisfactory settlement;
  • the narrative model, where the mediator works with parties to deconstruct their individual stories about the conflict and build with them a shared new story that allows them to move on; and
  • the transformative model, where the mediator seeks to support each party’s expression of their concerns and goals in a party-to-party conversation that naturally moves from confusion to clarity (empowerment), from self-absorption to connectedness (recognition) as the parties reflect on decisions to make.

The point, however, is not whether mediators can use a tool-box of methods from different approaches, but rather to what end.  As can be seen from the above sketch, each of these approaches has different goals.  The methods associated with these approaches are designed to reach those goals.  These methods carry with them values that each of the models implicitly or explicitly has about the nature of conflict and what to do about it.  Using a tool-box of skills or cherry-picking techniques weakens the integrity between method and purpose that is fundamental — a screwdriver can be used to drive in a nail but look at what happens to the screwdriver and the nail!  Disconnection between method and purpose does not serve the parties’ decision-making as they work towards their own satisfactory and durable outcomes.