The Underlying Philosophies of Mediation

Underlying Philosophies of Mediation

What are the ‘Underlying Philosophies of Mediation?’

How does mediation differ from the other ADR (alternative dispute resolution) processes we often hear about? 

This article introduces a set of posts designed to establish a framework of underlying philosophies of mediation  for understanding what the mediation process is and what it is not, how it is practised and practises that do not fit within the philosophies of the mediation process, as well as explaining the reasons why mediators practise in this way.

The term ‘mediation’ has become ubiquitous in the last 3-4 years after having been a rarely used term for the rest of the 18 years that I have been involved in this challenging, inspiring field of work. It used to be an exciting day when the word was seen in a newspaper article in relation to a neighbour dispute or a workplace dispute, and at one point a google search would always default to ‘meditation’ when you typed in a search for the term, assuming one had mis-spelt the intended word, its use was so rare in searches.

But despite its increased presence in our language and in the media in recent times there is still a lot of confusion about the meaning of the word. It has become a bit of a ‘buzz word’ and so is being used to describe practises that are entirely unlike the process I know, for which there are clear underlying philosophies, principles of practise and communication skills which are informed by those philosophies and principles. This is inevitable and a common experience within the world of mediation –  that different understandings of just one word can make a significant difference in how two or more people understand each other, relate to each other and whether they can resolve a dispute that exists between them.

For most words there is not, despite the attempts of dictionaries to ensure this, one fixed understanding that we all share as we all integrate the word into our own experience of the world and see it and use it from our own perspective. On that basis it is important when we train mediators to establish conventionalised understandings of words and the concepts we associate with them so that there can, as far as possible, be a consistency of practise in how we mediate.

I am sometimes concerned at the lack of ‘rigour’ regarding the way in which mediation is described, and, in turn, practised and one of the aims of this post and the series of posts that follow  is to give a basis for others – practitioners and users – to see a framework which is self consistent in terms of its underlying thinking and how that, in turn, informs the practical and effective use of mediation in any given context.

The series of posts that follow this introductory post will outline 6 Underlying Philosophies of Mediation: (click on the links to find out more…)

1. Ownership

2. Empowerment

3. Impartiality

4. No-blame approach

5. Confidentiality

6. An ‘Adult-Adult’ relationship with clients not a ‘Parent-Child’ relationship

These philosophies form the framework and ‘benchmark’ by which I practise mediation and they underpin the training of mediators I provide through CAOS Conflict Management and have provided for the last 18 years. Because our model of Conflict Coaching evolved out of learnings and insights from our mediation practise these philosophies also underpin the CAOS model of Conflict Coaching.

Future series of posts will go on to look at the principles of practise that arise from these underlying philosophies of mediation and how they directly inform the way in which we communicate as mediators in order to maintain our role and our effectiveness within it, and ‘walk the talk’ of what we do.

Underlying Philosophies of Mediation
The outcomes of mediation can be many and varied.

And, because mediation is a process that promotes effective communication and creative thinking towards the resolution of conflict, the underlying philosophies of mediation and the principles of practise and communication skills that arise from them are particularly useful in supporting managers, teachers, parents, group facilitators and others in managing groups of individuals they work with.

But of course, they are also useful in supporting ourselves in how we communicate with anyone and how we respond to conflict on a daily basis. I hope to show in the upcoming posts that the Underlying Philosophies of Mediation  are of relevance and use to all of us, helping us to communicate and respond more effectively to unresolved conflict. Their application and relevance is not confined to mediators.

Mediation is fundamentally different to Arbitration

An extremely common confusion and misconception about mediation is that it is similar to arbitration, when in fact they are fundamentally different processes  in their approach, their underlying philosophies and aims and in the role of the independent and impartial ‘third party’ (mediator or arbitrator). I hope this series will help to more clearly outline the differences between these two processes and how what is often referred to as mediation is more like arbitration and retains many of the adversarial and other features of the latter.

Unfortunately, mediation has been burdened by the following ambiguous ‘definition’ in some literature without recognition of the wide range of interpretations that can be given to the different aspects of the phrase and the consequent difficulty that ambiguity leads to:  …….mediation is a process where an impartial, independent third party helps parties to a dispute resolve issues on a voluntary basis and confidentially. 

This broad description can allow for arbitration to fit within it when we interpret the word ‘helps’ in a different manner and there can be wide variations in the interpretation of the words ‘impartial’ and ‘independent’. The aim of this series of posts is to give a clearer indication of what mediation is and how it differs from other processes that involve a third party, and particularly those which are adversarial processes.

Another common misconception is that mediation is a replacement for adversarial systems such as the legal system. It is not, it is simply an alternative, but a clear and distinct alternative, not something that fits within it. Sadly, mediation is often misplaced as a ‘step’ within adversarial processes such as complaints, grievance, divorce or other dispute procedures, and as such it is greatly underused and misunderstood, as well as being far less effective than it could be.

There are just two possible outcomes to an adversarial process.
There are just two possible outcomes to an adversarial process.

Adversarial processes have an important role in many organisations, societies, communities etc. but when a process is the only option available it cannot effectively fulfil a ‘one-size-fits-all’ expectation and mediation provides an alternative choice, without prejudicing the right to continue with the adversarial process if desired.

However for a choice to be a genuine choice it needs to be significantly different to the other option(s) and at present, in many contexts in which mediation is being introduced, this is not so, because its use is still infused with the thinking, approaches and practises of an adversarial process.

A process based on the Underlying Philosophies of Mediation given above and described in the posts that will follow provides that clear choice and, I believe, answers many of the confusions and concerns that presently exist about the use of mediation and its introduction into our daily lives as an alternative means of responding to unresolved conflicts such as complaints, disagreements, relationship breakdown, disputes etc.


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