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Different Styles of Mediation

Mediators have different approaches. There tend to be two broad styles; evaluative and facilitative. This article examines these differences in more detail.

Mediators vary in the extent of influence they attempt to exert over the mediation process and also the weight they place on factors such as the substantive issues, matters of procedure and the relationship issues of the parties. One analysis places the facilitative “orchestrator” at one end of the spectrum, and the “dealmaker” at the other. Orchestrators and dealmakers can be thought of as different with regards to (i) the amount of directiveness they bring to the mediation, and (ii) the kind of focus they think a mediation should have.

In terms of directiveness, the orchestrator focuses on attempting to put the parties in a position where they can make their own decisions. The thinking that lies behind this approach is that if someone more likely to be content with a decision they have reached without intervention. Any agreement reached this way is more likely to last, they say, because it has been reached voluntarily and has “buy-in.” The orchestrator offers assistance more of a procedural nature and may endeavour to assist with relationship and communication issues as the day progresses. They are generally less directive than dealmakers, and will tend to get more directly involved in proceedings where it seems that the parties will not be able to move forward without intervention.
This stands in contrast with the dealmaker who is generally more directive in relation to the mediation process, from the type of forum to be deployed at a particular time to the kind of interventions made. The dealmaker is more likely to articulate an opinion with regard to the substantive issues under discussion. He will generally work pro-actively towards putting a deal together, and perhaps cajole each party along a bit.

When it comes to focus, there are also differences. Dealmakers tend to emphasize concrete problem-solving and specific progress on tangible substantive issues. Others tend to place more emphasis on the parties’ relationships, seeking to create empathy and mutual respect between the parties.

Each approach comes from quite a different philosophical starting point. A purest from the orchestrator school believes that any form of intervention is inappropriate. The mediator’s function is only to ask questions and communicate information appropriately between the parties, slowly building common ground and then facilitating a negotiation. If there is no common ground, then so be it. According to this view, to be judgmental is to disempower the parties and conversely this school of thought holds that the parties should empowered by making their own decisions under the guidance of the mediator. A purest from the dealmaker school believes that a certain amount of intervention is warranted. The parties have come to the mediator for a solution, and he is going to do his best to provide one. In practical terms, where a party expresses a view which is in the mediator’s opinion untenable, there is a higher probability that he going to let them know. He may also look for ways to apply pressure to a party he perceives to be advancing an unreasonable position on an issue.

Of course, any discussion about different schools of thought must recognise that there are a range of approaches which may be workable depending on the situation confronting the mediator. A sophisticated mediator will, hopefully, have transcended a polarised approach and adapt his or her approach to meet the specific needs of the parties on any given day. On some occasions, this may require a more interventionist approach, on others, he or she may be more orchestrative. Of course, at its core, mediation is a non-judgmental process, and the extent to which a mediator brings his or her own judgment to materially bear on the issues, the more he or she is derogating from the benefits of the process.
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