Transformative mediation

What is transformative mediation?

Transformative mediation is based on the belief that the disputing parties are best able to decide whether and how to resolve their dispute. Empowerment and recognition are emphasized – that is the mediation empowers the parties to effectively express themselves and encourages them to recognize the reasons for others' actions. Transformative mediation is entirely consistent with the goals of the REDRESS® program. It supports improved communication between supervisors and employees and avoids unnecessary litigation.

How is Directive/Evaluative mediation different?

Many lawyers and representatives have experience with the "directive" or "evaluative" mediation model. These mediators are trained to emphasize settlement and move parties toward that goal. They set participation guidelines and may take a leading role in the discussions. They are solution-oriented and are actively involved in defining both the problem and its solution. They lead the process and draw the parties' attention away from emotion and towards solution of the immediate conflict. Long-term effects upon the parties' relationship are not an area of direct focus. They are trained to suggest possible outcomes and to evaluate the parties' relative positions. They often separate the parties into individual discussions (caucuses) in order to keep them moving in the direction the mediator believes has the best opportunity for reaching a settlement. The mediator declares success when both parties sign a settlement agreement.

What does a transformative mediator do?

Transformative mediators believe that conflict presents opportunities for individuals to change (transform) their interactions with others. Disputing parties can make their own decisions and gain perspective over their situations. The parties set their own agenda and decide what to discuss. The mediator supports the process, summarizes discussions, clarifies issues, and promotes confidence in making decisions. The mediator achieves this by "reflecting," "summarizing," "checking in," and by asking "open ended questions." Anything outside of that scope does not fit into the transformative framework. The mediation is considered successful when the parties participate in interactive communication that results in a clearer understanding of their situation and each other's perspective. Often, this leads to resolution of the dispute.

What will a transformative mediator refrain from doing?

Transformative mediators will not direct the content of the mediation, will not "gather" information for settlement purposes and will not take an active role in the decision-making process. Instead, they support the parties with the process. They will not push the parties towards settlement, even if they believe they "know" how the case can fairly settle. "Forced" settlements do not resolve the underlying conflict. They will not suggest whether one party's viewpoint has more merit than the other's. They will not comment on the strength or weakness of either party's case or on the status of the law or company policy.Transformative mediators will not discourage the parties from exhibiting their emotions. Seeing the other party's emotional response may allow parties to better understand the impact of their words and actions.

Hallmarks of transformative mediation

Robert Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger, (1994) in their article “Transformative¬†Mediation and Third-Party Intervention: Ten Hallmarks of a Transformative Approach to Practice,” identify what they consider to be ten major patterns of practice adhered to by transformative mediators. Those hallmarks are:

  • “The opening statement says it all”: Describing the mediator's role and objectives in terms based on empowerment and recognition.
  • “It’s ultimately the parties’ choice”: Leaving responsibility for outcomes with the parties.
  • “The parties know best”: Consciously refusing to be judgmental about the parties’ views and decisions.
  • “The parties have what it takes”: Taking an optimistic view of parties’ competence and motives.
  • “There are facts in the feelings”: Allowing and being responsive to parties’ expression of emotions.
  • “Clarity emerges from confusion”: Allowing for and exploring parties’ uncertainty.
  • “The action is 'in the room'”: Remaining focused on the here and now of the conflict interaction.
  • “Discussing the past has value to the present”: Being responsive to parties’ statements about past events.
  • “Conflict can be a long term affair”: Viewing an intervention as one point in a larger sequence of conflict interaction.
  • “Small steps count”: Feeling a sense of success when empowerment and recognition occur, even in small degrees.

In 2005 Bush and Folger released their latest book on Transformative Mediation entitled, “The Promise of Mediation,” which talks specifically about the US Postal Service and our experience and success with the transformative model of mediation.

“The unique promise of mediation lies in its capacity to transform the quality of conflict interaction itself, so that conflicts can actually strengthen both the parties themselves and the society they are part of.” — Bush/Folger, “The Promise of Mediation,” page 13.