Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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A new book by Sephen Goldberg, Jeanne Brett, Beatrice Blohorn-Brenneur and Nancy Rogers presents a concise primer on what participants can expect from the mediation process. Being academics, the authors ground their discussion in theory, starting with an explanation of the differences between conflicts and disputes, as well as an explanation of how disputes can be resolved with reference to power, rights and interests. But the book is much more practical than theoretical, and is fairly free of academic jargon. The heart of it clearly explains the roles of the participants, the mediator, and counsel; through the processes of choosing a mediator, preparing for the mediation, opening the mediation, holding joint sessions and caucuses, reframing the parties’ conceptions, leading the parties to understand and satisfy their interests, and reaching agreement. The authors then go on to offer some ways out of common mediation difficulties and even include a few tips for aspiring mediators (like don’t quit your day job). Considering the number of different styles that mediators practice, and the variation in rules and situations they practice under, the authors did a remarkable job in covering all this material so clearly and concisely.

So it is a book that seems most useful to introduce parties to a process they don’t fully understand, and let them know what they can expect from it. But it could also serve as a useful refresher for attorneys who might need to remind themselves of how to conduct themselves in a mediation as opposed to a more adversarial process, or for mediators who want to review the steps in the process.

But it’s not in depth enough to teach anyone how to mediate. (It takes more than a book to learn how to do that). As for whether the book delivers on the promise of its title, I would say yes and no. Mediation really does work by getting the disputing parties together and guiding them from a discussion of their positions to one that better serves their interests. But the magic of mediation can go even deeper than that, and these deeper possibilities are only suggested in this book. Mediation can serve as a method of teaching parties a more constructive, problem-solving way of resolving disputes. Training in mediation teaches people that while they probably can’t avoid conflict, they should at least try to avoid fighting their way out of it. And mediation is also a way of helping parties understand the real sources of their conflicts. Unraveling the issues that the parties have framed in a dispute may not always reveal the deeper reasons why parties find themselves at loggerheads. But mediation can sometimes help people figure out what is really bothering them, and what is bothering the other side. And that, at its most satisfying level, is how mediation works.