Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Furniture has important symbolic as well as utilitarian functions. In a courtroom, for example, the elevated position of the judge, and the adversarial positions of the parties, both facing and subservient to the judge, are perfectly symbolized and reinforced by the arrangement of the furniture. In a conference room, the person who sits at the head of the table sometimes assumes a similar position of authority. Parties attending a mediation usually expect the mediator to sit at the head of the table, and arrange themselves on each side, facing but often not talking to each other, and often directing their attention to the mediator at the head. To shake up these expectations, I sometimes like to sit to one side […]

There is a post on Victoria Pynchon’s blog decrying the trend toward immediate separate caucus sessions, and the death of the joint session. This was a hot topic at the annual CLE session for mediators on the Central District settlement officer panel a couple of weeks ago. Victoria makes the point that joint sessions can help resolve a dispute not because they give everyone a chance to practice their arguments on one another and not because they allow people publicly to vent their feeling about the issues, but rather because they give the parties an opportunity, perhaps through the exchange of small talk, to see each other as human beings, and sometimes even to put aside talk of the money […]

There seems to be a raging debate in the mediation community about the usefulness of joint mediation sessions vs. separate caucus sessions. Many mediators keep the parties and their attorneys in separate rooms almost from the outset. They do this to minimize animosity, and to avoid driving the parties further apart with hours of venting, accusations and counter-accusations. They do it because the parties and attorneys are often impatient to cut to the chase of negotiations, and feel no need to exchange information they already know too well. Other mediators believe there is a value in attempting to mend a broken relationship, or that the parties may need the cathartic experience of confronting each other and listening to each other […]