Often, too little thought is given to the mediation styles that mediators practice. It is important for users of mediation services to select a mediator with a style or number of styles that meet the needs of their specific case – right both for all the parties involved and for the situation that needs to be resolved. But, as in the choice of any professional service, you first need to identify your likely needs and then ensure your choice of a professional meets those needs.
Essentially, there are three main – and rather different – mediation styles: Facilitative, Evaluative and Transformative. For a concise review of what practice styles and skills are involved in each style, click here.
Although a facilitative style is commonly regarded as the most mainstream form of mediation, it is not unusual in a mediated dispute that evaluative and/or transformative competencies are applied by the mediator at different moments and in differing measures. Many mediators shift easily from one style to another according to the needs of the situation. But some facilitative mediators prefer not to be evaluative unless they are specifically asked by the parties.
If the most important tasks are to overcome communication blockages, identify hidden obstacles, develop options for mutual gain, and help the parties think creatively and enable an agreement to be reached, the parties probably want a facilitative mediator.
If the parties perceive that there will be a need for the mediator to break deadlocks by giving non-binding opinions, asking hard questions, making comments about the facts and the law of the case, guiding the parties in other more directive ways, or helping set guidelines for a settlement based on objective norms (such as Industry standards, law, etc), they will probably want a mediator who is able to be evaluative.
If the goal is not to resolve a specific dispute but rather to improve the parties’ relationship, and if that relationship is important for the future, then a transformative mediator will focus more on helping the parties communicate and work together than on resolving short term conflicts. Among other applications for transformative mediation in business contexts are relations among: competitors or members of an Industry, joint venture partners and the regulated and regulators/government agencies.
It helps if the parties discuss these issues before narrowing the search for a mediator or a Mediation Provider and then discuss the styles wanted with short-listed mediators. Agreements to mediate can also reflect style issues – for example the inclusion of a paragraph confirming the parties’ expectation that the mediator will be asked to give a non-binding view or evaluation if a deadlock is reached.