Why Do Mediators Mediate the Way They Do?

Psychologist Kenneth Kressel argued that mediators’ mental models of mediation are largely unconscious mixtures of formal models and “personal ‘mini-theories’ of conflict and role of mediators.”  He defined mental schemas or models as “ideas the mediator holds about the role of the mediator; the goals to be attained (and avoided), and the interventions that are permissible (and are impermissible) in striving to reach those goals.”  They are “mediator coping responses to the complex and demanding task of intervention decisionmaking and the limitations of formal models of practice and conscious human deliberation.”

I have been developing “real practice system” theory, which argues that each mediator has a unique practice system, albeit one that often is based on vague, somewhat unconscious, and unsystematic understandings.  Mediators’ systems grow out of their personal histories, values, goals, motivations, knowledge, and skills as well as the parties and subjects in their cases.  From their mediation experiences, they develop categories of cases, parties, and behavior patterns, and they design routine procedures and strategies for dealing with recurring challenges before, during, and after their mediation sessions.

I recently conducted educational programs with two groups of mediators to learn why they developed their particular practice systems and to encourage them to refine them consciously and systematically.  I conducted a survey at the end of these programs to find out what mediators learned from the discussions and how they might improve their practices in the future.

Why Do Mediators Mediate the Way They Do? is a short article presenting the results of the study, which supports the fundamental premises of real practice systems theory.  Many attendees said that the programs helped them learn about their own practice systems and inspired them to continue developing them.  This article is Part 1 of a two-part series.

Based on the survey results, Part 2 – Helping You Do The Best Mediation You Can – suggests a practical program for mediators to understand and improve their practice systems, individually and in groups.

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