Types of Mediation Practiced in Pennsylvania

by Janet M. Powers

For fifty years, the type of mediation practiced by Mediation Services of Adams County was the only one taught. In this model of conflict resolution, the mediator is completely impartial. He/she listens with equal attention to stories of both sides and helps parties come to a solution requiring similar commitments by both. This type of mediation is called Facilitative Mediation because the mediator is in charge of the process, while disputants control the outcome.

Facilitative mediators try to ensure that disputants come to agreements based on information and understanding. They hold joint sessions with everyone present so that all points of view can be heard. Sometimes, the mediator or one of the parties will ask for a caucus (separate meeting with each side), so as to determine points of agreement or encourage open sharing of information.

Evaluative Mediation, which emerged in court-mandated or court-referred mediation, is modeled on settlement conferences by judges. An evaluative mediator assists disputants in reaching resolution by pointing out weaknesses in their cases, and predicting what a judge or jury would be likely to do. Evaluative mediators, most of whom are attorneys, are concerned with the legal rights of the parties rather than needs and interests. Meeting separately with parties and their attorneys, they practice “shuttle diplomacy” and directly influence the outcome of the process.

Transformative Mediation, a new type of mediation, originated in 1994. Going further with the concept of empowerment, this type of conflict resolution encourages disputants to structure the mediation process. In this model, mediators help parties to identify opportunities for empowerment and recognition of the other’s needs and interests. Parties are asked to choose whether and how to act upon these opportunities, in order to improve their interaction.

Success is measured, in transformative mediation, not by settlement but by shifts toward strength, responsiveness and constructive interaction. Disputants are encouraged to make positive changes in their interactions with each other and thus find their own acceptable solutions. But parties may also choose to leave the mediation with new insights and interpersonal understandings, but no agreement.

Although MSAC mediators practice facilitative mediation, not all their mediations end in agreements. Often, disputants sort out their relationship to a point where they then pursue other avenues, such as counseling, coming back together, or litigation. Nor do all mediations conclude in a single session. Disputants frequently come back for a second or third meeting because they find themselves on the verge of agreement but not able to achieve it within the allotted time.

Working through a conflict is hard work for both mediators and disputants. Telling one’s story may be emotionally draining. Looking at a situation from the other guy’s perspective can be startling. Mediators must word comments carefully so as not to inflame the situation but rather move disputants beyond where they started. Brainstorming for solutions requires creativity and can be both exhilarating and demanding. Hammering out an agreement is the most difficult because it requires willing commitment from both parties.

The reward for all this hard work, however, is a win/win situation, when both disputants are satisfied with the outcome. Because the result is mutually beneficial, facilitative mediation has never gone out of style. If you need help with mediation, contact Mediation Services of Adams County: mediationac@yahoogroups.com or the MSAC helpline at 334-7312.