This article is derived from Fredrike P. Bannink’s book Handbook of Solution Focused Conflict Management (2010), Cambridge MA: Hogrefe Publishing.

By means of so called “scaling questions,” mediators can help their clients to express complex, intuitive observations about their past experiences and estimates of future possibilities. Scaling questions invite clients to put their observations, impressions, and predictions on a scale from 10-0. Scaling questions have great versatility. They can be used to access the client’s perception of almost anything, including investment in change, willingness to work hard to bring about desired changes, prioritizing of problems to be solved, perception of hopefulness, and evaluation of progress (De Jong & Berg, 2008).

In a mediation of a divorce case, the mediator says to both clients: Here is a different kind of question, one that puts things on a scale from 10 to 0. Let’s say that 10 equals the “best-case scenario”: how your life would be when all is going very well and 0 equals how bad things were when you made the appointment to see me. Where are you on that scale today? And where would you like to be at the end of this mediation? Scaling pre-mediation change

It is a common assumption that change begins when the mediator starts to help clients solve their conflict. Before the mediation starts, they are said to be “stuck.” However, when asked, some clients report positive change between the time they made the appointment and the first meeting with the mediator. Pre-mediation change exploration often reveals new information about what has been helpful and can be used again to build solutions.

Scaling progress
De Shazer (1991) states that it is difference itself that is an important tool for professionals and clients. It is not simply that there are differences which make a difference. In and of themselves, differences are just differences, they do not work spontaneously. Only when recognized, they can be put to work to make a difference. Solutions are often built from formerly unrecognized differences. Wittgenstein (1968) states that exceptions lie already on the surface, you do not have to dig for them. The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. We are unable to notice something, because it is always before one’s eyes. The mediator, having heard and explored these exceptions to the conflict, then compliments the clients for all the things they have already done.

Change is happening all the time and the role of the mediator is to find useful change and amplify it. Since mediation is about change and helping clients to make a better future (Salacuse, 2000), questions about positive differences are considered important. What difference would it make when your best hopes become reality? What would you be doing differently? How would your relationship with the other person(s) differ? What would they be doing differently? (Bannink, 2008/2009; 2009ab; 2010ab)

Continue Reading—

by Fredrike Bannink

Fredrike Bannink has worked as a mediator since 1998. She received a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the University of Amsterdam and became an NMI-certified mediator from the Dutch Mediation Institute; additionally, she serves as a mediator for the Amsterdam District Court. She is the co-founder and past-chair of the Foundation for Professional Neighbor Mediation Amsterdam (SPBA). She has authored many books and articles on mediation, leadership, and psychology. Bannink is also a personal coach for managers as well as a trainer in the field of psychotherapy, education, coaching, leadership and mediation/conflict management since 1980.