“There are three main styles of mediation: facilitative, evaluative, and transformative. Each has the same goal – resolution of the dispute. However, each is significantly different in important ways —the role of the mediator, the role of the participant, and the process.”
In facilitative mediation, the mediator is a process expert but not necessarily a subject matter expert. He or she can be thought of as a referee of the conversation between parties, who generally remain at the table. He or she establishes structure, insists on civility, diffuses strong emotion, encourages communication, and asks questions to reveal parties’ underlying concerns. The facilitative mediator only reluctantly contributes his or her opinion. The parties are active in talking with one another and determining alternatives, though mediators will contribute ideas at times. Though facilitative mediation is most fit for situations in which the parties will have an ongoing relationship, the usual goal is resolution of a single dispute.
Evaluative mediation is most often seen in legal disputes but is also used in other contexts. The aim is resolution of a single conflict, which is usually competitive or zero-sum. That is, a win for me is a loss for you.
The evaluative mediator is both process and subject matter expert. In addition to establishing structure and insisting on civility, he or she serves as teacher, pointing out the flaws in each party’s position and aggressively pushing for settlement. The purpose of questions is to make parties think about the weaknesses in the case, and the risks and costs of failing to settle. The evaluative mediator freely expresses an opinion, and is very active in suggesting solutions. The parties often have an indirect role in developing a solution, which is hammered out between the mediator and counsel. Of course, the parties still decide whether or not to settle, and discuss options with their attorneys. However, they may have little conversation with the classic evaluative mediator. While emotions may be addressed, they are usually either ignored or discounted as irrelevant to the solution.
Transformative mediation became popular after Baruch Bush and Joe Folger published The Promise of Mediation in 1994. Its practitioners can be thought of as analysts or guides. They insist that the process is not primarily directed toward crafting a resolution. Instead, the approach emphasizes that human beings are social creatures, and that conflict disrupts the relationship between disputants in ways that weaken them (make them feel out of control, powerless, and fearful.) Conflict also disconnects disputants from others, narrowing their focus to the dispute, turning it inward and making them self-absorbed.
The twin goals of the transformative mediator are “Empowerment,” or strengthening the weakened parties (restoring a sense of self-determination, confidence, and control) and promoting “recognition,” or acknowledgment and empathy for others’ circumstances. Recognition also means having clarity about your own goals, options, preferences and risks.
Transformative mediators believe strong, self-confident individuals who have clarity about their own situations and truly understand the needs, goals and problems of their co-participants will find ways to settle disputes, but are satisfied if the dispute continues, so long as empowerment and recognition occur.
The different focus of the transformative mediator means that the roles of mediator and client are markedly different. Though the mediator is a guide, he is not an authority figure. Because the purpose of the mediation is to build strength and self-confidence, the parties are the authorities and the source of alternatives and solutions. The process is one of exploration, encouragement and validation, rather than competition or problem-solving.