In nearly every aspect of human endeavor, mediation and negotiation skills are necessary. Perhaps a person living alone on a deserted island would have no need for these skills, but the rest of us do. No matter what we do and no matter our lot in life, we interact with those around us. Because we interact with people, mediation and negotiation skills are necessary.
This first source sheds light on the role of the mediator and the mediation process. Threets (2003) outlines a program of peer-based mediation in a secondary school which made a marked difference for 20 targeted students. These 20 targeted students had been identified as the school’s top disruptive offenders during the previous year. At this secondary school, a peer-mediation program was implemented using trained peers, students who had been identified by classmates as students who other students went to when they needed help. (p 75) The chosen peer mediators were provided two days of training which included an overview of conflict, the role of the mediator, and listening skills. Additional training and coaching continued during the remainder of the school year.
Students were either self-referred to the peer mediation program or referred by a teacher or administrator. The mediation sessions included two co-mediators and the disputants. The process used was a formal, structured process which included six stages. As Threets outlines them (p 48), the stages are:
Stage I: Mediators define the mediation process and lay cooperative groundwork.Over the course of the eight month program, referrals to the principal’s office for disruptive behavior for 20 targeted students decreased, missed days – and reports to the counselor’s office – due to disruptive behavior for these same students was reduced.
Stage II: Mediators ask the disputants to agree to the rules.
Stage III: Disputants explain the problem and share their feelings.
Stage IV: Disputants recognize each other’s needs.
Stage V: Disputants find a fair solution to the problem.
Stage VI: Mediators write up the agreement and the disputants sign.
This second source puts perspective on the transformative potential of mediation. Shepherd (2003) discusses a “peace education training” program implemented at an urban, secondary, public school in Tampa, FL. In this program, 9th grade teachers were provided training through the Peace Education Foundation; this training included mediation and conflict resolution. The program attempted to not only impact teacher behaviors in specific times – such as when two students were in conflict – but transform the teachers during the entire teaching day so that they were more responsive and in tune with their students. The program sought to create teacher behaviors which were peace, rather than conflict, inducing.
While this study is merely a small study in a single school, the results show the possible potential in the lives of both students and teachers. The goal of the program “was to empower teachers with the skills and strategies that would create a safe, nurturing, and orderly learning environment in order to decrease classroom disruptions. (p 60) Following the training, participating teachers used conflict resolution skills to “reduce classroom disruptions by 56%” and were able to impact other classrooms by coaching teacher peers. Students recognized a difference, too, indicating a preference for participant’s classroom settings (p 60) and indicating more of a sense of “getting along” with other students than their peers who were not in classrooms impacted by the study.
The third source presents some unique perspectives on the concepts and theories of mediation and negotiation. Gabel (2003) asserts the practice of mediation and psychotherapy are related at their core. The field of mediation, Gabel tells us, is grounded in the law while psychotherapy is grounded in medicine. Because the foundations of these two practices come from diverse sources, major differences exist, such as in outcomes, processes, and terminology. According to Gabel, both mediation and psychotherapy involve an outside third party helping change the status quo.
Gabel outlines a continuum of mediation practices ranging from transformative, where the goal is to empower the participants to not only find a solution between them but to make themselves better human beings, to an evaluative or problem solving approach at the other end of the spectrum (p 318). On this side, the energy is focused on fixing the presenting issue. Gabel’s view of psychotherapy is, perhaps, more layered. While he doesn’t provide for a true dichotomy or linear progression, he does cite differences in types of psychotherapy. Brief, supportive, psycho-educational, and/or time-sensitive psychotherapy all focus on clarifying and resolving problematic issues in the present, rather than focusing on some hidden, underlying cause or conflict. These styles differ from psychoanalysis which do, of course, involve looking for the hidden meanings and focusing not only on the present situation but the entire history of the individual. Group, family, and couples therapies focus much energy on the relationships between the participants; these forms might look remarkably similar to certain forms of mediation.
Gabel’s insight helps put a different perspective on mediation. The similarities he draws between certain types of psychotherapy and mediation, and in the roles the third party – the therapist or the mediator – plays help in broadening our perspective on the fields.
These three sources provide a beginning examination into the mediator, the mediation process, the potential of mediation, and the concepts and theories behind mediation.
Gabel, S. (2003). Mediation and psychotherapy: Two sides of the same coin? Negotiation Journal, October 2003, 19(4), 315-328.
Shepherd, O. B. (2003). Ninth-grade teachers’ attempts to reduce classroom disruptions with conflict resolution and peace education training. Unpublished doctoral applied dissertation, Nova Southeastern University.
Threets, A. (2003). Improving student behavior and decreasing the rate of violence-based suspension through the use of peer mediation. Unpublished doctoral applied dissertation, Nova Southeastern University.