What kind of mediation style is best for your dispute – and which will help pave the road for a reasonable resolution? Many people are not aware or have incomplete knowledge of different mediation styles. Mediation is not one-size-fits-all. Knowing about different mediation styles can be key to helping you achieve a satisfactory outcome. What do you need to know before you choose a mediator and enter into the process?

A Mediation Review

First, let’s rewind quickly. Mediation is an approach to conflict resolution wherein a neutral third party helps parties in conflict reach a fair agreement. As an alternative to contentious, time-consuming, and expensive litigation, mediation has surged in popularity over the last few decades. Understandably, many people are not in a hurry to go to court. As a practice, mediation focuses on equity and collaboration. As opposed to litigation, it is not a zero sum game. That is, there does not have to be one winner and one loser. In fact, each party can walk away with a “win.” 

Introduction to Mediation Styles 

There are different mediation styles because… there are different types of mediators and different types of cases. For example, one practitioner may prefer facilitative mediation while another leans towards transformative mediation. (And don’t worry: we’ll explain them!). There isn’t a “wrong” answer – just a method that can help you achieve the most positive results possible. 

So, without further ado, let’s delve into the three major mediation styles:

Facilitative Mediation

Think of facilitative mediation as the foundation of all mediation. It involves establishing an environment in which both parties can speak with relative openness about the situation. They can discuss areas in which they agree and in which they do not. At first, there seems to be little ground, but with commitment from both sides, commonalities (especially in terms of interests) do emerge.

The whole idea behind facilitative mediation is that, with work and with an open mind, we can understand the areas in dispute with greater clarity. Thus, coming to compromises and, ultimately, a mutually agreeable outcome, is easier. Parties must be committed to collaboration and communication. With the help of their legal advocate and the mediator, they can better understand both their own and the other party’s interests. In doing so, they may find out their “positions” are not as far apart as they initially believed. 

Evaluative Mediation

In evaluative mediation, the mediator takes a more hands-on approach than is seen in facilitative mediation. They are more likely to intervene, offering objective recommendations and even giving insight into potential outcomes (in mediation and if a case should go to court). They offer the benefit of their experience and expertise in the matter at hand, such as financial disputes. 

One clear difference between evaluative and facilitative mediation is that with the former, the mediator may evaluate the strength of each party’s position and provide feedback in terms of which position is more likely to win out if the case were to go to court. This is often a preferred method for those with more sophisticated legal or factual (e.g. financial) experience/knowledge. 

While a facilitative mediator is intent on guiding parties towards solutions without much hands-on intervention, an evaluative mediator is not afraid to offer their opinion. And they are not hesitant to say, “Look, this is what will likely happen if you go to court. If we resolve it now, we can save time, money, and even salvage the relationship going forward.” 

Because of the increased level of intervention, it is essential that the mediator maintain strict impartiality.

Transformative Mediation 

The goal of transformative mediation is to reach a resolution, of course. But more than that, it is to transform the very nature of the relationship between the parties. It is often used when there is an imbalance in the power dynamics of the parties or in the communication styles. In common with other mediation styles, it is important that parties seek to understand the position, and more accurately, the interests, of the other.

Transformative mediation is typically most pertinent when one party is not as engaged in mediation. It could be that there are inappropriate or unclear boundaries, a power differential, or an informational/experience imbalance that both parties acknowledge to exist. This mediation style can help bridge the gap and allow the process to continue. 

Here, the mediator provides feedback on the communication styles and power dynamics, not just the issues at play. The mediator is not a therapist; rather, their job is to equalize each party’s negotiating power in order to achieve a fair and equitable resolution. 

Transformative mediation is complex, and if the mediator is not careful, they may become partial. Both parties must agree that relationship dynamics are an obstacle to a mutually agreeable outcome and that this style of mediation offers a path forward.

There are also other mediation styles, including narrative and e-mediation (which can encompass other techniques). The point we are striving to make is that there are different methodologies that may help you reach a satisfactory outcome. The key is to choose a mediator that can help guide you towards the right solution for your needs. 

Contact Breakthrough Mediation for more information on various mediation styles – and for support in taking your next steps towards resolution.