“Let the parties own their conflict” means it is important to remember and honor that it is the parties’ conflict. They hold the key to reaching a resolution that best serves them both. And they have the power and responsibility, if they are willing, to work together toward that resolution. For us, that does not mean simply that the parties must ultimately agree to any final settlement of their dispute. Party responsibility means the parties understand what is substantively at stake for both and craft a resolution best for all. It also means the parties actively participate in shaping the mediation process by making ongoing choices, along with the mediator, as to the course it will take.
Thus, the parties exercise responsibility not only in determining the substantive result—the what of the problem, but they also participate actively in deciding the how—the way the mediation proceeds. For us, the what and the how are inextricably related; and the parties’ active involvement in shaping the how is more likely to lead to their creating a better result on the what. This does not mean that the mediator plays a passive role, yielding to the parties in determining the course of the mediation. Rather, as you will see throughout this book, we view the mediator’s role as both active and interactive with the parties. This stands in contrast to the assumption within the traditional approach to conflict that it is the professional who needs to assume active responsibility for the resolution of the controversy. Within this traditional framework, clients (or parties) are seen to properly yield a great deal of control and responsibility to the authority whether in the person of their lawyers, a judge, or even a mediator. In our approach, the parties are responsible and active, as will be evident in the cases that unfold in this book. The mediator, too, is responsible. The mediator’s responsibility is directed to supporting the parties in their ability to make choices together based on their growing understanding. Understanding ensures that those choices will be informed.