We believe that the best way for mediators to support parties in resolving their dispute is for the parties to work together and make decisions together. We appreciate that for many professionals, this is one of the most striking and questionable aspects of our approach. Most mediators regularly meet separately with the different parties (“caucusing”). Our goal is to work together with the parties directly and simultaneously. We will address at length in this book why we work in this way and how we do so. Here we highlight a few of the bases on which this core principle rests. We work in this way because it creates better solutions for the parties. We do it also because we believe it best honors the parties while also contributing to what we view as a critical need in society for developing better ways for people to go through conflict.
We do not believe that our approach to mediation with its emphasis on the parties working together, or any particular approach to mediation, is the answer to all conflicts. We do think that for those people who are motivated and capable of working together, there are many benefits.
It is clear that the mediator working together with all the parties is quite different from someone from the outside making decisions for them, whether that someone is a judge, lawyer, or mediator. But we don’t believe that a laissez-faire approach that might countenance one party yielding their decision-making authority to go along with the other makes sense either. As will be clear in the cases we explore in detail in this book, we work hard to make sure that when the parties work together and make decisions together, they are each able to act responsibly and are sufficiently informed to exercise independent judgment. While we seek to honor the parties’ relationship by working with them together, we do not wish them to yield their autonomy.
Indeed, underlying our entire approach to mediation is a view about individual autonomy and relationships. In the mediation world, we find ourselves in a position between those who see the goal of mediation as only supporting the parties as separate beings who need to stand their own ground and those who believe mediation is really only about the relationship between the parties. We believe that a positive tension exists in recognizing the importance of both the individuality of the parties and their relationship. Both are essential and we need not be forced to choose between the two.
Ultimately, we are both separate and interconnected. Autonomy finds its fullest expression in the context of connection and connection finds more power and richness to the extent it embraces autonomy. The stories in this book illuminate how this approach can make a difference in people’s lives.