I trained as a civil mediator in Florida and as part of my training I was required to observe some mediations. In Florida most mediators are retired judges or attorneys who mostly use an evaluative style of mediation utilising what is termed “the caucus model.” The sessions follow a standard pattern. The mediation begins with a joint session and then the parties move into separate rooms. The mediator shuttles back and forth between the two rooms trying to settle the dispute and unlike in the UK will quite often offer an opinion on the merits of each party’s case and their prospects of success if the case goes to trial.
It was only later that I realised this was not the only way to mediate. There are other mediation styles including transformative and facilitative.
Evaluative mediation is at one end of the spectrum with transformative mediation at the other. Transformative mediation does not involve any kind of evaluation of the merits of a case. Instead transformative mediators support the parties in their conversations and prefer to keep the parties together in joint sessions. Facilitative mediators who may use elements of both the evaluative and transformative approaches will invariably float ideas and explore options in an attempt to help parties resolve their dispute.
Many transformative mediators consider theirs is the only way to mediate and are dismissive of the evaluative approach. Many evaluative mediators consider the transformative style to be “wishy-washy idealism” and that it does not assist settlement of disputes.
I consider that each style of mediation has its merits and a place in the broad church of mediation. Surely mediators need to be flexible, adopting different styles and using different techniques depending on the nature of the dispute and the needs of the parties?
In my view all of these mediation styles are valid and have their place in the field of mediation. In practice what we should do is not get too hung up on labels and adopt a flexible approach and ask the parties in individual mediations how they feel. After all, it is not about us mediators – it’s about the parties to individual disputes and how best to help them resolve their difficulties. What we should not do is adopt a “one fits all approach”.