(originally published in Dialogic Mediation)

Diane Cohen raises an interesting and important question in an article published last month by the influential website, mediate.com.

In Is Mediation the Right Word? , she argues that many of the different forms of mediation available in the workplace are not really different styles or models but rather completely different services. And, further, many of these service providers are offering hybrid services (mediation adulterated by consultant services in their substantive areas of expertise) without being aware they are doing so.
"Hybrid services are almost by their nature services in which a consultant either offers an opinion on a matter central to the mediation, provides a context for understanding the issues in the mediation (which by its framework thereby offers a “view” or an opinion of the situation), or applies some kind of pressure on the parties to come to a particular resolution. [...]
"Parties who consult the providers of hybrid services, should in general be aware that the balance of power may shift in the room and one party may feel pressured to come to an agreement that is in line with the views of the other party if those coincide with the views of the mediator. This type of “mediation” would then be mid-way between facilitative mediation and arbitration.

"In addition, the providers of hybrid services are often individuals who have not devoted an extensive amount of time or thought to developing mediation skills and may rely on a combination of subject matter knowledge and “pressure” to move the parties toward resolution. This would deny the parties the opportunity to come to a resolution that is truly their own."
Because only people who have attended mediation know how particular mediators work, it would be helpful for the public and the mediation community for the providers of hybrid services to make crystal clear the type of process and service that is being offered.

She goes on to list a number of such hybrid mediation-consultant services with thumb-nail descriptions of each. For example, there is the 'mediator-divorce consultant', the 'mediator-legal expert', the 'mediator-financial expert' and so on.

I heartily concur with Diane Cohen's argument; in my view, there is a significant threat to the self-determination of parties in all of these hybrids. There is of course nothing wrong with that; parties should be free to choose from a wide range of dispute resolution resources. But it should be made clear that there is an alternative to these hybrid services, as there is to rule-based forms of conflict resolution, namely, mediation itself that honours the principle that its the parties to the conflict who decide from beginning to end how to handle their situation.

You can read her entire article by clicking here.

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