Summary of "When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators"

Summary of

When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators

by Deborah M. Kolb

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Deborah M. Kolb. When Talk Works. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994, 513 pp.

When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators provides profiles of twelve successful practicing mediators, and their techniques. The author concludes by contrasting their practices to prevailing theories of mediation.

When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators will be of interest to those who seek insight into the practices of experienced mediators, and those who seek to understand the practical realities of mediation. This work is divided into twelve interview-style profiles, grouped into three parts, and an author's conclusion.

Part One profiles professional, full-time mediators. Francis Butler is a successful divorce mediator, working with the Essex County Mediation Project. Her profile traces the course of a child custody mediation. Patrick Davis is a full-time mediator employed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to mediate special education disputes. Howard Bellman has been a negotiator in numerous public policy cases, most involving environmental conflicts or labor relations. His profile reviews the negotiations over high-level nuclear waste dump licensing procedures. Bill Hobgood mediates grievances between labor and management. Patrick Phear has a private practice in family and divorce mediation.

Part Two profiles mediators who are also well-known for their public activities in support of mediation. Albie M. Davis is director of mediation for the Massachusetts District Courts. She is active in promoting community mediation and community organization. Eric Green is a law professor, and founder of Endispute, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to offering alternatives to litigation in business disputes. Lawrence Susskind is a university professor and professional mediator who specializes in "massively complex public disputes," and who promotes the idea of activist mediation.

Part Three profiles a set of people who, although they do not describe themselves as professional mediators, nevertheless are extending the reach of mediation. Juju Atkinson is a Magistrate in North Carolina. Her approach to the courtroom combines mediation and adjudication. Ex-President Jimmy Carter works, through the Carter Center, to mediate international conflicts. Linda Colburn has adapted traditional mediation skills to nontraditional settings. As project manager of a housing project for the homeless, she has engaged in on-the-spot mediation in volatile and even violent contexts. Joseph Elder is a Quaker, and mediator of international conflicts. His profile discusses Quaker mediation efforts in Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, Kolb, writing with Kenneth Kressel, observes that the theory, or "mythology" of mediation "is frequently at odd with the reality of the work." They describe five major departures. First, mediators are not a homogenous group. Second, settlement is not usually taken as the criterion of success. Thirdly, actual mediators have contrasting perspectives on how best to frame and organize their work. Fourth, actual mediators make extensive use of pressure tactics. And fifthly, the job of mediation is extremely stressful. The authors suggest that new theoretical perspectives are needed to accommodate the practical realities of mediation.

When Talk Works: Profiles of Mediators presents profiles of twelve successful mediators, working in a variety of areas. It offers insight into their practices, attitudes, and approaches to conflict mediation.