Inviting Fortuitous Events in Mediation: The Role of Empowerment and Recognition
by Sally Ganong Pope
Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Inviting Fortuitous Events in Mediation: The Role of Empowerment and Recognition,"Mediation Quarterly 13:4 (Summer 1996) pp.287-94.
Pope has come to realize that the sorts of "fortuitous events" that she seeks in her own mediation practice are just what Folger and Bush have described as transformative events. This insight has led her to redescribe the "fortuitous events" from her earlier cases in terms of empowerment and recognition. She has also revised a number of her mediation practices, so as to better facilitate empowerment.
Recognition and Empowerment
Quoting Folger and Bush, Pope describes recognition as occurring "when [the parties] voluntarily choose to become more open, attentive, sympathetic, and responsive to the situation of the other party, thereby expanding their perspective to include an appreciation for another's situation." [p. 288] Parties are empowered when they have achieved a better understanding of their own needs, values and interests, and strengthened their capacity for self-determination.
Pope draws on her experiences as a mediator to illustrate the interplay between empowerment and recognition. In her practice, she has seen that empowerment often paves the way for recognition, and that improved recognition is often the motive force behind breakthroughs and other "fortuitous events" in mediation. As an example of this interplay, Pope describes a divorce mediation in which, "the mother did not address the father's situation and respond with recognition until near the end of mediation, when she had achieved some separation from the father and, through this process, had reached a point of empowerment." [p. 289] Secure in her own sense of self-worth and autonomy, the mother could then offer sympathy for her husband's situation. With the husband reassured that his wife understood the difficulty of his situation, the final stages of the mediation then followed in a much more relaxed atmosphere.
In light of Folger and Bush's account of transformative mediation, Pope has made a number of changes in her own practice. This essay describes four such changes. First, rather than open mediation with a statement, she opens with a question to the parties. Rather than tell the parties what they can expect from mediation, she now asks them what they hope to achieve by mediation. This creates an opportunity for empowerment and recognition, as the parties begin to express their goals and concerns. Similarly, rather than presenting the parties with communication guidelines, Pope now asks the parties to suggest their own guidelines.
Pope has also changed the way she responds to ambivalence. Mediators usually respond to the parties' ambivalence by offering reassurance and by stressing the importance of the parties' commitment to the mediation process. Instead, Pope see expressions of ambivalence as presenting opportunities to explore and clarify the parties' conflicting desires.
In general, Pope recommends that mediation guidelines be tested against the principle of empowerment. For instance, "focus on the future" has been widely accepted as a basic principle of mediation. However, the transformative mediator must be willing to allow discussion of the past when such discussion will help the parties to better understand the present situation.
Teaching Transformative Mediation
Pope has found that the kinds of transformative practices which are effective in mediation are also effective tools for training mediators. For example, when training mediators Pope solicits rather than dictates guidelines for role-play feedback and classroom communication. This allows her students to actually experience the process of being empowered for themselves, and so to better understand one of the goals of transformative mediation.