The Third Side: Strategies and Tactics of Mediation

Strategies and Tactics of Mediation

A good mediator uses many strategies and tactics to help the parties reach agreement. These include:

  • Ripeness-Promoting Strategies: strategies to convince people that negotiation is preferable to continued confrontation.
  • Convening Processes: The role of convening is to bring disputants to a preliminary meeting where they will discuss the issues of a conflict and consider options for its resolution. Tasks involved include assessing the conflict situation, identifying key stakeholders and participants, introducing options for a resolution process, and considering ground rules.
  • Conflict Assessment: The process of determining what is going on, who is involved, what options for resolution might be possible, what procedural approaches might work.
  • Ground Rules: Safe places in communication also tend to be created and sustained when the ground rules of the encounter are clearly set forth and agreed upon at the first meeting. Rules such as no interrupting, giving every participant equal opportunities to speak, and not pressuring individuals to speak who do not yet feel comfortable doing so are some commonly used rules.
  • Codes of Conduct for Intervenors: Just as ground rules set the codes of conduct for participants, mediators also have codes of conduct. While some are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, others are fairly standard and are specified in various existing documents.
  • Sequencing Strategies and Tactics: Mediators dealing with very large social conflicts have to skillfully manage a very complex and diverse set of challenges. In order to do that, these people must think about the best way to order or sequence the issues involved in their conflict. This essay describes some sequencing models and tactics.
  • Creating Safe Spaces for Communication: Due to misunderstandings, distrust, and prejudice, communication between parties is often difficult. This essay discusses various obstacles to effective communication and explores how to create a supportive climate in which parties feel comfortable discussing their differences.
  • Reframing: Parties enter into mediation with their own interpretation of the problem: what issues are in dispute, why the problem has arisen, and how best to resolve it. One of the first things a mediator does is to get the parties to explain their view of the problem so that each side sees how the other is framing the conflict. The mediator then helps disputants to redefine the way they think about the dispute and work toward a common definition of the problem.
  • Option Identification: Option identification is an essential step in the process of resolving any conflict. Once all parties to the conflict have identified the issues under contention, they should systematically list ALL options that they see available to them for advancing their interests. Often this is the most creative step of the mediation process.
  • Focusing on Commonalities: Working towards a solution often requires that parties both understand their differences and yet focus on their commonalities. This essay outlines some strategies for locating common ground.
  • Caucus: Caucuses are meetings that mediators hold separately with each side of a dispute in order to keep mediation moving forward. They can be called by the mediator or by one of the parties to work out problems that occur during the process. This essay outlines the basic steps of a caucus and their role in effective mediation processes. It also discusses the downsides of caucusing.
  • Shuttle Diplomacy: Rather than allowing for the exchange of views and producing compromise, direct communication between the parties may sometimes make the situation worse. The essence of shuttle diplomacy is the use of a third party to convey information back and forth between the parties in cases where direct communication is likely to be counterproductive.
  • Reality Testing: Sometimes parties believe that they have an alternative or option that is better than what they will get through participating in mediation. Reality testing involves asking questions about each party's options and convincing resistant parties that mediation is their best option.
  • Costing: Cost-benefit analysis is a matter of analyzing the costs and benefits of different options to determine what approach or solution to choose. Costing occurs throughout the mediation process as parties decide whether or not to participate and choose among settlement possibilities.
  • Action-Forcing Mechanisms: These are mechanisms to get parties to move ahead when one or more of the parties is stalling.
  • Establishing Trust in Mediation: One important task for mediators is to build and maintain the parties' trust of the mediation process, the mediators, and between the parties themselves. When trust levels are high, parties are less defensive and more willing to share information with other parties at the mediation table and in private sessions with the mediator.


For More Information

Much of the material on this user guide is drawn from Thanks to William Ury and Joshua Weiss for giving us permission to republish their material here.