I attended a full-day mediation training earlier this month with family mediator Chip Rose. Chip has 35 years experience as a mediator and nearly that much as a trainer. Chip came in from Santa Cruz, California, to speak to a group of about 40 North Carolina mediators in Greensboro.
Chip is noted, in part, for his “preparatory” approach to mediation, in which he works “(t)o create a safe environment in which each party can get his/her needs met without interference from the other;
To assist the parties to gather all necessary information and to analyze that information for choices and options;
To explore all options to determine the consequences of each of the potential choices; and
To assist the parties in developing settlement proposals and negotiating their perspectives to an agreement.” (from chiprosemediation.com.)
The part of Chip’s approach that I find particularly valuable in elder mediation is his focused interview process in which he meets with all participants – individually or collectively, as appropriate – to learn about their goals and, especially, to help them understand the mediation process so they are prepared to control that process of discussion, its cost, and any agreements they reach.
Participant control is an essential element of the mediation process – perhaps its most valuable element but, also, perhaps, its least understood. The better-known legal model of dealing with disagreement involves allowing others – attorneys, judges, juries – to determine alternatives and outcomes. The goals, direction, and outcome of mediation all rest in the hands of the participants and not with any third parties, so participant understanding of the differences between the legal process and the mediation process is essential to its effectiveness.
The intake and interview processes that we use at Elder Matters echo many of the techniques that Chip has developed and teaches. They are designed to help discover the concerns of everyone involved, and to help focus everyone on those concerns rather than familial or personality differences. They are also designed to help everyone understand that the direction, discussion and decision in mediation rests with the participants and not with anyone else.
Mediation works best when participants come prepared to work together to make their own decisions about the outcomes. This can seem a daunting task, especially when people are frequently conditioned to allow an attorney or a judge to determine what happens. But, with preparation and guidance, participants in mediation can reach decisions that are more personal, and more satisfying and lasting, than those made through the court system.