How can Pre-Mediation Coaching help you?
Whether you are a lawyer, counselor, manager or other professional, you are likely to be involved in mediation regularly or occasionally. Legal professionals are required to have their clients participate in mediation before going to court in many kinds of disputes these days. Yet mediation isn’t perfect and some disputes unfortunately remain unresolved, despite the mediator’s and others’ best efforts. Studies show that 60-80% of disputes are resolved in mediation, depending on the type of dispute, so it still has a great track record and is the preferred approach in most situations – but perhaps we can do even better. In an effort to make mediation more effective – especially in high conflict cases – some mediators offer pre-mediation coaching services, or have other professionals provide this service. We suggest that pre-mediation coaching can be particularly effective if it includes teaching and practicing specific skills, especially for clients dealing with a high-conflict dispute.
Our New Ways for Families™ Pre-Mediation Coaching model allows a professional to engage in structured, skill based coaching activities to prepare clients for mediation. This model is designed for lawyers, counselors and mediators to use in coaching mediation clients – before settlement negotiations begin. This coaching can occur in one or two sessions, prior to mediation, including use of the writing exercises contained in the Pre-Mediation Coaching Workbook for clients.
Why do pre-mediation coaching?
There are several purposes for this pre-mediation coaching:
- To help your client learn and practice skills for staying calm and contributing constructively to the problem-solving process of mediation.
- To give you a structure for discussing the mediation process, so your client knows what to realistically expect from the mediation process.
- To see if mediation is really appropriate for your client or if any precautions need to be arranged, in terms of any power imbalances (abuse issues, mental health problems, lack of financial knowledge, etc.)
- To help your client prepare for mediation by formulating some specific proposals for issues that are likely to be raised during the mediation.
When to Provide Coaching
Depending on the nature and history of the dispute, it can be very helpful to have a coaching session with each client several days before the mediation begins. This way, each participant can realistically think about the mediation process and can start thinking about making proposals and calming himself or herself down. Yet you don’t want to do this too long before the mediation, or it may add to the person’s anxiety. It’s also possible for a mediator to do this at the beginning of the first mediation session, either separately or with both parties together.
If you are dealing with a very high-conflict dispute, however, it is highly recommended that the parties have practice in using these 4 skills several days before the mediation. You might even consider having more than one pre-mediation coaching session for each client.
Who Should Provide the Coaching?
The mediator? In ordinary disputes, the mediator can probably do this coaching – usually in one session with each party before the mediation a week or two before the mediation.
A lawyer? If you are a lawyer with a client who has been referred to mediation, you may be in the ideal position to coach your client on using these skills in mediation. You already have a relationship and you know the basic facts of your client’s case. These skills will also help you in your own work with your client, especially in managing your client’s stress and potentially resolving the entire case out of court. You could teach the basic principles of Pre-Mediation Coaching on one session, then follow up with a second session that focuses on specific proposals for your client’s case.
A mental health professional? Depending on the nature of the dispute and the level of expected conflict – and how long it has been going – it may be wise to have a mental health professional provide the pre-mediation coaching. Such a professional may be able to use counseling skills in calming the client, helping the client see other points of view, and dealing with any related mental health issues. You could do one or two pre-mediation sessions with the client, focusing on being prepared emotionally for the mediation, as well as being specific about some proposals your client could prepare.
In potentially high-conflict cases: By having someone other than the mediator provide the coaching, it reduces any manipulation by a possible “high conflict” person (one who chronically gets into conflicts, remains in conflicts for a long time and makes them worse) to hook the mediator into their upset emotions and extreme point of view. High conflict people (HCPs) usually put a lot of energy into persuading others – even neutral mediators – to take their side and to become responsible for resolving their problems. They usually forget that the mediator is supposed to stay neutral.
New Ways Pre-Mediation Coaching is easy for any professional to start using -- tomorrow! We have in-person and online training, as well as an Instructor’s Manual, to guide the professional in using this coaching approach with clients. Upon completing the training, each professional has the option of joining our New Ways for Families Network of Professionals by executing a licensing agreement. The license provides for a listing on our website, ongoing consultation and access to materials in print (bulk rates available for 10 or more) as well as a pdf version of materials at a discounted rate.
Bill Eddy has been a family mediator since 1979. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also an attorney, therapist and the President of the High Conflict Institute and the developer of the New Ways for Mediation method for potentially high-conflict disputes. A 4-hour training video in this method is available online or by DVD, as well as several books and videos by Bill Eddy. Go to: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.