Mediation vs. Collaboration? (Part 2)

Just a couple weeks after the Academy of Professional Family Mediators annual conference in Denver (see previous blog), I attended the Collaborative Practice “IACP Forum” in San Antonio, Texas. This was also a high-energy conference with many excellent workshops and large sessions. I co-presented on our New Ways for Families method with Cathy Regier from Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada. It was great to be able to talk about the methods of New Ways, which lawyers, counselors and financial professionals can use with clients – especially reinforcing the clients’ skills of managing their emotions (giving themselves encouraging statements), flexible thinking (making and responding to proposals), moderate behaviors (BIFF Response emails, etc.) and checking themselves (rather than exclusively focusing on the other person’s behavior).

It was also great to hear Cathy presenting the way that the program got organized, got funded (a $500,000 grant) and is being researched in Alberta. There is also a second funded program in Calgary (also with their own $500,000 grant). With two years of preliminary results, we are seeing these skills really help parents reach their own agreements (with collaborative divorce teams, in mediation, and with other ADR methods) and help their children sleep better and do better in school. We explained how this method can be used in collaborative cases, especially because all professionals can reinforce the skills that the parties learn.

I also attended a session titled: “Where are the Mediators?” About 30 people attended the session and the focus was on how much collaborative has learned from mediation and that it helps in many cases to have mediators brought into the case – either when things get stuck or from the start. The common theme was that mediators can stay focused completely on the process; while the lawyers and coaches and financial professionals often need to play a stronger role about the details of the case.

The session leader was a lawyer from Texas with lots of  years of experience with both mediation and collaborative cases. Two-thirds of the room raised their hands when asked if they also do mediation. The consensus of this 90-minute session was that collaborative professionals need to be flexible and do what it takes to help the parties, rather than trying to develop a standard process (with or without mediators) for all cases.

My comments focused on high conflict cases and that high conflict people (HCPs) often feel betrayed when their “advocates” negotiate too collaboratively. Therefore, a mediator can really help bridge this dynamic. I also mentioned that many of my mediation cases these days look “collaborative” because I encourage the parties to bring their lawyers, financial advisers, etc. when they get stuck – especially in high conflict cases. Several others present said they are doing the same thing in some of their mediations.

My point in discussing both conferences in one week is to emphasize that mediation and collaborative practice are not competitors or even mutually exclusive. It is exciting to me to see how many divorce professionals nowadays are committed to helping families stay out of court – many of whom no longer go to court at all and exclusively do mediation and collaborative divorce. (Of course, there may always be some cases that need court intervention – but fewer that people used to think.)

I’m looking forward to next year’s conferences for both the Academy of Professional Family Mediators and the International Academy of Collaborative Practitioners. There’s still plenty of work to do for both!

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Bill Eddy is an attorney, mediator and therapist, and the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers and trainers to professionals for managing personality disorders and “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. High Conflict Institute also provides resources for anyone dealing with a high-conflict person, including books, Video Training On Demand and dozens of free articles. For more information: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.