As I’ve mentioned before, I teach a course “Mediation Theory & Practice” in the UNC Greensboro Masters program in Conflict Resolution, and during a recent mediation role play, I was reminded about our job as “negotiation coaches.” In the mediation, a proposal was framed as either a sum of money or an apology, but not both. The claimant had expressed strong interest in an apology. At this point, the claimant and counsel became focused on the form of the offer, the “either/or” aspect and the mediation slowed. The mediator was able to help move things forward; however, in our debrief, participants noted the challenge around the form of the proposal.
This is where we can play an important role as negotiation coach. We can and should help all participants work through proposals and remind folks that they don’t have to respond exactly in kind to any proposal. While the goal is certainly to get people talking “apples to apples” I believe it’s okay if it doesn’t start out that way. And we can help remind people that they can form their own proposals and don’t just have to respond or react to what has been presented. When people want to make a “different” form of proposal or offer I also encourage them to respond to the initial proposal. I ask them to do both as alternative proposals. My sense is that the more choices people develop, the greater the opportunity becomes to find a settlement range.
So, be the coach at mediation and you might even get a long term contract!