Monday, April 6, 2009

Could - - Not Should

I was in a mediation recently that provided a clear example of the difference between a mediator giving an opinion of case value versus a mediator offering an opinion about where the case could settle. I believe this is an important distinction of both form and substance.

Here's what happened. I was in private caucus with defendant and was asked by one of the participants “Where do you think the case should settle?" This question came after several hours of discussion and several offers and counter offers. I responded back to the questioner that I could answer the question if I could change their word "should" to “could.” Using “could” allows me to offer thoughts about a settlement range based on the offers and counter offers and both general and private discussions with the parties. In part, this question had been asked because the numbers had started quite far apart and the questioner was trying to discern whether there was value in continuing the discussion. I believe these are important instances where the mediator can enhance the negotiation by providing insight without stepping outside the neutral role of mediator.

Usually I do this in the form of a review of where the numbers started, a discussion of what the numbers themselves suggest and then I usually offer a range and probabilities concerning the likelihood of settlement at any particular number within that range. I also couch the range and the specific probability of specific numbers as estimates and even sometimes as speculation. Since I do not ask people where they are headed (I want them to stay flexible) I often don't know the answer. At the same time, I’ve discovered that by paying close attention I usually end up with a pretty good idea of the settlement range. I offer these thoughts to encourage continued discussion while on the face of it, the numbers may suggest otherwise.

This approach is in contrast to the mediator deciding or valuing the case and telling participants what they (the mediator) believes is the value of the claim. While mediators may indeed have great experience and may be able to offer opinions about value, I believe any time the mediator offers a value opinion, the mediator has shifted from a place of neutrality to a place of taking sides. And once you take a side as mediator, you lose the ability to be neutral and you lose the ability to effectively do your job. So, mediators, don't offer value opinions. Offer “where the case could settle” opinions!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post and thanks for sharing...
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