Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ground Rules, Guidelines or Nothing At All ?

This Fall I am again teaching a Mediation Theory and Practice course in the UNC Greensboro Conflict Studies and Dispute Resolution Program.  When we consider the mediator opening, i.e., how the mediator begins the session, we have some lively discussion around whether you as mediator want ground rules or guidelines for how participants will interact.  Do you offer something in the form of a rule like - one person speaks at a time, no interruptions, etc.  Or do you offer a more generalized guideline like - let's have a civil and respectful discussion.  Or do you not say anything about how you will interact?

Each option has merit and as I've taught my students, there is generally no "right" or "wrong" instead it's about how you want to structure and guide the session.  Do you want to start with a more controlled interaction or do you want to leave things more open?  This topic came up at a recent mediation education program and one speaker noted that they did not offer any ground rules or guidelines at mediation.  Rather, this mediator started from the premise that participants could communicate appropriately and would only step in if it seemed needed.  This was mediation in litigated cases with attorneys and claims professionals present.  Would this work in mediation with strong conflicting emotions present?  I'm not sure of the answer; rather I'll ask you the question?  What sort of ground rules or guidelines do you use in mediation and why?