Mediators are often faced with the temptation of suggesting solutions using ‘would-you-not-try…’ questions. This is one of the frequent traps that rookie and seasoned mediators fall into. It is also referred to as the ‘I-Can-Fix-It’ feeling. This is understandable because as humans we usually have that tingling sensation of possessing the perfect solution to another person’s problem and a compelling impulse to impose it on them. Could it be an innate desire to recognized as wise? I don’t know! Or, perhaps, as Michael Bungay Stanier in his book ‘The Coaching Habit’ suggests, could it be that we have “somewhat lost control of the conversation.” We need to be seen as “adding value” [with the added bonus] “of staying in control of the situation.” After all, it seems, “You’ve spent years delivering advice and getting promoted and praised for it.”
All that notwithstanding, I stand firmly with the side that says that mediators should resist as best they can, and should not be controlled and overtaken by the ‘I-Can-Fix-It’ feeling during mediation sessions.
Mediator Autonomy (reflected in the offering of solutions) Undermines the Confidence and Ability of Parties to Take Responsibility for Their Problems:
What we fail to realize many times is that presenting solutions to parties, as a mediator, undermines their ability to have a sense of choice and autonomy over what they do. It blows out some of the fire that will spark up their own motivation and inhibits them from seeking out the necessary solutions to their conflict for themselves. This is often why such mediator-suggested solutions often fail ultimately because, really, it is the mediator’s agreement, not the parties’. Being too quick to propose (from the party’s view, read ‘impose’), brings back memories of the almighty judge on his/her pedestal in the court of law. Remember, the absence of this altar, is part of the attraction to mediation, in the first place. So, it may create a barrier between the mediator and the parties. Again, this can make them resist proposed solutions. Therefore, even if the mediator’s solution is really the ‘most appropriate’ one, he or she might have put people off it by being the one to present it.
As mediators, we should always be mindful that parties are at mediation because they have run out of their own resources to sort out their conflict. However, what we need to do is redirect them to their inner ability to effectively handle the situation. To do otherwise, is to reinforce their helplessness. You are also robbing them of that non-judgmental and safe space to sort out their issues by themselves. Worse still, since such mediator-proposed solution will most likely favour one party over the other, it will leave the less-favoured party feeling you are against him or her. Result? Trust and confidence are diminished if not totally lost, leading to a failed mediation session.
The mediator can support the parties to resolve their conflict in many ways and presenting the answers to them IS NOT one of the ways. So, facilitate, even evaluate if you will, but DO NOT give people solutions. For, when you act on the ‘I-Can-Fix-It’ feeling, the only person’s needs getting met in that moment are yours.