June 03, 2015
Transformative Mediation: Clients’ Highest Aspirations
I recently received an email from a European-based association which trains legal professionals from around the world. They are currently offering a class in Brussels titled Transformative Mediation and described the training, as follows:
“Transformative Mediation is based on the values of empowerment of each of the parties and recognition of each of the parties’ needs, interests, values and points of view. The potential for transformative mediation is that any or all parties or their relationships may be transformed during the mediation.” Further, they explained that they would differentiate the skills which make up the practice of transformative mediation in contrast to the skills of a facilitative mediator.
I am intrigued at the juxtopositioning of these two labels, transformative and facilitative, in opposition to each other, as I have worn the label of facilitative mediator for over a decade now and can’t imagine practicing without the techniques described above as being transformative rather than facilitative . Of course a lexicon is only as good as a community can implement it, so this may be a tomato, to-mah-to moment, but I thought it was worth writing about because it highlights the breadth of experience open to mediation clients.
Some clients finish mediation with a well-deserved sense of satisfaction for avoiding the high cost of adversarial attorneys while still having a sophisticated understanding of their legal situation, options, and resulting agreements. And these clients are happy with their results because they met their goals. Yet other clients, who are working with a future spouse or future ex-spouse who shares the same aspirations, set the bar for their mediation experience very high. This second type of client tells me when we talk about their Values and Goals in our initial session that they want to transform the negative behavioral patterns and ways of seeing each other and their situation into a new dynamic based on mutual respect and good communication skills. And these clients, as all clients do, then work hard to fulfill those goals. But it’s also common for clients to start with one view of what they want out of the mediation process only to have it dramatically change as they start engaging in the deep conversations necessary to either plan or dissolve a marriage. Clients may state at the outset that they just want some help doing their legal paperwork but as their journey unfolds over the process they are brought to a result which at the end leaves them deeply emotional with gratitude for the opportunity to express their best selves during their mediation process and for their spouse doing the same with them.
So mediation is a process that ideally grows around the evolving needs to the clients and takes them to the highest-capacity goals they are able to envision and hence achieve for themselves, their spouse, and anyone else connected to their relationship. While it’s true that not all clients have the need for transformative goals during their family law mediation process, when a mediator has facilitative skills he or she will likely have developed tools to empower clients to change communication habits and views they may want to leave behind if that is their goal.