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Mediation “Theology”

Susan M. Yates, May 8th, 2014

A mediation colleague in Chicago, Bob Berliner, recently used the term “theology” to describe the various schools of thought regarding mediation, such as evaluative, facilitative and transformative. He was using the term somewhat tongue-in-cheek and as shorthand for the idea of belief systems that individual mediators hold, as well as the debates among those mediators.

It got me thinking. Is there some similarity between how we develop our religious beliefs and how we develop our mediation styles? I’m not suggesting that our religious beliefs are linked to our mediation styles, but rather that similar forces are at work in developing these two sets of belief systems.

The thing that really struck me about this way of looking at our beliefs in our mediator styles is that none of them is based on proof any more than religious beliefs are based on proof. Indeed, we don’t even agree on what those standards would be for proving that one approach to mediation is better than another. In the world’s religions, no single approach is likely to dominate the entire globe, and in mediation, no single style is likely to dominate all of mediation. Depending on your theology in both areas, that might be good news or bad news.

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8 Responses to “Mediation “Theology””

  1. Rebecca Price says:

    That’s really interesting. Just two days ago when speaking about my court’s mediation program to another mediation group (that adheres to a specific style of facilitative practive) I referred to the court’s program as nondenominational.

  2. Sounds like this metaphor is working for a lot of us in the field!

  3. Kent Lawrence says:

    I would hope, unlike God and what He [She for those so inclined} “wants,” one could clarify what objective(s) one has for mediation (or a specific mediation) and then devise some “scientific” [is Mike Nathanson out there?] way of evaluatiing whether one “style” verses another “works” better. I do agree too many in the field suffer from “religiousity” as to what may be deemed “legitimately” to be mediation.

  4. Susan,
    Very interesting observation. My sense is that the whole system is better because of these differences of opinion that create complementary pathways. I think you would appreciate the interesting work being done on this topic by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He studies how we evolved to be moral beings. Check out his fascinating TED talk entitled “The moral roots of liberals and conservatives.” You can find it at One important takeaway: we may radically disagree, but we can’t thrive without the influence of the opposing perspective.

    Laura M. Grisolano
    Attorney Mediator

  5. Kevin Malone says:

    Great post! I recall an exercise I from a book(I don’t recall the name of the book, perhaps it was “the making of a mediator”?) where we created a “constellation of theories”. On an x-y grid we plotted the overlapping theories, assumptions, and world-views that informed our practice as mediators. It was very informative and gave great insight into both mediation and my own general interactions with the world. Through mediation I have been able to get a sense of what my “theology” might be. There is clear link between worldview, theology, and mediation that is worth exploring.

    Some theories and worldviews sat closer to the center, my core “self”, and others had a much more limited impact on my practice as a mediator. I wonder, what sorts of theories and worldviews impact others out there?

  6. The diversity of approaches to mediation reflects not just different viewpoints of mediators, but even more the different needs and desires of those who are using mediation. Mediation of a family dispute, for instance, should entail a different approach than for an interesction collision or a busted M&A deal, even if the human behaviors dvidenced are similar.

    There is something slightly narcissistic about the debates over techniques and approaches when they get dogmatic. It overlooks the importance of focusing not on the values and preferences of the mediator but on the needs of the parties.

    The attachment to a single approach as being the only “true mediation” brings to mind Bobby Kennedy’s observation about “extremists,” that “the problem is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant.”

  7. Jill Tanz says:

    I agree that mediators should use the approach that fits the dispute rather than get tied to a particular style. I prefer to think of the different styles as “tools” rather than as “religions.” I think mediators who view these styles as a religion are limiting the size of their toolbox.

    We can learn a lot from each other in how to be most effective in different situations as well as looking at what other disciplines can teach us. My explorations in neuroscience have taught me that as humans, we all have the same physiologic response to stress and conflict, but our behavior is shaped by our personalities, culture and the specific details of the conflict.

  8. Mort Denlow says:

    I often refer to my work in mediation as “Tikun Olam”, the Hebrew for repairing the world, which is an important Jewish concept. We can repair it in many different ways and styles.

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