Mediator Styles

For many years, the popularity and success of mediation has become increasingly prominent, due largely in part to its relatively speedy results and client satisfaction.  Consequently, many different types of professionals have entered the mediation market, accentuating the fact that mediator styles can differ significantly depending upon the mediator's training and background.  The three most common types include: facilitative, transformative and evaluative.


In an oft-quoted article regarding mediator styles by Leonard Riskin, a renowned dispute resolution expert, Riskin describes the facilitative mediator as one who assumes that the parties have the best understanding of the dispute.  For this reason, facilitative mediators generally do not give advice or recommendations.  Many even refrain from sharing their opinions and only ask questions to assist in seeking resolution.  The goals of a facilitative mediator are ultimately satisfied when the mediator has created a controlled environment that fosters direct and open communication between the parties.


Although the term "transformative" has been used for many years to describe one type of mediation, it became particularly popular in 1994 with the publication of "The Promise of Mediation" by Jossey-Bass.  As with facilitative mediation, the transformative approach aims to have the parties resolve the dispute with little input from the mediator.  This style, however, is strongly premised on "recognition," or the philosophy that if both sides can come to understand each other's position, the parties will experience a positive transformation in perspective regarding each other's motivation and interests.

In addition to the recognition aspect of transformative mediation, this style emphasizes the "empowerment" of the parties.  Specifically, transformative mediators aim to allow the parties ("empower" them) to frame the issues themselves and work to resolve them to the best of their ability.  Thus, if the mediator believes that certain issues should be addressed, he will generally refrain from suggesting a discussion of such issues.  Such mediators, however, often advise the parties regarding communication techniques with the intention of improving the likelihood of reaching a resolution.


Evaluative mediation is a common style among attorneys and former judges.  This style tends to adopt, to some extent, techniques used by judges in settlement conferences.  Evaluative mediators typically aim to individually assist the parties (usually through caucuses, i.e., confidential conferences), to recognize and consider the strengths and weaknesses of each case.  When compared to transformative or facilitative mediators, evaluative mediators generally maintain much more control over the process and even the substance of discussion.  This is often evidenced when the mediator engages in frequent caucuses, in effect maintaining a constant physical separation between the parties, a practice known as "shuttle diplomacy."  The evaluative approach is particularly helpful when one or both parties have difficulty keeping the discussion focused on the pertinent issues.

Individual Styles Differ

Although distinctions of the three main types of mediation styles are easily defined, in actual practice, many mediators often shift styles during mediations depending on the needs of the parties or complexity of the dispute.  For instance, if a mediator has a reputation for being evaluative when mediating a certain type of dispute (perhaps in an area of law in which he previously specialized) he may implement more facilitative techniques when faced with issues unfamiliar to him.  In addition, some areas of law tend to lend themselves to specific styles of mediation, such as transformative mediation with victim-offender disputes.