the parties. In their important study about what makes mediators successful, in their article “The Secrets of Successful (and
Unsuccessful) Mediators Continued: Studies Two and Three”
(Negotiation Journal, 23 (October 2007), Steven Goldberg and
Margaret Shaw conclude that a mediator’s rapport with the parties, including the expression of empathy, is one of the two most
important mediator attributes. Mediator stories are rich opportunities for mediators to witness such mediator empathy as a
foundation for their conflict resolution work.
The real learning is in the stories of how mediators handle difficult issues and parties. We learn about the process of mediation
and the insights and skills of the mediators by focusing on how
the process and the professionals touch and impact the parties
and their families personally, in a manner rarely covered by even
the best mediation texts.
In considering telling stories in the training room or in written
form, the following are some of the points to cover:
The underlying story: Well prior to a mediation, something
happened that led to a problem, grievance, complaint, or
law suit. Describe who, where, what, when, and how the
situation developed and occurred.
People involved: What are the demographic, emotional,
and relationship nexuses among the participants? What
are their occupations, values, passions hobbies, key people
in their lives and backgrounds not just as players in a law
suit, but as human beings in their lives before the problem
Impact on participants: How did the events or situation
affect the daily lives of the mediation participants. How are
they affected emotionally, physically, financially, and in the
fabric of their key relationships and activities.
Lawyers and other professionals: Describe their backgrounds, how they were brought into the “case,” approach
to their practices, what they did to prepare for the mediation, their strategies and goals for the mediation. What
conversations and interaction did they have prior to and at
the mediation? What were their goals, concerns, and feelings about the mediation process and the people involved,
including the mediator?
Location and setting of the mediation: Describe the
details of the place where it took place, the staff and other
people present, sitting arrangements, food served, noise/
tranquility level, and physical movements from one place to
Mediator: How mediator was brought in, fabric of conversations with parties and professionals before the
mediation, mediator’s concerns and fears, type and
amount of preparation, and feelings of mediator about the
problems presented and the people involved.
Discussions and agreement building: What were the initial
statements of mediator, parties and professionals? What
concerns were expressed, how, and by whom? Describe
the history of proposals, how they were developed and
communicated, how they were received, and how they
morphed and were modified over time.
Use of ceremony: Describe how agreement or last progress was reached. How was it memorialized? What were
efforts for closure of the conflict, prevention and management of future conflict, and ways to maximize healing?
Lessons from the story: What were the lessons learned
by the mediator, lawyer and professionals, and the parties
and their families? What are the lessons the mediators in
training have gleaned from the story for their own work at
the table, their careers, and their personal lives?
Galton and Love’s collection of stories stands on its own with
non-structured follow-up sections entitled “Second Thoughts.”
Future mediator story-writing by professional mediators and
students might be governed by a more extensive structure of
criteria to which the author might address their comments. This
would provide a protocol for reporting and reviewing case studies that could be compared and contrasted.
More peacemakers can write up their own stories and also
produce dramatic recreations for use in mediation training. ACR,
the International Academy of Mediators, and other mediator
organizations should encourage this practice using the Stories
Mediators Tell format.
In addition to mediator stories being written from the perspective of the mediator, students of mediation would also benefit
from stories from the perspectives of other mediation participants, including lawyers, family members, experts, and others.
In many ways, by expanding the stories to several reporters, we
can be treated to a Rashomon effect of differing viewpoints of
the same events.
If integrating written stories becomes institutionalized into
mediation training, the production of teacher manuals for use
of the stories will not come far behind. Injecting the pedagogical
approach of an independent conflict education editor will provide teachers on every level with the lessons, teaching points,
discussion topics, and exercises to supplement the insight of
the mediator authors. Using the technology of the web as pioneered by Guy and Heidi Burgess in the educational website
www.BeyondIntractability.org, teachers can build on the thinking and presentations of others to access stories presented in a
variety of media covering the spectrum of mediation substance
The use of story-telling by mediation parties has become
an accepted part of the mediator toolbox. By adding the stories of mediators and other professionals as an integral part of
mediation teaching, we can look forward to a brave new world in
mediator training. Eric Galton and Lela Love will deserve much of
the credit for launching the increased use and analysis of mediator stories in ways that cannot be fully predicted.