Mediation As Manipulation

There’s a whole different conversation than this one to be had about the care we mediators need to take to avoid any manipulation by ourselves of the process in an attempt to try to achieve an outcome. It could be very easy in a situation where clients trust you to push them towards a solution albeit unconsciously. It’s why the mediator’s main aim has to be the maintenance of total neutrality to include as to whether there is or isn’t an outcome. That can be far harder than it sounds given we all like to derive satisfaction from any task we perform.

I’m talking here about the manipulation that happens between couples. It’s hard to spot usually when meeting individuals at the initial meetings though there are sometimes clues. It’s something that generally only becomes apparent when you have the two of them in the room. Even then it can be difficult to spot when the triggers are rooted in behaviours which are part of a relationship pattern developed over the years and to which the mediator isn’t privy.

It takes many forms from the overtly pressurising (the easiest to detect and address) to the mildest of passive aggressive behaviour. I guess in any event that there is a degree of manipulation of some sort involved in any interaction we have with other human beings, even to the extent of smiling in the hope of eliciting a smile back. On one level it’s an inevitable part of any negotiation if you unpick it. If I listen to what the other wants and factor that in whilst ensuring that I achieve what works for me, isn’t that being manipulative to a degree?

I guess what we usually have in mind when we use the word is the use of a tactic to skew things in a way that is unfair to another person. A mediator has to be alert to whatever is being done which may produce an adverse result whether in a practical sense or on an emotional level. Right up there as one of the worst behaviours is the use of the process itself. Some clients enter mediationĀ in the hope that they will achieve a better outcome by pressurising the other or by getting away with a lower level of disclosure than they would otherwise. That’s easy for a mediator to address. At the end of the day, if I’m doing a financial mediation, it stops pretty quickly unless the disclosure lands in my office.

The thing to be alert for always though is the client who plays along, seems to be committed but actually just wants to spin it all out as a delaying tactic thereby frustrating the other’s desire for resolution. All that mediators can do there, aside from keeping control over the timeline, is to ensure right from the start at the individual meetings that they make clear that mediation is a process with a beginning, a middle and most definitely an end. That means the mediator being prepared to call a halt sooner rather than later if need be. Mediation is not a process of ever diminishing circles.


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