The New York Times featured transformative mediation in an article a few days ago. While it’s great that transformative mediation is getting some attention, it’s too bad the article perpetuates some misconceptions about it. The letter I submitted to the editor is below. You can see the Times article itself here. And you can see a longer version of my response here.
To the Editor:
Congratulations on Paul Sullivan’s August 18th, 2017 article “Squabbles over the Family Summer Home”. The success of the US Postal Service REDRESS program has been otherwise under-reported. And Bush and Folger’s enormous contribution to both the theory and practice of mediation is also worthy of this sort of attention. As Sullivan suggests, transformative mediation is a powerful way to resolve all types of disputes at their core. But due to some of its nuances, transformative mediation has been overlooked by many who could benefit from it; and it’s been incorrectly practiced by many mediators who haven’t fully embraced it.
Sullivan’s article and several of his sources made some of the same mistakes that have led many to underestimate the effectiveness and overestimate the cost of transformative mediation. Sullivan describes transformative mediation as an “ambitious but sometimes lengthy process”. Given that 90% of parties on both sides of the Postal Service’s transformative mediations were satisfied with the process and that no further process was required in almost 80% of the cases, “effective’ would be a more appropriate word than “ambitious.” And given that the postal service mediations take an average of around 2 hours “quick” would have been more accurate than “lengthy.”
Contrary to the comments of some of the mediators Sullivan quoted, a transformative mediator’s agenda is purely to support the choices the parties make in each moment of the mediation. The mediator does not intend to educate the parties, cause them to separate feelings from facts, help them understand any certain thing, or get them to decide on next steps. Those things may happen, but the unique power of transformative mediation is that it enables the parties to do those things their own way, in their own time, or to do other things, depending on what they choose.