Mediators have long debated whether “evaluative mediation,” the kind commonly practiced by retired judges and others who frequently mediate in the context of litigation, should be called mediation. The crux of that debate concerns whether evaluations by the mediator undermine party self-determination. Simon and West’s book is intended to advance the conversation beyond the question of evaluation to include subtler ways in which mediators may undermine or support self-determination.
Self-determination is a principle that distinguishes mediation from other forms of dispute resolution and is a topic taught in most introductory mediator training courses. Discussions generally focus on the experience of participants and the techniques employed to nurture and safe-guard self-determination. Much of the writings that touch on self-determination talk about the techniques and strategies mediators use in order to support party self-determination. Uniquely, Tara West and Dan Simon follow a different path. They too are interested in the methods used by mediators, but what distinguishes their book is their examination of the mediator’s decision-making process. In a step-by-step exploration, they show first how mediators assess the situation, then generate a possible explanation for the parties’ attitudes, behaviors and ways of communicating, and finally choose an approach intended to encourage party self-determination. As part of examining the mediators thought process, the authors also describe how, in generating an explanation, mediators purposefully examine their own reactions to the parties as well as their own beliefs and theories. In this, they show how beliefs influence action—a key aspect of reflective practice. In the practice examples they explore throughout the book, the authors also emphasize the importance of and methods for learning from and through experience.
Dan Simon, MA, JD, is a Fellow and Board Member of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation (ISCT). Dan has practiced and taught mediation since 1996, and he has been licensed to practice law in Minnesota since 1992. He is a past-chair of the ADR Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association and served for six years on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ADR Ethics Board. He wrote “Transformative mediation for divorce: Rising above the law and the settlement,” a chapter in Transformative Mediation: A Sourcebook (ACR, 2010), and co-authored “Transformative mediation: Illustrating a relational view of conflict intervention,” a chapter in The Mediation Handbook (Routledge, 2017). He also writes the blog for the ISCT and is a featured blogger on Mediate.com. Dan has provided mediation training as an adjunct professor at the law schools of Hofstra University and the University of North Dakota, as well as through his own organization, Simon Mediation.
Tara West, PhD, JD, currently teaches social psychology and the psychology of conflict resolution for the City University of New York, School of Professional Studies. She has been licensed to practice law in New York since 2009. Tara has been trained in facilitative, evaluative, understanding-based, and transformative approaches to mediation, and has mediated family, workplace, small claims, and neighbor disputes in public and private settings. She has been certified as a transformative mediator by the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation. Tara has co-authored ten scholarly publications in the field of psychology, and has taught and developed undergraduate and graduate psychology courses covering topics such as socio-cultural approaches to psychology, developmental psychology, personality psychology, and small group processes.
Foreword: Reflective Practice and Deeply Held Values
Chapter 1 Self-Determination Matters
Chapter 2 A Crisis in Interaction
Chapter 3 Self-Determination and Our Desire to Connect
Chapter 4 Self-Determination and Solving Problems
Chapter 5 The Art of Using Mirrors and Lights
Chapter 6 The Temptation to Nudge Parties Toward Agreement
Chapter 7 Self-Determination Is the Best Protection
Chapter 8 Self-Determination and Procedural Complications
Chapter 9 Self-Determination and Lawyers
Chapter 10 The Choice Is Yours
List of Quotations
About the Authors
Simon and West demonstrate that preserving party self-determination is what makes mediation a uniquely valuable conflict intervention process. They address the challenges that are involved in sustaining this core value and they provide a range of case studies that vividly illustrate how practitioners can align their core purpose with their intervention practices. An insightful and instructive volume for theorists and practitioners alike.
With nuance, candor, humility, and grace, Simon and West illuminate the transformative theory and practice of supporting others’ autonomy, empowerment, agency, and freedom. Beyond the mediation room, their approach offers actionable wisdom for addressing the crises of interaction unfolding every day in our Zoom rooms, family rooms, and board rooms.
Dan Simon and Tara West shine a powerful light on the central principle that distinguishes mediation from nearly all other conflict intervention processes: party self-determination. With courage and clarity, they examine this abstract concept with practical examples and candid discussion that reveals the many real ways that mediators either support – or interfere with – party agency, choice, and the possibility of constructive interaction. In the end, the reader is left with a deeper and clearer appreciation for the importance of reflecting on their own (often subtle) practices to support parties as they work through their own conflicts. This is a “must read” for all who seek to improve their mediation practice by better shining a light without casting their own shadow on the people who really matter in the mediation room.
With the publication of Self-Determination in Mediation: The Art and Science of Mirrors and Lights, Dan Simon and Tara West have made a very significant contribution to mediation literature. Self-determination is a core value of the mediation process and we finally have a comprehensive examination of this important subject. Simon and West apply their metaphor of mirrors and lights to a wide array of real-world scenarios to demonstrate how mediators can best support party self-determination. Everyone who believes in mediation’s potential for resolving conflict will find an inspirational road map in this excellent book.
The Promise of Mediation dramatically sounded a bell that reverberated through and influenced the mediation field. Simon & West further that influence by shining a light on the research of self-determination as an important ethic for mediators and applying it to practice through experience. While ‘mirrors and lights’ may seem to evoke an evasive and performative ‘smoke and mirrors’ effect, Simon & West instead use skillful mirroring as a metaphorical prop for the role of the mediator to support party interaction and self-determination, and to highlight party differences without diminishing their agency. It’s a must-read for conflict practitioners and anyone in the business of supporting others.