Mediators are often pulled in many directions—they want to help their clients reach a speedy agreement, ensure the agreement is fair, and avoid coercion so they can honor mediation’s primary value of party self-determination. Can we have it all?
In this groundbreaking resource, Dan Simon and Tara West illustrate how self-determination can mean much more than the absence of coercion—it can mean the opportunity for participants to increase their sense of agency as they gain clarity and confidence to make their own decisions, including those that express their highest values. Offering psychological research, philosophical principles, and real-life mediation stories, the authors examine where self-determination belongs in relation to other values, such as fairness, protection, and efficiency, as they wrestle with how to apply their principles in particularly challenging divorces, workplace conflicts, and more. Readers will be challenged to think deeply about how their values and assumptions guide their practice, and they will be inspired to more fully embrace their commitment to self-determination.
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, JD, PhD, author of The Mediator’s Approach: Five (and a Half) Paths Through Conflict, is a certified transformative mediator and conflict coach. She has been trained in facilitative, evaluative, understanding-based, and transformative approaches to mediation, and has mediated in public and private settings. Tara has taught and developed undergraduate and graduate psychology courses covering topics such as socio-cultural approaches to psychology, developmental psychology, personality psychology, group processes, and the psychology of conflict resolution. Tara earned her PhD in Social and Health Psychology from Stony Brook University and her JD from the New York University School of Law.
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
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.
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 boardrooms.
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.
Mediators, prospective parties, and their attorneys may sometimes wonder if it matters what label a mediator uses to describe their practice. In this book, Dan Simon and Tara West make it clear that it does matter. As committed transformative practitioners, Simon and West put self-determination at the center of their respective practices. The authors describe the specific interventions that allow them to honor party choice, and provide detailed examples of the difference this makes to the people involved in the mediation process. They draw from their extensive experience to illustrate crucial moments in a wide range of cases and how and why, and in each of them, they put decisions in the hands of participants. The authors’ self-reflective approach to their own practices is evident as they describe occasional slips, acknowledging where they could have done better. Reading this book will help those in the conflict intervention field, and those who seek their services, appreciate that transformative practitioners bring unique value to the processes they guide.
Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger's 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.
Since publication of Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger's The Promise of Mediation, transformative theory has been much developed, but mostly in academic journals that are not available to practitioners. Here is a clearly written and accessible volume that expands on the important topic of self-determination in mediation and which will be of interest to mediators, conflict coaches, and dialogue facilitators alike. The multiple case studies and examples make the volume highly engaging to read and ideal for teaching.