The central role of party self-determination in mediation ethics

Written by Professors Rachael Field and Jonathan Crowe. The post is a version of a paper delivered at the 6th ADR Research Network Roundtable, 4 -5 December 2017.

RF and JC Image

The dominant paradigm of mediation ethics has traditionally given a central role to the notion of mediator neutrality. However, this focus has been criticised in recent decades for being unrealistic and overlooking the power dynamics between the parties. In our forthcoming book, Mediation Ethics: From Theory to Practice, we advocate a new paradigm of mediation ethics focused on the notion of party self-determination. Why, then, is party self-determination a suitable candidate for this role?

The justification for making party self-determination the primary ethical imperative of mediation centres on two main arguments. The first argument is that the possibility of achieving self-determination for the parties is what distinguishes mediation from other dispute resolution processes and makes it a distinct and valuable process in its own right. The second argument is that the achievement of party self-determination provides a principled foundation for the legitimacy of the mediation process. We discuss these arguments briefly below.

Mediation as a distinct process

Party self-determination is the key factor distinguishing mediation from litigation and other dispute resolution processes, because mediation provides the parties with the ultimate power to decide how to resolve their dispute. A mediator’s role is to use their expertise so as to enable and empower the parties to reach their own decision. This characteristic of mediation is special and distinct.

This point is emphasised by the fact that in litigation, arbitration, and even conciliation processes, the focus is not on enabling and empowering the parties to take control of their dispute and to reach an outcome of their own determination. Rather, the focus is on the third party decision-maker or specialist judging the merits of the parties’ cases and imposing a decision. Such adjudicative activity is generally guided by objective norms or criteria—most often centred on the law. There is limited opportunity for party self-determination in such processes.

Party self-determination in mediation is also distinctive because it is relational—grounded in connection, cooperation and collaboration. This concept of self-determination is very different from an atomistic notion of autonomy that emphasises privacy and self. An atomistic conception of self-determination arguably underpins the adversarial legal system, because each party is encouraged to advocate single-mindedly for their own interests. In mediation, by contrast, party self-determination does not exist on an individual level; rather, it is holistic and relational, encompassing the needs and interests of both parties. If only one party experiences self-determination, the process has not succeeded in its aims.

Principled and legitimate outcomes

A second argument for emphasising party self-determination is that it provides a principled foundation for the legitimacy of the process. Party self-determination can be said to lead to principled outcomes because it reflects foundational values of our legal, social and political order. These include traditional liberal values, such as consent, autonomy, respect, privacy and dignity. However, they also include relational values, such as empathy, emotional expression and interpersonal dialogue.

These values highlight the importance of party involvement and collaboration in the negotiation, creative option generation and decision-making components of mediation. In mediation, the parties can achieve a principled outcome because they are deeply and thoroughly involved in working through the issues, discussing their individual and mutual perspectives, and developing the terms of the final resolution. Party engagement also promotes the personal dignity of the parties, particularly when the result is to avoid the inevitable costs and uncertainties of litigation.

Party self-determination also promotes principled outcomes because it yields a form of real world justice. Many disputes take place in a context where the parties have different needs, priorities and values. Parties value different things, and also value things differently. This means that compromises and trade-offs are an inevitable and constructive part of the process. Compromise, then, does not mean the process is unprincipled or illegitimate. Rather, the value of compromise represents a key principle in its own right. It can lead to a more principled and legitimate result than rule-based or adversarial approaches. The notion of party self-determination recognises and embodies this important value.

Advertisements

What’s in a frame? Power, control and desire in the experience of family mediation.

picture-frame-427233_1920picture-frame-427233_1920

We bring our readers another blog post, written by Assoc Prof Jill Howieson. The post is version of paper presented at the just concluded ADR Research Network Roundtable, 4 -5- December 2017 #ADRRN2017. Happy reading!

“By the tragic gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.” —Parker J. Palmer

In 2011, I wrote on the Kluwer Mediation blog. I wrote about the same transcripts from the family mediations that I have analysed for this paper. In 2011, I wrote that I was reading about desire in these transcripts. I had returned to my 1985 language, literature and culture textbook, Modern Literary Theory, and to psychoanalytic and linguistic theories to try to understand what I was reading.

I was drawn particularly to Lacan and Foucault, and their analysis of language. A few years on and Parker J Palmer captivates me with his notion of the tragic gap –“the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible.

Now these concepts converge. Jacques Lacan’s lack, or the “endless chain of signifiers” that we use in pursuit of a ‘real’ satisfaction or desire; Michel Foucault’s recognisable objects (or hierarchies) of importance, and the practices that derive from them that we create to uphold power; and Parker J Palmer’s tension gap, where we “faithfully hold the tension between reality and possibility.” These are all concepts that can inform our understandings about mediation.

Firstly, I wondered if we as mediators do not ‘faithfully hold the tension’; namely, the tension between what parties say they want and what they desire. The present analyses of the transcripts suggests that mediators can create tight frames for their mediation discourses and thereby impose a control on the parties’ language, and thus on their needs and desires – or at least their acknowledgement of their needs and desires.

The Foucauldian analysis alerted us to the power that mediators can create through their language. It showed that a mediator’s language could create recognisable objects or hierarchies of importance, which has the effect of elevating these objects and giving them power. The mediators in the study were able to elevate the status of various ‘objects’ including the notion of ‘good parents’ who will compromise and come to agreements, and parents who displayed calm rational ways of disputing or negotiating through their choice of words. By elevating these objects, the mediators could control the practices that flowed from them. For instance, where the mediators accorded importance to the notion of ‘good parents’ and excluded ‘naughty parents’ from the discourse, this empowered the mediators to push the ‘naughty parents’ into attending child-focussed sessions.

Further, with their language, the mediators seemed to create frameworks for the mediation that would cause the parties to work within those discoursal frames.  Through a repetition of Court-focused words, the mediators created court-focused frames, which had the effect of creating fear in the parties and empowered the mediators to push for agreement (to keep the parties out of court).  The parties would follow the mediator’s language and tailor their conversation to suit regardless of whether this was where they wanted to go or not. For instance, a discoursal frame of court had the result of moving the parties towards plans and agreements, and took them away from their ‘real’ fears and desires.

Further, the results revealed that mediators would listen according to their mediation orientation. If mediators worked within a settlement orientated frame, then they would listen for agreements or signals that might lead to agreements and use interventions to suit, such as writing options on the whiteboard and recording agreements.  On the other hand, mediators working within a ‘best interests of the child’ framework would listen for examples about the child’s perspective and how the children might be experiencing the separation, and then choose child-focussed interventions to encourage the parents to think of themselves as parents rather than as disputants.

Essentially, it seemed that despite their best intentions, the mediators would often miss the real desires of the parties and/or ignore the power discourse that they were creating as they pushed towards certain outcomes rather than sitting in the process tension of possibility.

According to Lacan, needs, if left unattended (or are reframed), do not disappear but turn into desire. In 2011, I asked what language in mediation do we have to address the parties’ unmet needs and desires. Now, I ask, how do we even hear these desires and needs when we mask them so well with our own desires for outcomes?

If we want to hear the desires of the parties (and I am not saying that all mediators do) then we need to begin to listen differently. We need to listen for the structures of desire in mediation that tell us what it is that the parties crave. We need to sit in the process-outcome tension and listen to the repetitions; the patterns and the experience of the parties so that they can access their true selves and their true desires, and then tell us what these are if they need to.

The Lacanian analysis revealed that the parties would often repeat words or patterns of words that would give ideas about their desires:

  • their attachment desires (I haven’t found someone worth living with and having my children involved with; I don’t live with somebody that helps me share my rent, helps me share my bills).
  • desire to be a good parent or better person (But that will change in the next … probably ten weeks…that will change), or
  • a desire to give the children what they perceived they needed (I’ve always said to M and to a mediator that assessed me …They’re four boys. They need their dad).

 

These examples of repetition occurred within conversations about which school the children would go to and who would pay for the children’s after-school sport activities—they were not so easily identifiable as desires.

So, what do parties say as they seek attachment to calm their unattached selves, or calmness to keep their selves intact in the chaos of conflict? What hidden desires does their language conceal? In the transcripts, there were prolonged, sometimes nonsensical discussions about the location, denomination and even the principal of the children’s schools—signifiers perhaps? There were discussions about the children’s dental plan or child payments —masquerading as desires for closure and the ‘gestalt’ perhaps?

We can never really know, but we can guess. We can sit in the tension gap of the unfolding of meanings and the ongoing and reflexive nature of mediation. The research shows that mediators tend to focus on the agreements more so than the parties do. The parties’ conversations tended more towards an articulation of what they were experiencing rather than towards concrete agreements.  We could look at the relationship between language, outcomes and experience more closely.  As Parker J Palmer writes, tension in life is ‘inevitable, inexorable, [and] inescapable’.  We could use this tension and assist the parties to make meaning out of their situations, actions and desires; to move from the jumble of conflict – the chaos – to the destination of desire, or at least understanding their desire; to make meaning in the disorganised realm, whether of experience or thought, and sort this out into an understanding of needs.

But, what mediation language do we use? What do we use as signifiers? And what desire is repressed as we substitute our language of desire for the language of courts, or child development or parties’ needs?

In 2011, I wondered whether, in every mediation, we were selling ourselves short. I wondered whether, with our future focus, our discourse of agreement, as we shape and mould, whether we were trying to camouflage that which is continually trying to show itself – our gaps, our cracks, our ugliness, our humanity, our beauty, our desires! I think in 2017, the answer might be a resounding yes.

 

 

 

 

There is a time and place for mediation but a bullying allegation in the workplace is not one

 By Carmelene Greco

 

This post is the final in a series of posts on this blog written by students studying Non-Adversarial Justice at the Faculty of Law at Monash University in 2016. Students were invited to write blog posts explaining various complex areas of law relating to dispute resolution to ordinary readers. The very best post on each topic is published here.

 

bully

Photo Credit: Dick Vos

The practice of mediation to resolve workplace bullying allegations is controversial and largely debated amongst academics. Ironically, effective resolution of such disputes is extremely important in our jurisdiction, with Australia having substantially higher rates of workplace bullying when compared to our international counterparts. This “hidden problem” requires a specialist and careful response but mediation is not it, and it may in fact make the situation worse.

 

Workplace bullying is notoriously difficult to define and there is still no nationally uniform definition. It has been described as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”.  It involves an addiction to controlling others, harassment and verbal abuse and constant unjustified criticism. It is not, as accurately stated by the Fair Work Commission, “reasonable management action that’s carried out in a reasonable way”.

Mediation, which aims to be an empowering process, involves trained third parties intervening on a dispute to assist parties to make their own decisions. As stated by the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council:

The mediator has no advisory or determinative role…but may advise on or determine the process of mediation…

Therefore, any solution is not imposed on parties but arises out of the empowerment of the parties to make it themselves.

It is important to stress that there is a lot of evidence of mediation providing an effective outcome in many cases where it helps facilitates solutions to problems that appear unsolvable. However, the key distinguishing features of mediation, which make it an attractive option in many instances, are the very reasons it is inappropriate for workplace bullying.

 

Comparing workplace bullying and family violence

The very nature of workplace bullying automatically suggests that mediation is an unsuited response. Workplace bullying is frequently compared to domestic violence – they are considered “almost identical twins”. In both scenarios there is an addiction to power, the controlling of another in a detrimental way and a severe power imbalance.

Mediation, and other forms of ADR, can be considered inappropriate in cases of family violence. This is exemplified by current Australian family law legislation that affords an exception to the mandate of alternative dispute resolution where there is the presence of family violence. This displays the recognition by the Australian Parliament of how a severe power imbalance can undermine the benefits of mediation.

Similarly, in the case of workplace bullying, a power imbalance and a potential ongoing relationship exists, as such the effectiveness of mediation is reduced.

Consistently, shuttle mediation may also be an ineffective solution as it can exhaust parties into premature agreement, as well as not effectively ensuring the relationship of control has ceased.

Accordingly, on the basis that mediation is not appropriate for allegations of domestic violence, it is equally unsuitable for allegations of workplace bullying. It was argued by Hadyn Olsen that:

The practice of demanding mediation as the first response to any workplace grievance (including Workplace Bullying) places our society back in the same position it was in the 60’s and 70’s in regard to domestic violence. It is an entirely inappropriate response to this problem.

In conjunction with this dynamic is the fact that there are very few options available to the target of workplace bullying. It can be that the target has already resigned, intends to resign or is still employed and wishes to remain employed. The target is likely to be placed in a position of being wedged in a toxic working environment because of their financial needs and a lack of options for alternative employment. This again places the target of workplace bullying in a particularly vulnerable position, which is unique to this category of dispute.

The defining feature of workplace bullying allegations is the power imbalance between the bully and their target, which is exacerbated if the employer is also the bully. Mediation in such conditions is likely to reinforce the dynamic and worsen the situation, as it would in the domestic violence context already discussed. Meanwhile, reaching a constructive outcome jointly between parties is the hallmark of mediation – that is it involves a compromise and a desire to settle. A bully is unlikely to have this aim but instead view the mediation as an opportunity to further manipulate the target. Furthermore, the target is likely to be further disempowered and unlikely to reach a favourable outcome because of a lack of capacity to negotiate with the bully.

Hadyn Olsen noted that he has not met any target of workplace bullying who feels mediation was fair for them but argues that instead, in most cases targets feel further abused and damaged by the process. Similarly, a representative from Northern Territory Working Women’s Centre stated that:

The imbalance of power is so profound that she is just not able to speak freely… I think it would be unsafe and really inappropriate if it required the person who was being bullied to sit face to face with the person who was bullying her….

  

Bullying is not and cannot be a neutral agenda item

In a typical mediation, the issue to be considered is one that both parties are equally as affected by or equally contributed to. But in the context of workplace bullying, the agenda is entirely based on the inappropriate behaviour of the bully in the workplace.

A mediator may struggle to frame this issue as an agenda item and by referring to it as a ‘relationship’ the target of the bullying may interpret this to mean the mediator does not believe the bullying occurred. At the same time, a bully would view this as a reinforcing their lack of fault. Therefore, in workplace bullying allegations the person and the issue cannot be separated and trying to frame it otherwise can be detrimental.

 

Mediation fails to punish past behaviour

 Mediation focuses on the present and future relationship between the parties and does not punish past behaviour. This is because it usually involves a mutually engaged in conflict. But workplace bullying is different. There is clearly one victim; one person who needs recognition of what has occurred in order to heal and move on. Dr Caponecchia stated that:

Mediation is more focused on not whether it happened or not but, ‘Let’s get back to work’, which may mean transferring someone.

Facilitators of workplace mediation argue that this is a benefit of mediation because it offers a fresh start and is about moving forward. However it is unlikely that targets of severe bullying will be looking for a fresh start and, instead, are more likely to want recognition and an apology. This is particularly the case where the target has decided to resign from their employment.

 

Public interest

 It may also be in the public interest for matters of workplace bullying to go to court and not to be held in a private mediation. Mediation keeps any wrongdoing outside public scrutiny or knowledge. This is not a good thing because the knowledge of the prevalence of workplace bullying is significantly restricted, which in turn, reduces the likelihood of policy being developed in response. Because of the high levels of workplace bullying in Australia, full transparency is necessitated to establish an effective response.

 

But does this mean mediation can never be appropriate for workplace bullying?

 It is arguable that a complete power balance between parties to a mediation is not the norm and hence it is always the role of the mediator to manage this relationship and minimise the impact of any imbalance.

Power imbalance can be managed by:

  • the use of support persons for each party (whether that be a family member or otherwise);
  • effectively communicating the rights of each parties and ensuring they are aware of these rights;
  • reality testing the options available to both parties;
  • representation by an advocate; and
  • informing the target that they have specific rights against the bullying – such as the ability to lodge a formal complaint.

If it is believed that the imbalance of power is not so severe that a mediator can effectively manage it, mediation may potentially be appropriate. However this is going to very much depend on the particular situation. It is likely that a mediator is going to be able to more effectively manage the power imbalance if intervention is early. Mediation is of no use where the target is now seeking full justice or retribution.

Consequently the suitability of mediation very much depends on the stage of escalation of the bullying. It is thought that mediation can be a helpful early intervention technique. The House of Representatives, Standing Committee on Education and Employment (2012), inquiry into workplace bullying found that several submissions supported mediation as an early intervention.  It was stated in that report that:

Mediation cannot be the panacea to workplace bullying, rather, it is an effective early intervention tool and needs to be applied on a case-by-case basis.

Moira Jenkins also supported the use of it as an early intervention model stating that:

I do not think mediation is appropriate later on when you have very damaged people, but as an early intervention I think it is great.

We should begin with the assumption that mediation is an inappropriate way of dealing with workplace bullying. Where the bully is the employer, this position will not change. In such cases, arbitration provides a more appropriate dispute resolution option as it offers the opportunity for the past wrongdoings committed by the bully to be discussed and for them to be held to accountable. This is an important process for the victim in moving on and essential to facilitate a productive working environment by focusing on past behaviour, which mediation fails to do. In addition, arbitration allows somebody in power to define what is and isn’t bullying and to avoid allegations by the bully of hypersensitivity in the victim.

Alternatively, however, if it is identified that the bullying is at the very early stages of escalation and that a mediator is able to effectively manage the existing power imbalance, mediation may then be carefully conducted. If there is any doubt, it is in the best interest of the general public and of the target, that mediation is avoided as a means of managing allegations of workplace bullying.

A consequence of this protection of the victim of workplace bullying may be, unfortunately, that their access to justice is reduced to some extent. However, this is, in many circumstances, a necessary concession. Additionally, the availability of arbitration, which is not an overly expensive option for litigants, ensures that justice is not inaccessible.

 

Carmelene Greco completed a Law/Arts degree, with a major in journalism, at Monash University in 2016. She is now a graduate lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons and has a keen interest in exploring alternative dispute resolution prospects within the commercial law context.

Nearly Neutral: A Mediator’s Best Bet

By Amanda Selvarajah

This post is the third in a series of posts on this blog written by students studying Non-Adversarial Justice at the Faculty of Law at Monash University. Students were invited to write blog posts explaining various complex areas of law relating to dispute resolution to ordinary readers. The very best post on each topic is published here.

 

the-gate-by-guillaume-delebarre

‘The Gate’ by  Guillaume Delebarre: Creative commons source

The National Mediator Accreditation System removed “neutrality” as a requirement on their list of ethical standards in 2015. This may suggest a trend away from the truly “neutral” mediator in the sense of a ‘detached third-party’. But does this mean we are to rule out neutrality entirely as an ethical consideration in mediation? With a trend of increasingly interventionist mediators, a complete disregard of the concept could place participants at great risk of being subjected to ethically dubious decisions.

     Perhaps the reason for the mediation community’s shift from neutrality is not because of a flaw in neutrality itself, but rather a failure to grasp a version of neutrality that can and should be an important element of an ethical mediation. Instead of defining neutrality as an unattainable attribute intrinsic in the nature of a mediator, perhaps we should be viewing neutrality as a constant practical endeavour throughout the mediation process, a mediator who’s nearly neutral.

Why Neutral At All?

A mediator in its simplest description is a ‘trained, impartial third party’ who assists parties in making their own decisions. However, mediation remains unregulated and virtually unmonitored as it is typically conducted in private with assurances of confidentiality. Mediated parties are expected to relinquish a guarantee of the principles of justice and fairness that would be inescapable in a common law court. It is these qualities of mediation that leave participants particularly vulnerable to a biased decision in the event of a potentially opinionated, interventionist mediator. Therefore, it is the consensual participation in the process and the assurance of “neutrality” that many consider the source of the process’s legitimacy.

On the spectrum of mediator involvement in mediation, the facilitative approach, which focuses a mediator’s role to procedural stages, leaves parties with as much freedom and control in the substance and outcome of the mediation as possible. The evaluative approach, on the other hand, has even been disregarded by some, like the Victorian Association for Dispute Resolution, as being a form of mediation at all. They argued that the mediator’s ‘input into the content, and sometimes the outcome’ of the mediation made the process inherently contrary to the core principles of mediation.

Such or any mediator involvement may suggest, as critics of the evaluative mediation approach do, an immediate breach of neutrality. But this is only the case if neutrality is restricted to a ‘strict, dualistic sense of the mediator either being or not being neutral.’

Why Not Be Absolutely Neutral?

To truly make the case for a re-imagined concept of neutrality, one must first accept the bold suggestion that mediations are not neutral in its literal sense and could likely never be so. Mental health professionals have found that ‘there is no such thing as total impartiality, neutrality, or lack of bias when working with people, even though as practitioners they may strive for such ideals.’ In mediation specifically, research has shown that in practice, mediators may affect and influence mediation at almost all stages of the process. Examples include ‘the ways they structure the interchange between the parties, in terms of the sequencing of storytelling and the framing of responses and what needs to be responded to.’ It follows then that any assessment of a mediator’s success in reference to their ability to be neutral, in the literal sense of the word, would set almost all our mediators up for failure.

However, regardless of a mediator’s ability to be neutral, there is the added consideration that absolute neutrality may not even be conducive to the goals of a truly successful mediation. For example, in the case of the simultaneous expectations that a mediator be both absolutely neutral but also committed to facilitating an equal conversation, one often comes at the cost of the other.

Mediated parties often experience a power imbalance. Therefore, a hands-off mediator may in these cases fail to protect ‘vulnerable parties from inappropriate pressure’. In family law mediation (family dispute resolution or FDR), for example, parties often meet at very unequal terms. Mediators in these cases may be caught between either claiming a position of absolute neutrality, thereby stripping them of the power to ‘redress imbalances’, or recognising a role in sometimes having to take ‘affirmative action… to achieve a balanced agreement.’

Family dispute resolution practitioners must consider if ‘family dispute resolution is appropriate’ before mediation is undergone. This may allow for vulnerable parties to be excluded from the mediation process, sparing mediators the struggle of balancing these competing expectations. But some victims still ‘feel that FDR processes fail to identify and manage the risk of family violence effectively.’ The exclusion also does nothing for parties beyond family abuse dynamics who may still be more vulnerable than the other party due to cultural, societal or financial factors.

This concept of absolute neutrality is similarly challenging for indigenous mediators, to whom Western notions of neutrality may not make sense. In indigenous mediation it has been recommended that a respected elder would likely be the more appropriate choice of mediator than a neutral third-party. Selecting a mediator for their ability to intimately understand the parties as opposed to their ability to detach themselves from them is arguably in direct opposition to Western expectations of a successful mediator. A commonality in our understandings of a successful mediation, however, may be the increasing interest in addressing the conflict at the heart of mediations.

Therapeutic jurisprudence, a philosophy focused on critically viewing our legal systems to maximise the health and wellbeing of those who engage with it, has been applied to improve and direct law reform throughout Australia’s legal system. Critically assessing the purely facilitative mediation process through a therapeutic jurisprudence lens unearths the potentially anti-therapeutic effects of having a non-interventional, solution-centric mediator who as a result, fails to address and redress the underlying tensions at the heart of parties’ relationships. The development of therapeutic jurisprudence throughout Australia is proof that the indigenous community’s focus on rebuilding and strengthening relationships is not unique and could be facilitated in mediations with a more involved mediator.

A New, Nearly Neutral Approach

Neutrality was seen as a cornerstone of mediation’s procedural fairness, the idea that ‘what is required by procedural fairness is a fair hearing, not a fair outcome’. The facilitative approach has, therefore, been described as having the highest regard for procedural fairness on the basis of perhaps a rather simplistic equating of a fair hearing with a decision-maker who allows parties to make their own case with as little intervention as possible.

This argument assumes, however, that participants of mediation are always equally capable of articulating and pursuing their own interests and that they are always more concerned with a practical outcome than a resolution of the underlying feelings and conflict which brought on the mediation in the first place.

However, research has shown that in mediation ‘the basis of authoritativeness (e.g. of the ability to gain voluntary acceptance from members of the public) is changing from neutrality-based to trust-based.’ This suggests that contrary to advocates for neutral mediators, parties may actually prefer a more interventionist mediator who is willing to foster openness and build a relationship of trust over a detached one.

So perhaps instead of aligning neutrality with a mediator who never intervenes, it would be best to hold mediators’ interventions to standards ‘of non-partisan fairness or impartiality’ instead. For example, weighing, as an objective third-party, whether an intervention would make sense to ‘facilitate a productive dialogue by encouraging or even coaching reticent or inarticulate parties’ to promote a generally more just proceeding. After all, in the immortal words of Theodore Roosevelt, ‘Impartial justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.’

 

Amanda Selvarajah is (@amanda_darshini) currently in her third year of the Bachelor of Law (Honours) program at Monash University. Her research has focused on questioning the limits of the law and its rooms for improvement across a variety of fields. Last year, her research into the abuse of forensic evidence in court was selected for presentation at the International Conference of Undergraduate Research.

 

Mediating family matters where there is a history of violence.

One of the most controversial aspects of mediation practice is its use with parties whose relationship has involved domestic violence, with critics pointing out the potential for a discussion based process such as mediation to reinforce the power imbalance, fear and voicelessness experienced by the survivor of domestic violence.    On the other hand, the potential benefits of mediation are clear, there is scope for the process to actively empower participants, and mediation holds a central role in Family Dispute Resolution in Australia under Part VII of the Family Law Act.

Dr Rachael Field,  Associate Professor at QUT Law, has recently published a piece with co-author Angela Lynch releasing the results of a pilot study, run by the Federal Attorney General, into a family mediation model specifically designed for use with parties with a history of domestic violence.

The piece is published in the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law and is entitled  Hearing parties’ voices in Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution (CFDR): An Australian pilot of a family mediation model designed for matters involving a history of domestic violence   (link to open access).

This process was evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies as being ‘at the cutting edge of family law practice’ because it involves the conscious application of mediation where there has been a history of family violence, in a clinically collaborative multidisciplinary and multi-agency setting. The authors conclude that Australian government’s failure to invest resources in the ongoing funding of this model jeopardises the safety and efficacy of family dispute resolution practice in family violence contexts, and compromises the hearing of the voices of family violence victims and their children.

Lessons about Negotiation from the US Shutdown

Now that we have seen the resolution (or postponement) of the impasse over the US budget and debt ceiling that shutdown the US government, what does it tell those of us who are interested in the dynamics of negotiation? Could we have predicted the outcome? Would principled negotiation have worked better in the long term?

In this piece in the Conversation, the fantastic website that helps bring academic work to a broader audience, I argue that the messiness of the negotiations and the one-sidedness of the eventual outcome were probably not predictable through any of our existing models of negotiation.

I value the work of many of our well-known negotiation theorists such as Fisher, Ury and Patton, Monookin and  Kornhauser and Cass Sunstein, because they help us to analyse the many variables at play in negotiation. They sharpen our focus on the specific dynamics of the bargaining process and help us to better understand what does and does not work. But my view is also that these approaches can’t adequately capture everything that occurs in negotiation. People don’t always negotiate as we would predict they should. Power is remarkably fluid, elusive and impossible to fit into any ‘model’ of negotiating behaviour.

Heretical views, and I know.  I am going out on a limb here. But the more I work in the field of dispute resolution, the stronger my views grow.

What do you think?