Some mediators plunge right into trying to formulate a settlement in the joint session; others separate the parties and keep them separated until a settlement has been reached; others separate the parties, put them together, separate them again, and so on. Mediators also differ in how they go about helping the parties formulate potential settlements. At the one extreme is the mediator who, after hearing about the dispute, comes up with his or her own idea for a settlement based on his or her interpretation of how the dispute would be resolved by the law or contract, or what he or she thinks is fair, and tries to sell his or her proposal to the parties. At the other extreme is the mediator who, after hearing about the dispute, asks what ideas the parties have for a settlement and simply sits there until the parties have some ideas. The latter style may sound foolish, but that may be all it takes in some situations.
Many times the mediator will find that he or she is working with disputants who are extremely hostile. It is the mediator’s responsibility to control the hostility of the parties. A mediation conference is no place for verbal or physical abuse to occur, and it is the mediator’s role to establish order. If he or she cannot, then the mediator should refuse to continue mediating until the parties can control themselves. And as with all threats, the mediator should be prepared to follow through with it.
Emotional outbursts are quite common not only in interpersonal disputes that involve individual interest, such as employment termination, consumer problems, custody and family matters, but also in business problems, which may produce anger as one-on-one negotiations turn sour. This consequence is especially likely where one or more of the parties consider that their rights have been violated, they have been insulted, or that they have been subjected to cultural insensitivity. Experienced mediators recognize that some direct venting of pent-up emotions can help clear the air. For a mediator to ignore such an outburst, or to cut it off too quickly, would deny the legitimate emotional aspect of the conflict and maybe perceived as implied criticism. It is usually preferable to let it happen, not let it get out of control, acknowledge the feelings without offering any evaluations and move to the next phase. Emotional outbursts can occur for a number of reasons. Commonly they are related to the frustration of not being heard or understood, having a belief that there is not just a legal but a moral basis for a position that is being denied and being insulted.