Empowerment in Dispute Mediation: A Critical Analysis of Communication

Synopsis

Over the past 20 years, informal dispute resolution has played an increasingly important role in the way people handle their conflicts. Mediators are said to act as neutral third parties who "empower" disputants to negotiate their own mutually acceptable agreement. Shailor proposes a definition of empowerment in which communication is the primary social process, the ongoing symbolic interaction which not only reflects reality, but constitutes it. Using this definition, he analyzes the process of empowerment by examining the verbal and nonverbal interactions in three mediation cases, identifying the patterns of communication through which empowerment does or does not occur. Shailor concludes that mediators need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of their interactions with disputants, including an understanding of the ways that mediators can become enmeshed in the disputants' ongoing struggles.