Applying Principles of Leadership Communication to Improve Mediation Outcomes

By Hoffmann, Gregory D. | Dispute Resolution Journal, August-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Applying Principles of Leadership Communication to Improve Mediation Outcomes


Hoffmann, Gregory D., Dispute Resolution Journal


This article suggests that mediators should develop leadership abilities and an understanding of human behavior in order to work productively with difficult parties. Mediators need to understand why parties and counsel behave as they do in mediated negotiations- why some make ultimatums, others are unwilling to commit, and others are ready to agree to any offer. This article suggests that the Q4 Dimensional Model of Behavior-a graphic tool used in business management that divides human behaviors into four categories- will help mediators understand different behavioral types in order to select appropriate strategies to advance the mediation.

You are the mediator in a complicated mediation with a history of acrimonious litigation involving multiple parties, their counsel, and representatives and counsel for an insurance carrier and a reinsurer. The parties came to the mediation with widely different monetary demands and offers. The joint mediation session began this morning. You completed your presentation of the mediation process, you described your role as mediator, and you informed the parties of the rules of conduct that you would like them to follow. As you turn to ask one of the plaintiffs for its opening statement, plaintiff 's counsel bluntly announces, "I'm not sure why we're here. I have no intention of settling this case for less than a nominal haircut from our original demand. I can try this case and win it 99 out of 100 times. I really have nothing more to say. That's my deal, take or leave it." He sits back in his chair waiting for a reaction. Within seconds, a buzz of whispered conversation generates between defense counsel and their client representatives. Only the lawyer for the reinsurer seems unperturbed and shows no reaction. A couple of defense attorneys start to gather their belongings in preparation of walking out. Suddenly, another defense lawyer admonishes plaintiff 's counsel, indicating that nothing will be resolved until outstanding discovery requests are fulfilled. Finally, another attorney, clearly avoiding the conflict, indicates a strong desire to concede to some of the plaintiff's demands.

Has this happened to you? The process has barely started and already there has been a complete breakdown in communication. Plaintiff's counsel began by engaging in very argumentative, assertive and negative behavior, triggering equally negative behavior in defense counsel. The attorneys' verbal and physical actions impaired the mediation, potentially dooming it to failure. As a mediator, how do you react? This article posits that good mediators react like good leaders, using leadership skills to keep the parties focused on dispute resolution.

What does being a good leader entail? In general, it means having an understanding of the stakeholders involved and being able to motivate them to diligently pursue one or more common goals. Leaders make it a priority to obtain and assess information needed to achieve a group's goals, such as higher production or sales levels. This involves identifying the interests and needs of the group, determining whether the group has sufficient resources, and anticipating possible barriers to achievement of the group's goals. Good leaders motivate and encourage stakeholders to explore potential solutions to achieve these goals.

The similarity between a good leader and a good mediator is striking. Mediators are tasked with helping parties with disparate views work together to find an acceptable, confidential, nonlitigated solution to their dispute.1

This article suggests that one proven leadership tool, the Q4 Dimensional Model of Behavior, developed by Drs. Robert Lefton and Victor Buzzota, can help mediators motivate mediation participants to remain committed to resolving their dispute and at the same time improve their own leadership skills. The Q4 model, which categorizes different types of communication behaviors, was designed to enhance leadership communication among employers, employees and peers, and thereby increase harmonious and efficient business decision making and management.

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Applying Principles of Leadership Communication to Improve Mediation Outcomes
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