Conciliation and mediation share a common framework, with two main differences. First, conciliation has a component of interpretation and clarification from the conciliator, focused on lowering tensions, improving communication between the parties, and expanding the potential for positive outcomes that may also preserve the relationship. Second, the conciliator acts to encourage movement or trade-offs to bring the parties closer to a resolution based on the stated interests of the parties. Sounds like mediation, but it is not.

Mediation lacks the interpretive component, except in evaluative mediation. In evaluative contexts, the mediator helps the parties explore the value of their positions and allow the parties themselves to re-conceptualize positions leading to stated interests. The mediators are asked to offer an opinion of strengths and weaknesses if the mediation moves toward litigation, making it the domain of attorneys trained to give these opinions. Giving an opinion in these cases is practicing law.

Narrative, facilitative, and transformative forms of mediation work on the evolving stories of the parties (within the framework of each distinct process), giving empathy an opportunity to enter and influence how the parties process the conflict. Many successful mediators take components from each form and let the parties’ responses dictate what works best in their conflict context. The mediators act as process agents, keeping the parties ‘in the moment’, but they do not encourage or suggest movement, they only confirm and clarify the emerging wishes of the parties.


Credit: Dr. Thornton