Agreement Bias?

22 Jul

Earlier this year, I saw an article in the paper asking the question whether doctors were nicer to thinner patients. I was intrigued. I had never thought of that before.

But as often happens, it got me to thinking about mediation … and being on the lookout for biases.

My colleagues Betsy, Margaret and I are putting the finishing touches on the manual for the 40 hour beginning mediation class we are teaching next month. And one of the topics we will be covering with our students is bias awareness. Mediators are human – just like everyone else so we have frames of reference, personal experiences or world views that influence how we see or feel about things. And if we don’t check in with those, our biases might impact our neutrality as mediators.

Here is an example of mediator bias that we didn’t appreciate until after the mediation was over. I had the opportunity to participate in a co-mediation as a agreementthird party observer. It was the first mediation in a new program and we were using it as a chance to learn from each other in this new field. The mediation was a tough one with parties that were really entrenched in their positions. The co-mediators tried to use every technique that they knew of to help the parties to find common ground. But nothing was working. So, they tried some more and then even harder. What happened was the mediation went on too long and still ended without resolution. The same result that would have happened 30 minutes or more before it did.

So what was going on? Well, in retrospect, the mediators were biased to getting a resolution – perhaps because it was the first mediation in a new program. Who wouldn’t want the first mediation to end in agreement … success, right? But that was actually a bias – the mediators wanted it more than the parties did.

So, I realized that as a mediator, it’s important to check that bias at the door and let the parties determine the outcome – and if there isn’t going to be a resolution … the mediator shouldn’t be getting in the way of what the parties want.






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