One of the first decisions that needs to take place before a mediation can begin is whether the mediation is going to be a joint session (where disputing parties gather round a table to discuss and hopefully resolve their differences), or be conducted as separate caucuses. Both approaches have their pros and cons and are not mutually exclusive, so the mediator might begin the mediation process by caucusing separately and then bring the parties together further down the line to discuss and work through options collaboratively.
The joint session approach is at the heart of what mediation is all about and distinguishes it from other types of dispute resolution, giving disputing parties the opportunity to lay out their perspectives and address and listen to the other party directly. The approach has many benefits and is the most collaborative way for two disputing parties to navigate the mediation process. At the heart of any successful resolution of a dispute, and in particular where the parties need to continue to work together, it requires the parties to communicate with each other and understand the other parties position. Nothing succeeds in achieving this better than a joint session.
There are also good reasons for periods of time as separate caucuses. These allow the parties to consider their position out loud and test out their arguments. In particular they can imagine themselves in the position of the other party and see how they would react to the suggestions for resolution that they are making. In addition separate caucuses allow both parties to think and means that they are not “on parade” which is often how they will feel in a joint session. Finally after a particularly stressful negotiation, or a joint meeting that ends up in an argument, the mediator may consider it wise to allow the parties a bit of time on their own so that both do not feel too pressurised and so increase the chance for a successful outcome.
Benefits of a joint session approach:
- A joint session allows the mediator insight into both parties and how they interact with one another, which may lead to a more efficient process and ultimately, settlement.
- It allows the mediator to set the tone of the mediation with all parties present, helping to ensure all participants are on the same page and understand each other’s expectations and starting standpoints.
- The joint session is unique in that it allows each party to speak directly to the other party about the case and to lay out their perspective in a respectful, confidential and structured environment.
- At the same time it also allows the other party to listen which may lead to a better understanding of each party’s perspective and therefore a more collaborative discussion.
Whether disputing parties opt for a joint session or caucus approach mediation has multiple benefits over traditional litigation routes, not only leading to significant time and cost efficiencies, but also putting the parties in control of the process and result. The key is that experienced, well-trained mediators understand the expectations and requirements of the disputing parties and lead the approach that will result in the quickest and best consensus.