I recently read an interesting article about a potential pitfall of group mediation. The article was written by Jeffrey Krivis and published on Mediate.com in August 2012. A link to the full article is provided below. The title, Why Litigators Become Less Intelligent in Group Mediation Settings, is what drew my interest so I read on curious to discover more about why my typically preferred method of mediation (group setting) may actually not be the best way to reach settlement.

If you’ve ever been frustrated beyond belief in a committee meeting or during a group project you probably have an understanding of the basic idea – in order for a group to function, a leader needs to arise and often times leaders are the most outspoken members of the group – not necessarily the smartest members. “Group think” or follow the leader often takes root as the group works toward its end goal.

Krivis cites new research from Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute which indicates that individuals, even intelligent, high-achievers, conform to social pressures in competitive situations. This finding indicates a strong relationship between social and cognitive processing.

Krivis suggests that an effective settlement strategy would be to keep “parties separated so that their IQ doesn’t drop and their willingness to settle remains high.” He goes on to suggest that mediators should anticipate and proactively and manage social-cognitive pressures of the group setting by “interviewing key decision makers and testing the parties’ tolerance for movement” before making a decision about using a group setting or shuttle mediation – an interesting and challenging suggestion for mediators who often prefer not to have detailed advance information about the issues or the parties’ positions.

My experience with adversarial posturing and win-lose, positional bargaining makes me wonder if Krivis isn’t on to something. There are of course drawbacks to shuttle mediation, loss of transparency, increased risk of miscommunication, and a longer time requirement to name a few; drawbacks aside, sometimes the only way to reach settlement is to separate the parties. Krivis’ article and reference to new research about the social-cognitive processing support my already growing willingness to do some advance prep work before a formal mediation session is held and to separate parties earlier in the process. I do still prefer bringing parties together at least initially to discuss process and ground rules.

Here’s a link to Jeffrey Krivis’ full article on mediate.com: //www.mediate.com/articles/krivisintelligence.cfm

Written by: Amber M. Serwat, MA

Amber is a divorce and parenting specialist in private practice in Burnsville, MN – she is also a divorced parent and step-parent of three teenage children, ages 16-13.

amber@amsmediationplus.com | 952.252.1492

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