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Techniques for Breaking an ImpasseEvery case which comes to mediation has reached an impasse. Often, the parties will discover a way to find agreement on their own. In most cases, however, the mediator must intervene creatively to break an impasse. The following are a few of the possible techniques which may create a breakthrough:
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2003
- Break the issue down into smaller parts, isolating the most difficult issues and reserving these for later.
- Ask the parties why an alternative is unacceptable, the look for narrow solutions tailored to the reasons given.
- Go to other issues, to take a break and ask the parties to think about the various alternatives presented.
- Review the parties' priorities and common interests.
- Suggest consulting and expert to supply needed facts or advice.
- Caucus with each party separately to explore hidden agendas and willingness to compromise.
- Split the difference.
- Try to obtain agreement on what the parties originally expect the solution would be.
- Look for possible tradeoffs or change services.
- Encourage the parties to recognize and acknowledge each other's points of view.
- Tell the parties you are stuck and ask for their help.
- Ask the parties to indicate what would change or happen if they reached a solution.
- Make certain the parties prefer mediation, as opposed to letting the conflict continue, or litigation. If they don't find out why.
- Look at the impact of various solutions on an involved third party.
- Test for emotional investment in a given item by asking what it would take to get the parties to surrender it.
- Compliment the parties on reaching earlier points of agreement and being willing to compromise, encourage them to reach a complete agreement and put this dispute behind them.
- Remind the parties what will happier if they do not settle. State what each stands to lose.
- Create a minute of silence for the parties to think.
- Ask more questions about the problem, about feelings, priorities, alternative solutions, flexibility, hidden agendas, reluctance to compromise, anger at one another, etc., or return to agenda setting.
- Serve food or nonalcoholic drinks to get them to relax.
- End the session and assign homework for the parties to return to the next session with written alternatives or reasons or financial data, etc.
- Generate options by asking the parties to brainstorm without considering the practicality of the suggestion.
- Tell the parties which alternative you believe is fair and why. This should only be done if all other options fail.
- Suggest binding arbitration by a third unbiased party as a last-ditch alternative.
- Suggest that the parties increase their fighting, as a paradox to show the uselessness of the conflict.
Reference: Cloke, Kenneth, (1990). Mediation: Revenge and the Magic of Forgiveness. Center for Dispute Resolution, Santa Monica, CA
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