A couple of senior and experienced mediators here in Singapore have told me of a breakthrough strategy that has worked well for them in cracking an impasse. One of the mediators – also a senior lawyer and arbitrator – has used this on a number of occasions though both he and my other colleague confess to some slight reservations in using it.
The strategy: when parties are separated by a final gap in their settlement figures, or seem simply unable to arrive at an agreement, though the mediator suspects from caucus comments that agreement is possible, then the mediator suggests “Well, if you can’t arrive at an agreed figure, then at least do it for me (i.e. the mediator)” And it works.
But . . . it works, I suspect, only in some contexts:
- where a mediator is regarded as having some kind of authority, notwithstanding disclaimers of decision-making authority and role;
- thus in more stratified or hierarchical societies;
- where the preservation of “face” is a perceived obstacle to making the final concessions, but “doing it for the mediator” is a way for parties to save face;
- thus where this request from the mediator in fact adds a further principle or justification, in the process of finding reasons for acting; and
- in social contexts where exhortations to act in certain ways – being courteous, giving up seats in a bus, being gracious etc – are commonplace.
The print on this photo may be too small but the banner carried by the “lion” reads “It’s kind to move to the rear of the bus so others can board”; and the placard reads “Special Diet: Please feed with acts of kindness.”