Incorporating Assessments in Mediation and Coaching

Author: Michael Rawlings, lawyer, mediator, and coach

A big part of our role as mediators is to assist people, teams, and organizations in some of their most trying times. Among the most challenging aspects of the practice is watching clients struggle through the complexities of relationships whether in the family or the workplace. Typically, they’ve done their best to manage conflict and resolve disputes on their own but either have hit a wall, run out of approaches, or gotten stuck. Then they come to us .

The interest-based processes and skills we offer as mediators are highly valuable to our clients and are frequently sufficient to help them unblock and move forward, especially if the subject of the conflict is short-term and transactional. However, when the relationships or issues between the parties are ongoing, mediation alone may not be enough to help once the mediator is no longer with them.

Make a Long-Term Investment with Your Clients

We can do our clients a great service if we give them new tools to take with them as support for the current conflict as well as others that will inevitably arise and need to be managed. A simple approach is to suggest some basic conflict management reading or offer an assessment tool before and after the mediation sessions. This idea applies equally to group mediation, facilitation in organizational conflict, and family mediation, though it may not be practical in court referred mediations where contact and number of sessions are often limited.

I began mediating in the mid-1980s on the heels of a family divorce during which litigation destroyed what was left of a struggling, decades-long marriage. My family’s experience had become all too common in the U.S., and I decided as a young attorney to do my best to offer alternatives to costly and destructive litigation. By the 1990s, I had noticed that while mediation was useful and increasingly valued, many organizational clients and families kept returning for help. While this was good for business and the ego, I knew this was falling into the category of “give a person a fish vs teach them to fish,” and it wasn’t fully personally or professionally satisfying to me.

This awareness and the choice to make a longer-term investment with our clients was a personal evolution and one that was occurring across our profession. Many ADR practitioners were moving toward the same conclusion and broadening our mediation practices to incorporate behavioral science instruments and assessments that we were using in our parallel work in team development, coaching, and other OD work. MBTI® and other Jungian assessments, FIRO®, DISC®, TKI®, emotional intelligence assessments, and most of the classic 360-degree assessments are examples of tools used for this approach. When Eckerd College introduced the Conflict Dynamics Profile® (CDP) in the early 2000s, it made a huge contribution to the fields of ADR, coaching, and organization development by providing an easily learned system applicable to personal and organizational transformation in conflict management.

The basic idea is to go beyond helping clients resolve an immediate dispute to learn how to tap the roots of their conflicts and harness those tensions to move together into growth, creativity, and productivity. For those familiar with the CDP, this approach will sound familiar.

Improve Self Awareness with Assessments

Since the 1990s I have encouraged my clients to make an upfront investment in at least one assessment or instrument before beginning the challenging work of mediation, complex facilitated processes, and even more proactive and visionary human-centered design. Most have seen the logic and have agreed. Inevitably, I’ve seen these clients learn to self-manage their conflicts and disputes, and over time, become less reliant on outside third parties, thus empowering them while offering a good return on investment.

When individuals, families, organizations, and leaders pick a tool, learn it well, and incorporate it into their personal and organizational language and behavior, it transforms their relationships and culture in at least three specific ways. First, it raises self-awareness. Second, it helps name and observe patterns of thought and behavior at the individual and organizational levels. The client can then build on what works well and systematically work on areas needing improvement. Third, it gives people a neutral place to go, a language or system that is not native to any of the parties and to which they can turn to work through their communication and conflict on equal footing.

When the Model Workplace Program for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created in 2003, we partnered with Eckerd College and introduced the CDP into our organizational training as part of the goal of making TSA a conflict-competent organization. It became a core element of TSA’s Integrated Conflict Management System design, the first ICMS in the U.S. Federal sector, and was instrumental in the success of that program. Since then, I’ve seen remarkable and consistent success in personal and organizational transformation across sectors blending CDP and other tools with mediation, coaching, and other OD practices.

I’m convinced that most folks do the best they can to effectively manage their communication, conflicts, and relationships – until they get stuck. When they come to us for assistance, it’s usually because they need something more than they already have. As mediators, there’s a lot we can give that lives beyond the mediation session.

Michael Rawlings, J.D. is a lawyer, mediator, and coach. His current practice is focused on executive development in the public sector. He has been mediating family, workplace, and organizational conflicts for 30 years and enjoys teaching others these skills. Michael was certified in the CDP in 2004 while serving as the first Conflict Management Program Officer for TSA/DHS and became a CDP Master Trainer in 2008.