In this article, published in The Times’ ‘The Brief’ on 22 November 2016, accredited mediator Michelle Uppal, partner and head of the divorce and finance team at Miles & Partners, looks at the impact of gender on mediation and explores the benefits of co-mediation.
Mediators should be neutral, impartial and balanced to resolve complex disputes, but nonetheless there are different styles of mediation – some more feminine and some more masculine.
Kathy Perkins, a US mediator, said that female mediators are more likely to adopt a more nurturing style, being more concerned with how problems are solved as well as listening to the needs and concerns of each side.
In contrast, male mediators are sometimes seen as more aggressive and more willing to push an issue in negotiation.
No surprise, then that co-mediation – involving a male and female mediator with different skills – is often termed as the gold service. Gender balance incorporating a range of skills and allocating different roles has lots of advantages. There is no need for the mediators to always agree, but together they can demonstrate a way to work and a model for the parties.
In family mediation, co-mediation works well and working with other mediators with varying skills or interdisciplinary specialism, such as therapeutic experts and financial advisors, can be helpful for cultural balance as well as gender.
Take, for example, a family case where the wife has given up her career to raise children, while the husband’s career prospered. His pension was significant and he took issue with sharing it.
He tried to align himself with the male mediator and it was important that the female mediator addressed this and took the lead in asking questions to normalise the issue, while the male mediator skillfully took the wife through matters, so that both dispelled assumptions and various roles that this couple had assumed.
The shuttle or “caucus” mediation can also be a valuable approach in which to mediate, irrelevant of gender style. Sometimes parties reach an impasse or difficult point that could potentially be explosive. Breaking into different rooms where the mediator or mediators can move between the parties can calm the atmosphere. But the mediators should always aim to bring the parties back together.
Mediators always need to remain sensitive to imbalances – whether, gender, cultural, or issue related, which will generally crop up in all situations. Male and female mediators need to remain mindful of these and not make any assumptions while negotiating an acceptable outcome for all parties.
Theresa May, Liz Truss and Angela Merkel have tough international situations ahead, but taking the right approach in different environments, while not aligning themselves to a particular gender stereotype, will be just as important and influential as the outcome itself.
There is nothing to suggest that women have better negotiation techniques than our male counterparts. It is not about being right or wrong or better, it is about having different approaches, and in many cases a combination of approaches can be most effective.