My colleague Alan Gross and I have this ongoing banter about spoiler alerts. We co-teach a mediation course at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, and we argue over whether the students should read the relevant manual chapters before class.
I don’t want the students to read in advance. I like to see the lightbulbs go on as I throw down the knowledge. Giving away the material ahead of time feels like telling people the end of a movie before they’ve seen it. But Alan wants them to read in advance, as he feels they’re more likely to absorb the info that way. (Alan recently showed me a study that indicates people enjoy stories more when they know what’s going to happen, so he’s therefore doing people a favor by revealing the end of a movie. Alan points to lots of studies that debunk my conventional wisdom).
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With the full confession that I’ve never seen Minnie Mouse smoking, my experience is that authenticity often flows from a mediation conducted transparently. And I used to think it was just ME (the mediator) who felt more authentic. But the more I work in this field, the more convinced I have become that by inviting parties behind my potentially-magic curtain, the more they themselves are able and willing to articulate their own decisions and the reasons underlying them.
And I share virtually all of the concerns you articulate here about transparent mediation — particularly an extreme version of transparent mediation in which the mediator takes an excessive view of the importance of her or his thinking, to the detriment of other, probably more important values in play. (The parallel would be the person who cannot usefully distinguish between “I don’t lie” and “I tell you everything I’m thinking, every time I think it, bidden or unbidden.”)
I remain utterly humbled that an article I wrote more than a dozen years ago has some resonance for those who are doing this important work. And to be perfectly, well, transparent, I’m also awfully glad you let me know about your work. Those of us who have devoted our lives to the academy could barely ask for more than having one of our ideas taken, applied, and improved in practice.
Thank you for all that you do.
Michael: thank YOU (the mediator and scholar) for your seminal work in thinking about, writing about, and practicing this strategy. Although, like you and Brad, I have some concerns about transparent mediators transforming themselves into detached teachers, my own experience yields a very low cost/benefit ratio. And as Brad would NOT say (see
https://thehecklist.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/au-revoir-cliches/) this tactic is often a win-win for dealing with instant problems/issues AND picking up some mediation life skills. Perhaps, had we invited Minnie and Mickey to the transparent mediation table years ago, she may not have taken to smoking with her head removed.
Alan E. Gross (New York Peace Institute, New York, NY)