Dispute Resolution: The Advantages of a Neutral Third-Party Mediator

Shuttle diplomacy in mediation offers benefits to business negotiators seeking dispute resolution

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dispute resolution

In an article, “Beyond Blame: Choosing a Mediator,” Stephen B. Goldberg advised business negotiators involved in a dispute to seek out an interests-based mediator to assist both sides in reaching a mutually satisfactory dispute resolution.

The bulk of Goldberg’s work took place prior to external negotiations.

He first met separately with each team member and key personnel in the member’s department to get a sense of the interests underlying each department’s position and the relative importance of each interest.

  • For example, he learned that certain aspects of the new technology were less dear to the engineers than others and could be dropped if their more important aspects were protected. In other departments, similar discussions led Goldberg to identify other minor interests that could be traded off to protect more crucial interests.

Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Once he knew the core interests of each department, he engaged in “shuttle diplomacy,” trying out proposed tradeoffs with each department.

He then assembled the entire team to see if they could agree on an overall position. With his knowledge of key interests and possible tradeoffs, he was able to propose an overall corporate negotiation position that would protect the core interests of each department. Reaching overall agreement was not difficult.

Next, the operations VP assessed whether the common position fully represented overall corporate interests.

His alterations led to a further round of mediated internal negotiations that formed a corporate position acceptable to all.

For more background information about Stephen Goldberg’s mediation techniques that he used to help him serve as an advisor and facilitator for a telecommunications company negotiating with competitors over radio spectrum for relay satellites, read Negotiating with a Mediator’s Assistance: A Case Study.

About Shuttle Diplomacy and Dispute Resolution

Shuttle diplomacy is the practice of meeting separately with each disputant, and while widespread, is not without controversy. Critics have argued that these private sessions give the mediator too much power at the expense of the parties and that joint sessions improve the parties’ understanding of each other.

In the July 2011 issue of Negotiation Journal, mediator David Hoffman took a thoughtful look at the role of caucusing in mediation in an article entitled “Mediation and the Art of Shuttle Diplomacy.”

Hoffman argued, caucusing provides mediators with an indispensable tool for addressing some of mediation’s stickiest dilemmas. Some parties, for a variety of reasons, will never be willing to speak freely in front of each other. In highly contentious, emotional disputes, frequent private meetings may be the only viable option for dispute resolution.

How do you handle dispute resolution? Do you think you could improve your skills? Leave a comment.


Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


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