Teach Your Students to Take Their Mediation Skills to the Next Level

By — on / Teaching Negotiation


Mediation is a critical conflict resolution skill for students in a variety of fields: business, international relations, law, and public policy, to name a few. Once students have mastered mediation basics, they can hone their skills by trying to mediate more complex conflicts as well as by learning the key differences between facilitation and mediation. Facilitators attempt to help parties who are face-to-face reach a negotiated agreement. Instead of offering recommendations or imposing an outcome, a facilitator encourages conversation and joint problem-solving so that the parties may reach their own voluntary solution. Facilitators are solely focused on the conversations between the parties at the negotiation table. Mediators, on the other hand, make moves both at and away from the negotiation table. Mediators sometimes make recommendations to the parties in order to assist them in coming to an agreement, and work with the parties away from the negotiation table to help them with their back table or internal negotiations.  Understanding when to use facilitation or mediation will help students become better negotiators.  The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) has a variety of advanced mediation exercises to help students take their facilitation and mediation skills to the next level. These include Managing the “Micronium Mess,” Homelessness in Niceville, Springfield OutFest, Waltham Construction v. Foster Fuels, and Designing an Integrated Account System.

Managing the “Micronium Mess” – Featured Mediation Simulation

This seven-party, eight role, two-hour mediated negotiation provides students with the opportunity to work out a multi-party agreement regarding a fictitious, potentially harmful substance called “Micronium.” Micronium-based products are an indispensable input into half a dozen important industries, ranging from food production to medical technologies, public transportation and cars, and even to housing insulation. However, it is only now becoming clear that careless disposal of Micronium has contaminated soil, freshwater, and ocean resources around the world. National scientific bodies in many countries have formally requested that their governments take steps to manage the risks associated with Micronium. However, no country wants to go first. Moreover, the implied trade restrictions would have to be adjudicated through the World Trade Organization’s very slow review procedures, while the danger is already at a crisis level. There are no obvious Micronium substitutes, and it is not clear whether effective risk management requires that production be completely halted — which would pose risks in the medical field and might trigger a world-wide food crisis; or, whether Micronium production and applications should be allowed to continue, but with stringent global restrictions on how it is produced, distributed, used by industry and disposed.

The UN Secretary-General has appointed an Emergency Task Force to generate possible recommendations for action by the next full session of the General Assembly. The seven-member Task Force has been meeting in private for several months at the request of the Secretary General. The group includes various country representatives, highly knowledgeable scientific advisors, and relevant NGOs.  At this stage, the Secretary-General wants the Task Force to advise her on what the text ought to be of a motion that can be voted up or down by the General Assembly. Merely handing off the problem to one of the UN’s existing bodies is not acceptable. While it may take several years to draft a formal international treaty and create a new global regulatory regime, the Secretary-General wants the General Assembly to take a definitive stand one way or the other. Major lessons in this simulation include:

  • Developing coalition-building strategies in a multi-party negotiating context;
  • Dealing with “spoilers” in an international negotiating setting.
  • Learning how to give scientific findings their due in international political negotiations.
  • Understanding the role that mediators can play in global policy negotiations.
  • Learning how to engage both official and unofficial representatives in a global policy dialogue.

Download a free preview copy of the Managing the Micronium Mess Teacher’s Package to learn more about this simulation.

Homelessness in Niceville – Featured Mediation Simulation

This six-person, three-hour facilitated integrative negotiation brings advocates for the homeless, community and business leaders, and a foundation together to decide how to allocate a substantial grant aimed at alleviating the local homelessness problems. A family foundation has invited five community organizations to suggest how to allocate a $1 million grant to alleviate the problem of homelessness in the city of Niceville. The foundation is seeking a proposal that will meet the needs of all interested stakeholders and improve homeless services in Niceville. The simulation explores the role that a facilitator (from a community-based foundation) might play in this type of community problem-solving effort. The stakeholders represent five different attitudes toward homelessness that are sometimes in conflict, yet lend themselves to coalition building. It is up to the foundation representative to help reconcile the parties’ philosophical differences and develop a satisfactory “package.” Major lessons include:

  • How a facilitator can keep the discussion focused on the “issues” and not allow disagreements among the parties to bog down the group.
  • How the members of the group can and should use private discussions or caucuses. Though no two groups will agree on everything, coalition building will be helpful in building consensus.
  • All interests should be fully represented in the discussions for as long as possible; however, the simulation requires only four of the five players (excluding the foundation representative) to reach agreement. It is up to the stakeholder to decide how flexible they will be in light of the fact that they run the risk of being excluded. The group as a whole must determine the advantages and disadvantages of excluding a stakeholder.

Download a free preview copy of the Homelessness in Niceville Teacher’s Package to learn more about this simulation.

Springfield OutFest – Featured Mediation Simulation

This six-person, four-hour, non-scorable negotiation simulation is focused on mediating a values-based legal dispute, specifically a disagreement involving conflicting views and values regarding homosexuality and religious faith. In Springfield OutFest, Springfield Pride is a local advocacy organization that supports the city of Springfield’s sizeable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Springfield Pride’s largest event of the year, by far, is the OutFest, an annual street festival permitted by the city of Springfield to celebrate National Coming Out Day, to support and affirm LGBT identity. In addition to drawing large, supportive crowds, the festival also attracts members of the public who oppose the message of the festival and LGBT lifestyles in general. One group in particular, Salvation Now!, is a nationwide network of grassroots religious and social campaigners who seek to bring their religious message directly to those they believe are living sinful lifestyles. The local Salvation Now! organizers have been a regular and increasingly visible presence at the OutFest over the past several years, including last year when Salvation Now! members arrived at the OutFest, megaphones at the ready, and began broadcasting a message that many at the festival found offensive and hateful. Springfield Pride had organized a human buffer of numerous volunteers, who were prepared to shield the crowd from the protesters. The volunteers carried massive signs to block the signs of the protesters and blew whistles to drown out their megaphones. As tensions mounted, the police arrested several Salvation Now! members for refusing to follow police instructions and disrupting the peace. Although the criminal charges were eventually dropped, the confrontation dampened the festival atmosphere and attracted quite a bit of unfavorable media attention to the city of Springfield and the OutFest. The simulation begins one year later. Springfield Pride has just submitted its permit application for this year’s upcoming OutFest. Fearing either an escalation of last year’s confrontation, or legal liability and court challenges, the city has requested a meeting with all parties to try to agree on some groundrules before this year’s festival. Major lessons include:

  • Assisted negotiation (i.e., mediation) can be used to resolve values-based disputes, not just interest-based disputes.
  • Ways to avoid threats to individual identity.
  • The need to stress shared and overarching values.
  • The importance of focusing on both short-term and longer-term solutions.
  • Learning when no agreement is the best outcome.

Download a free preview copy of the Springfield OutFest Teacher’s Package to learn more about this simulation.

Waltham Construction v. Foster Fuels – Featured Mediation Simulation

This four-party, two-hour mediation is between a construction company and a fuel supplier over vehicle damage. Waltham Construction Supply Corporation is a regional supplier of sand, cement, and other construction materials that runs a fleet of 150 heavy vehicles, consisting mainly of dump trucks but including cement mixers and light vehicles. Waltham’s vehicles are garaged in six depots. Foster Fuels, Inc., is a family-owned business that supplies diesel fuel, oil, and related products to businesses. For several years, Waltham had bought some of its diesel fuel from Foster. Two years ago, Waltham needed some new antifreeze. It decided to buy the antifreeze from Foster. However, after using the antifreeze in its vehicles, Waltham noticed that the vehicles suffered from corrosion. The day after the first corrosion appeared, Foster’s sales manager came to the Waltham depot to look at the trucks. He remarked that the Foster antifreeze did not look right: it was blue rather than green, the color of the antifreeze that Foster sold for small engines, not large ones. He apologized for having sent over the “wrong antifreeze” and arranged to have the remaining Foster product picked up and replaced with the “right stuff.” Several days after the first reports of corrosion, Foster’s insurer, Lloyds of London, sent an investigator to look at the engines and take the damaged components away for testing. Four months later, Lloyds’ adjuster informed Waltham that it would not take responsibility for the damage because it was not able to find anything wrong with the Foster antifreeze. After an exchange of letters, Waltham sued Foster. Waltham alleged that Foster had been negligent in supplying Waltham with bad antifreeze. If Waltham won, it would be entitled to damages equal to the repair costs and perhaps the lost value of the vehicles, plus interest at 12 % per year.

Download a free preview copy of the Waltham Construction Teacher’s Package to learn more about this simulation.

Designing an Integrated Account System – Featured Mediation Simulation

This five-person, four-hour, multi-issue, facilitated negotiation is among four managers and a Human Resources facilitator over the design of the company’s new account system. Although the Company had grown steadily for 30 years, it began reporting yearly losses five years ago. Unable at first to track its over-spending problems, the Company finally discovered major information management deficiencies while re-establishing its Indonesian office. Top officials proposed an integrated account system (IAS) to centralize worldwide information management services. Knowing this company-wide coordination effort would be difficult, the Company asked J. Coles to lead the team development effort. The cross-functional team Coles put together includes H. Chung from Manufacturing, M. McKenzie from the Sales Division, and P. Rossi from Finance. Coles asked R. Diaz, human resource development specialist, to act as a facilitator throughout the project, and more specifically, to assist in the first meeting of the group at which some of the operating issues are to be resolved. Major lessons include:

  • The need to gather information about interests and options.
  • The importance of packaging agreements across interests that are valued differently.
  • Managing a process of agreement through coalition building.
  • Practicing the functions and responsibilities of human resource facilitators.

Download a free preview copy of the Designing an Integrated Account System Teacher’s Package to learn more about this simulation.


Take your training to the next level with the TNRC

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center offers a wide range of effective teaching materials, including

TNRC negotiation exercises and teaching materials are designed for educational purposes. They are used in college classroom settings or corporate training settings; used by mediators and facilitators seeking to introduce their clients to a process or issue; and used by individuals who want to enhance their negotiation skills and knowledge.

Negotiation exercises and role-play simulations introduce participants to new negotiation and dispute resolution tools, techniques and strategies. Our videos, books, case studies, and periodicals are also a helpful way of introducing students to key concepts while addressing the theory and practice of negotiation and conflict management.

Which negotiation exercises have helped you? Let us know in the comments.

Check out all that the TNRC has in store >>

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