Teaching Mediation: Exercises to Help Students Acquire Mediation Skills

By Lara SanPietroon / Teaching Negotiation

Mediation Hire a Mediator

Often, disputing parties are unable achieve satisfactory or sustainable outcomes on their own through direct negotiation, and require the assistance of a mediator or facilitator. Mediators can help parties involved in a dispute through examining the issues at hand, uncovering the parties’ underlying interests, and identifying creative solutions. To act as mediator requires a great deal of skill, as it necessitates remaining unbiased while listening and seeking to understand the concerns of the parties involved. Mediators are brought in to assist with a range of disputes, including: divorce, small claims court, community relations, international conflicts, and business deals. To help students learn the skills required to be a deft mediator, the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) has a variety of mediation role-play exercises in diverse contexts.

Gator v. City of Quincy – Featured Small Claims Mediation

This three-person, two-hour, small-claims mediation is between a motorist and a city attorney regarding liability for damage to the motorist’s automobile due to a pothole. Alex Gator, a young salesperson, has a car that was damaged when Alex drove it into a large hole in a city street. Alex claims that the City of Quincy is responsible for the damage, since no warning signs were posted near the hole, which was part of a city construction project. The city, represented by a hard-nosed, part-time city attorney, does not really doubt Alex’s story, but claims no legal liability under applicable statutes. Both sides have agreed to mediation, but have only a limited time to discuss the case, before it is called before a judge in Small Claims Court. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • This exercise tests a mediator’s skill at information-gathering and reality testing. Both sides are withholding important information that can most likely be elicited only by skillful questioning.
  • The mediator must also be a skilled negotiator. The city attorney is a polished hard bargainer. Alex is a young person determined to see a just and principled result, not a compromise under pressure.
  • The role of “face-saving” and legitimacy is highlighted in the (conflicting) interests of both sides.

Download a sample Gator v. City of Quincy Teacher’s Package to learn more about this mediation.

Onembo and Benjamin Rug Co. v. Runyon and Lebeau – Featured Small Claims Mediation

This three-person, two-hour, small claims court mediation is between a rug company owner and a customer over the return of a made-to-order rug. A custom-made, oval-shaped rug was purchased from Andy Onembo at the Benjamin Rug Company by Bill Runyon. Runyon initially made a $50 down payment, and one week later paid the balance of $139. Both payments were by check, on an account held jointly with his former foster mother, Betty Lebeau. When Runyon presented the rug as a gift to Mrs. Lebeau, she expressed her gratitude, but believed the rug to be too expensive. Mrs. Lebeau decided to take the gift back. On the day of the return, Onembo stated that the customers should at least pay the $7 freight cost. An argument ensued, during which Mrs. Lebeau became infuriated. Eventually, she left the store with the rug still in her car. She then canceled both the checks. Andy Onembo sued Runyon and Lebeau in small claims court. The claim has now been referred to mediation. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • This exercise is a good test of a mediator’s skill in reality testing. Both sides hold strong views about the facts, a fair outcome, and each other, and are strong-willed and stubborn in general.
  • Detailed review of precise language, ordering of issues, use of caucuses, and framing of issues can be enormously rewarding.
  • The role of “face-saving” and legitimacy is highlighted in analyzing those solutions that are reached.

Download a sample Onembo and Benjamin Rug Teacher’s Package to learn more about this mediation.

Hydropower in Santales – Featured Environmental Mediation 

This six-person, four-hour, multi-issue mediation is focused on issues of public engagement in hydropower-based energy development. The Ortega Company is a new hydroelectric company that hopes to build a hydropower plant in the Cordillerana region of Santales, a fictitious South American country. In a departure from normal operations, the company has asked several different communities if they are interested in allowing a hydropower plant to be developed within their borders. Of the nine communities originally considered, two have expressed preliminary interest in the project. One is the town of Villaverde, located along the Reposado River. The development of the project could bring jobs and infrastructure investment to Villaverde, but would probably reduce the flow of the river, which could threaten the livelihoods of many community members. The Ortega Company is seeking broad support for the project and has invited representatives from the nearby indigenous community, local residents, the mayor’s office of Villaverde, and the local environmental NGO (nongovernmental organization) to meet with a representative from the company to discuss their concerns. In addition, the company has hired a professional mediator. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • Expose participants to different viewpoints and interests regarding energy development and related land use dilemmas.
  • Importance of voicing those different interests and perspectives early in the project development process (e.g. for identifying project impacts and possible design alternatives).
  • Questions about the role and responsibility of the mediator in: helping parties listen to each other, raising constructive options, clarifying solutions reached, and drafting written agreements.
  • Address fundamental value differences as a key source of disagreement among parties.

Download a Hydropower in Santales Teacher’s Package to learn more about this mediation.

Humboldt – Featured Environmental Mediation 

This eight-person, three-hour, multi-issue mediation is among regional government, environmental, development, and business interests regarding environmental and economic tradeoffs and ethical issues in the development of a manufacturing plant. Imports Inc, a large multi-national corporation, has recently purchased Smith’s Rollers plant. The new owners want to expand the plant and are considering a site in Milltown on the Humboldt River. Milltown is located in Arcadia — a fictitious western European country. In manufacturing the rollers, the chemical by-product ‘Laminia’ is generated. Although community leaders are enthusiastic about the project and the potential creation of new jobs and economic expansion, there is much concern regarding the long-term effects of the chemical releases. The elected regional Governors of Humboldt have invited seven parties, together with a mediator, to participate in an informal discussion that will cover both environmental and economic issues. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • The use of linkage should be explored both in terms of threats and in terms of incentives or promises.
  • The blending of economic and environmental issues provides and opportunity to discuss the costs and benefits of tradeoffs, as well as advantages and disadvantages of revealing all of one’s concerns.
  • The role of a mediator in a public policy dispute.

Download a sample Humboldt Teacher’s Package to learn more about this mediation.

March at Drumcree – Featured Community Dispute Mediation

This six-person, four-hour, multi-issue, mediation is between representatives of Catholic and Protestant groups regarding a Protestant marching route through Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. The conflict centers around the issue of Protestant celebrations of the Protestant defeat of the last Catholic King of England in 1690. These celebrations, in the form of marches through the neighborhoods of Portadown, have been occurring for nearly two hundred years; however, due to changing demographics, some of these neighborhoods are nor inhabited primarily by Catholics, who view the marches as a symbol of Protestant domination. As this role play begins, a government commission has ordered representatives of the Orange Order, the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, the RUC, the Protestant Church of Ireland, and the Catholic Church to try to resolve the dispute, with the help of a mediator from the European Union. Specifically at issue are the following questions: whether the march will take place, and if so, the route that it will take; what behavior rules the marchers and residents will follow; and what kind of long-term arrangements can be made to settle such disputes in the future. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • The role of identity and core values can play in conflict.
  • Understanding causes of conflict and how those differ between parties.
  • The role of the mediator in managing conflict.

Download a sample March at Drumcree Teacher’s Package to learn more about this mediation.

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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.

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