METAPHORS IN MEDIATION
by Norm Page
Used with permission from the author
When my success rate at small claims mediation started to decline, I decided to look at ways to increase my influence on the process. I inquired about the mediator's sources of power and found:
I decided to focus on word choice, specifically metaphorical images. Greek root for metaphor is metaphors, i.e., it depicts the sense of one thing in terms of another that rings with familiarity. It often causes the mind to say, "True enough! - I never looked at it that way." Some examples of metaphors might be:
Mike Tyson is an ox.
The torch has been passed to a new generation [John F. Kennedy]
In practicing my metaphors, to quiet down a class at the beginning of the hour, I used one I heard from another professor, "Let's still the water." I was surprised as to how well it worked.
How does a metaphorical image get its power?
I contacted the literature to find out how metaphors can help mediators, but found little help. Consequently, I decided to gather my own. First, I isolated the key functions of mediation and tried to match metaphors to each. Some metaphors are grand (all-encompassing with many spin-offs) while others are specific. What follows in a list of specific metaphors that seem to match functions (what mediators do). Later I will speculate on grand metaphors that may be useful in mediation.
WHAT DO MEDIATORS DO? WHAT METAPHORS MIGHT BE APPROPRIATE?
MEDIATORS EXPLAIN MEDIATION
"Mediation is a bridge"
"Mediation is a boat in rough waters"
· "We need to row to the calm side of the island."
MEDIATORS EXPLAIN GOOD FAITH, NEGOTIATION:
TELL EACH OTHER THE TRUTH
"Talk with a straight tongue"
"No one can speak with a forked tongue"
"Each of you must contribute pieces to this puzzle"
"Facts are needed to shore up one's case"
INDICATE PARTIES MUST NOT DISRESPECT ONE ANOTHER
"Let's not press each other's hot buttons"
"Let's refrain from any fire-eating language"
MEDIATORS ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN A SENSE OF FAIRNESS
"I'm the keeper of the bridge; I'm concerned about the safety of those using it and
to ensure they follow the rules"
MEDIATORS EXPLAIN MEDIATOR NEUTRALITY
"I'm walking a balance beam. If I lean to one side or the other, I fall"
MEDIATORS URGE MOVEMENT TOWARD AN AGREEMENT
"Let's turn the corner to an agreement and not look back"
"We're beginning to see some light at the end of this tunnel"
MEDIATORS ENABLE A LARGER VISION TO HELP CREATE OPTIONS
"We're here to write some new music that you can both humm to"
"The door is wide open to new ideas"
MEDIATORS GENERATE CLIMATE OF COOPERATION
"Now that you are in this hole, you need to build a ladder together"
"Without the cooperation of you both, this mediation will be a one-legged duck"
MEDIATORS LISTEN TO EACH PARTY'S STORY
"Have you left any rocks unturned?" (from Amy Starr)
MEDIATORS IMPLORE PARTIES TO BE PATIENT WITH EACH OTHER
"Negotiation is a tide, it will ebb and flow"
"We can expect some rain to fall on our progress"
MEDIATORS COMPLIMENT PARTIES ON THEIR PROGRESS
"Cooler heads have prevailed"
"You are painting a picture that you can both admire"
MEDIATORS URGE PARTIES TO ABIDE BY (IMPLEMENT) THEIR SIGNED AGREEMENT
"By abiding by your agreement will you eventually be out of the woods"
MEDIATORS RECOGNIZE AN IMPASS
"We're approaching a brick wall"
MEDIATORS DEAL WITH THE IMPASS
"The secret to unraveling string is to loosen it up"
"There are many roads to Rome"
"Let's slice this salami a little thinner" (small concessions to break a deadlock)
"Let's breathe in some fresh air" (go to caucus)
MEDIATORS MAKE SUGGESTIONS TO ONE PARTY DURING A CAUCUS
"Why don't you throw 'em a bone?"
"I think you might be skating near thin ice"
"The ball is in your court"
MEDIATORS SEPARATE ISSUES
"Let's hang this on the clothesline for right now"
"Let's put that issue on a back burner for right now"
MEDIATORS REFRAME ISSUES FROM POSITIONS TO INTERESTS
"Reframe" itself is a metaphor. This is the power of the metaphor, to see something
from a different perspective
MEDIATORS INFORM PARTIES OF THEIR BATNA [i.e., Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement]
"Let's sidestep the strong arm of the law."
"Relying on the decision of the judge is, at best, a roll of the dice"
MEDIATORS FACILITATE FACE-SAVING
"Let's not push each other's backs against the wall" (from Stella Ting-Toomey)
MEDIATORS FACILITATE COMMUNICATION
· REGULATE TURN-TAKING
"Each of you gets a piece of this pie"
(Turn to one party) "It's your turn at bat."
· MAY INTERRUPT FOR THE BENEFIT OF PROGRESS
"Things seem to be all over the board, let me ask this. . ."
· CONDUCT PERCEPTION CHECKING
"Let me see if I have a handle on your point?"
"Are you painting the picture that _____________?"
· ASK FOR CALMNESS
"Let's still the waters" (from Gary Pollitt)
· RESTATE ISSUES IN NEUTRALLY-TONED LANGUAGE
"Let me guide us into calmer water. Are you saying that ___________?"
· SEEK CLARITY
"Can you get to the bottom-line?"
MEDIATORS FACILITATE CREATIVITY:
"I want both of you to think out of the box"
"There's a solution buried here somewhere"
MEDIATORS SUGGEST TRADE-OFFS:
"You might take _____ from the table; while you might take _____from the table"
MEDIATORS ISOLATE AN UNDERLYING ISSUES THAT MAY PROVIDE A BASIS FOR THE SETTLEMENT
"Let me put this possibility on the table"
MEDIATORS SHOW RESPECT FOR EACH OF THE PARTIES
"You are both royalty for opting for mediation"
MEDIATORS URGE MOVEMENT AWAY FROM REPEATING GRIEVANCES
"Let's not cycle around again on that point" (from Amy Starr)
MEDIATORS WRITE UP THE AGREEMENT
"Let me run the iron over this"
"Let me write up a smile."
"Let me connect the dots."
Any Grand Metaphors?
As indicated earlier, there are grand metaphors that spin off into many related metaphors. Are there grand metaphors for mediation? Perhaps.
· MEDIATION AS A GARDEN; MEDIATOR AS A GARDNER
"Preparing the ground"
"To plant seeds, care for them while they grow"
"May have to dig out an occasional weed"
"The parties are growing before your eyes"
"If the garden has a bad season, another one will come"
"The sun will rise tomorrow"
"Gardening for an agreement"
· MEDIATION AS A TABLE
"Come to the table"
"Put your concerns on the table"
"Under the table"
"Take from the table"
"Let's table this"
Guidelines for Using Metaphors
Below are other metaphors I've collected that may be helpful. You may have even others.
"Any party can call a time-out"
"Mediation ensures a level playing field"
"No smoke screens allowed"
"Let's not use our pickaxes on each other"
"Let's stay on track"
"Let's get back on target"
"We take from the table" -- not each other
"Let's keep our eyes on the ball"
"I'm beginning to see the end of this movie"
"Let's bridge a path to an agreement"
"There's a solution buried in here somewhere"
"Let's get a handle on an agreement"
"Let's iron out an agreement"
"I think we have an agreement in sight"
"Let's cut to the chase"
"Let's clean this slate so we can look to new options"
"A future can rise out of these ashes"
"Your agreement is a roadmap to the future"
"In mediation, the road will have some dips and turns"
"You are both on the same track"
"We are still in a mind field"
"We are working this mine together"
"Let's defuse this bomb"
"I think there's a path you can walk together"
"I can only digest information so fast"
"I'm looking at murky water here"
"I think you've struck pay dirt."
"The tide has turned"
"Tow the line"
"Let's not throw out the gold with the ore"
"Let's reset the clock"
"Put this in the living room, shut the door"
"Keep this door a little open"
"Let's close the door on this issue"
"The past has left a bad taste in our mouths"
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"
"I don't have a horse in this race" [from Bob Emry]
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Heights: Waveland Press.
Folger, J.P. &, Jones, T.S. (1994). New directions in mediation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Johnson, M. (Ed.) (1981). Philosophical perspective on metaphor. Minneapolis: University of
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago & London: University of Chicago
Moore, C.W. (1996). The mediation process (2d Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Yale, D. (1988). Metaphors in mediating. Mediation Quarterly, 22, 15-24.