I have been a Group Facilitator and Mediator for nearly 28 years. When I started in the field in 1987, it was new to me and new to everyone I encountered. I was fortunate to have a sponsor for my training and early years of work in the field in Jefferson County, Colorado. The County retained me as a full-time mediator and facilitator for large land use proposals (mining operations, recreational sites, landfills, hazardous waste sites, etc.). It was a baptism of fire for a conflict resolution professional, but it allowed me to devote all of my professional energies to this fascinating field. As I gained more experience in the field and grew to respect the positive results of the process, I thought that more and more people in all walks of life would come around to using mediation as a way to solve all manner of conflicts. This has happened, but to a much more limited extent than I had hoped. Too many good mediators have left the field because they could not find enough clients. So, I would like to once more make the case for what has been come to be known as alternative dispute resolution or ADR (alternative because it does not follow the typical path of using confrontation in the courts – or other venues – to solve problems).

There are so many reasons for using ADR that I know I will not remember all of them, here. However, all of the reasons are compelling ones. Many of you reading this will probably say: “Why didn’t he list that reason?” All this tells me is that I am right. There is an overpowering need for this process in our world.

  • Group Facilitation and Mediation empower the participants. Typically, decisions are made by consensus, and everyone has buy-in. There is always give and take, but everyone owns some important piece of the solution. If a judge, arbitrator or some other official decision-maker tells everyone what to do, no one has buy-in (or at least, not much), and usually everyone resents the imposed solution.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation are usually faster than other processes. Everyone can wait six months for a court date, or they can schedule mediation or a facilitated discussion for next week. If a solution is reached, a lot of time has been saved. If not, the court date is still there.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation are organized processes. This is especially important for facilitated group meetings. Such a meeting can lose its way without a facilitator. A facilitator makes sure that the meeting has a clear agenda; all topics on the agenda are covered; no one is left out of the discussion; decisions are made in a way the group has previously agreed upon (often by consensus); and an accurate record of the group discussion and decisions is made both during and at the completion of the meeting.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation “expand the pie”. Too often, formal processes limit discussion to one topic or a small group of topics, and the universe of possible solutions is very small. When people all sit down together to talk things through, brainstorming generates new topics for consideration and usually new solutions that are often radically “outside of the box”. I’ve often had judges tell me that the solution reached by parties in a small claims court mediation is one he/she would never have ordered based on interpretation of the law – but it was a great solution.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation save money. It is often possible to engage a mediator before ever filing a court case or hiring an attorney. If parties in conflict decide to hire a mediator early on in their conflict, they can come together to reach agreement an pay only the cost of the mediator, thereby avoiding attorneys’ fees, court costs, and all of the monetary delays caused by the conflict dragging on for months. This is not to say that attorneys and their input to their clients is not often valuable during mediation.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation can save relationships. Meeting together to come to a shared agreement over a conflict is a satisfying process. It allows people to really hear each other and understand other points of view. If friends, neighbors, business colleagues or family members are in conflict, arguments and lawsuits only drive them apart (sometimes forever). Reaching agreement in mediation can remind people of the value of their relationships while resolving their conflict – not to mention learning a new, more positive way of relating to each other.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation provide Access to Justice. A self-represented (“pro se”) party typically feels at a disadvantage as compared to the other person in a dispute who may be represented by an attorney. Pro se parties often find completing and filing court forms to be daunting. I serve on our county’s Access to Justice Committee. There is broad consensus on that committee that mediation is a way for people to get justice, whether or not they have filed a court case.
  • Group Facilitation and Mediation feel fair to everyone involved. Over my 28 years in conflict resolution, I have heard from many people who say that their court-imposed settlement was simply “not fair”. However, the parties to a settlement reached in mediation are often not totally happy with the result, but they own the give and take involved in reaching it – and thus perceive it as fair.

As I said, these are only a few reasons to hire a Group Facilitator or Mediator to assist in resolving conflict between two people – or even among two hundred people. If you think you have need for these services to help resolve your conflict, you can contact me, Mark Loye, or call me at (303)704-3808. If you recognize yourself in some of the situations described in this article, I hope to hear from you, soon.

By |9:34 pm|Group Facilitation Denver, Mediation|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION – WHY?


To finish the discussion about mediator neutrality (or impartiality – an equivalent term for purposes of this discussion), I’d like to discuss how a conflict resolution professional might react when his neutrality is challenged during a long-term, multi-party mediation or facilitation. This has happened to me more than once doing environmental/public policy work. These challenges have been made, for the most part, for strategic reasons. Simply withdrawing from the case was never really an option (as one might do for a limited, one-meeting case).

In many complex, multi-party mediations, one or more of the parties are fighting a delaying action and do not want the negotiations to result in a compromise or consensus agreement. They want the other side to lose, pure and simple. If the mediator has to deal with complicating factors (beyond simply managing productive meetings), the process will become more cumbersome, it will slow down and may ultimately stall from its own inertia. One complicating factor is an accusation that the mediator is biased toward one side of the dispute or another. Such an accusation may be made to the other members of the group, to the mediator’s superiors and, perhaps most seriously, to the press. Any mediator who wishes to continue facilitating the group’s discussions must respond effectively to the challenge without actively engaging the party making it.

I’ll start with the challenge to the group. Since I spent several years as a neutral who was paid by County government, parties sometimes charged me with advancing the county planning agenda. The county and I had anticipated this situation by putting me outside the chain of command of the planning department. My direct supervisor was an upper level county manager who was also the superior of the planning director. Although this gave me some buffering from this charge, a better way to answer it was to simply put it to the group as a whole and ask them if they felt I was other than neutral in my approach to the group. I am happy to say that this approach worked for me. The groups as a whole (aside from the one party challenging me) always supported me as a neutral, and the discussions continued.

Next is the challenge to a superior. My best story about this involved a group convened to discuss the possible addition of a new access road to an already approved and operating rock quarry. At the very first meeting, a member of the group who lived near the quarry said: “We’re here to shut you down”. I politely but firmly corrected her, letting her know that neither our facilitated process nor any later decision by the County Commissioners could have that result, since the operator was only asking for an amendment to his zoning, not approval for a new operation. The woman who wanted to shut down the quarry complained to my supervisor the next day. She said that I was obviously biased in favor of the quarry operator. Based on the doctrine of “no surprises to your boss”, I forewarned my supervisor of the potential complaint. When he received it, he was able to ask the proper questions of the complainant and clarify my role for her. The group discussions continued.

Finally, challenges made through the press. A calm, reasoned process is simply no fun for the media. Contentious debates make news. So, when a vocal leader of the citizen opponents to a proposed gravel quarry sought out the press and accused me of being “an agent for developers”, the reporter immediately called me to say: “Party X says you’re an agent for developers – not really a neutral mediator. What do you say to that?” (Remember, conflict makes headlines and rational discussion is boring.) I had only one course open to me. I replied that Party X was certainly entitled to his opinion, but that I was simply trying my best to help everyone communicate with each other, without showing favoritism to anyone. I suggested to the reported that she contact my supervisor (whom I knew would back me up) and/or other members of the group (most of whom would back me up) for their opinions of my behavior as a neutral. I like to think that my reasoned response was the reason she did not pursue the matter further. Again, the group discussions continued.

So, we can see that a conflict resolution professional must not only act in a way that conveys his neutrality – often he must actively defend it.

By |4:25 pm|Group Facilitation Denver|Comments Off on GROUP FACILITATION AND MEDIATION – A Few Words about Neutrality, Part III