Opposition to Caucuses

Wallace Warfield

Former CRS Mediator, New York and Washington, D.C. Offices; Associate Professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: My approach to mediation is not the same approach I think my colleagues use, which is controlling. You have your opening comments, and then you immediately break people up into caucuses.

You can be less impartial, more manipulative, and think you can work out an agreement, and you hope and pray that when they come together they will have the basics of the agreement. I don't particularly care for that, because I think that's manipulative. I think also that you're getting agreements, but you're not really building relationships. You're not really helping people in dealing with their lives, in terms of the outcomes, down the road, when they're likely to have other types of conflict in their lives that are occurring. You've given them no tools to be able to handle that. So my preference, I don't know if you'd call this a technique, is to sort of keep people at the table, even at the risk of it being fairly explosive. They can hear each other, and they have the opportunity to be able to say, "Now I know how you feel."

Hopefully, they'll inculcate this as a kind of lesson learned, long after you're gone. For example, if this is a situation in which it's an ongoing relationship, they've learned something of how to handle this relationship in the future. You can't do that if you've got people constantly in separate caucus sessions. My preference if you want to call it a technique, is to kind of keep people at the table as long as I think I can stand it, as long as they can stand it. At some points you may have to break them into caucuses. Now, that becomes a given that you're doing something like a problem solving workshop, because the process is different. You know you don't break people into caucuses because that would cause huge suspicion. I suppose a technique is a certain kind of risk-taking that I will do to sort of tell people what I think and what I'm hearing. Kind of a reframing, but it's being also one where I will take a chance and suggest to people what a certain vision of what the outcome could look like, just to give them some idea. Lots and lots of third parties don't like to do that, because they think their vision belongs to the people.

I think in some instances you have to take some responsibility to help people create a vision, and being able to speak to that in terms of why you feel that is important. So you take some ownership of that, as opposed to saying oh let the parties do that work. I think it's important, at least for me, that I take some ownership, because actually this vision is a world that I'm also living in as well. It's not just the world that they live in; it's also the world I'm living in. I think, pragmatically speaking, it's going to have some impact in my own life.

Q: So you would take an active role in creating the ideal with the people you were working with? A vision?

A: I think so.

Q: If I understand you correctly about the previous point, while having a caucus can be useful for moving the immediate negotiation at hand forward, it sort of detracts from the ability of the parties to deal with each other.

A: Yeah.