The role the mediator has been described as one of facilitating negotiation between parties to a dispute. Mediators engage in such facilitation by using many techniques, including caucusing with the disputants for the purpose of identifying their interests, reality testing their proposals, and even suggesting solutions. While these are worthwhile activities, they are specific actions that are “done to the disputants” in the instant mediation by the mediator and do not necessarily empower the disputants to negotiate effectively or leave them with stronger negotiating competence going forward. Perhaps the role of the mediator should not be limited to helping the disputants resolve their dispute but should be thought of more broadly to include coaching them on how to be effective negotiators.
The areas in which coaching in caucus could be beneficial include communication, culture and competence in negotiating. Disputants can be coached in strengthening communication skills such as active listening, informing and reframing. The mediator can also make the disputants aware of the differences in their culturally- influenced negotiating styles if such differences are making progress in the negotiation difficult. Lastly, the mediator can help the disputants increase their negotiating competence by helping them generate and evaluate options by anticipating their impact on the other disputant, choose an option that is most likely to elicit a positive reaction from the other disputant, and identify the priority interests that may be embedded in any options conveyed by the other disputant.
In productively using caucuses to empower disputants to truly make the mediation process their own, the mediator will not only benefit the disputants in the instant mediation but might better equip them in handling future negotiations.