On a recent episode of CBS's the Good Wife, the confusion between mediation and arbitration was once again on display.  Firstly, I do not watch the show but rather it was mentioned on the very popular John Jay College Dispute Resolution Listserv.  By the way, you do not have to be a student of John Jay, nor be in the NYC area to be on the listserv- sign up [here].

So what happened on the episode?  According to one person's account, and she shared it on the listserv, was the "mediator" described herself to the parties as the "Queen" in the room. 
Call me crazy, but adjectives I have used to describe myself as the mediator usually is limited to being "a guide" or simply a "professional who will help people make decisions for themselves."  No, I have never given myself royalty status, especially the title of Queen!

The poster image of mediation?

Here's a snippet of the review:

The word arbitration was never usedIt was labeled a mediation 

The mediator described herself as 'the queen' in the room. 

The words used and process described by the characters was mediation.
The process depicted was arbitration 

The 'Mediator' had clearly reviewed all the documents before hand, listened to argument,  asked questions based on the information,never reflected back, reserved judgement after the review of documents and in the end made the decision.

So what do we do as mediators in response to this?  Should we even do anything or perhaps just enjoy a TV show for what it offers realizing there will always be errors with whatever it is depicting? Given my other work is as a detective, if I did try and correct TV shows for false representation of procedures, I would have to have Law and Order on speed-dial.

What I do know is this reminds me of the current research I am doing towards my PhD at Griffith University.  Part of it includes I specifically asked mediators about the role and importance of the Mediator's Introduction.  Overwhelming the response, almost 400  mediators world-wide, is it is very important and serves multiple purposes.  This includes building rapport as well as describing what mediation is (and is not).

Some people have said they will write the show's producers, others plan to take different actions, and I am sure many will do nothing. Regardless of what you do, I know it reminds me of the importance of the Mediator's Introduction and how stressing what it actually is and the value of self-determination.

Self-determination is a vital part of the mediation process, and it is equally vital for the mediator to explain this.  This becomes even more important with popular TV shows portraying mediators as the Queens in the room!

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Tags: ADRhub, PCDN, conflict, jeff, mediation, negotiation, resolution, thompson


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Comment by Christa M. Tinari, MA on January 7, 2013 at 10:18pm

I watched the show today, and was disappointed. I'm a fan of the show, and it takes place at a law firm, for crying out loud. They should make the effort to know the difference between mediation and arbitration. Interestingly, I also hear incorrect labels and language being used by educators who are members of teachers' unions. They often refer to the process of arbitration as "mediation." At least the students I teach at Temple U. are made aware of the differences between the "-ate" processes: litigate, arbitrate, mediate, negotiate! I guess we need to keep educating....

Comment by Jeff Thompson on January 7, 2013 at 7:36pm

Thanks for the comment Charlene and great points.

Comment by Charlene Mannix Bunts on January 7, 2013 at 4:42pm

Thank you for your post!  I did watch the show and "groaned" at each of the misrepresentations that you mentioned above!  Clearly more education is needed!  I believe we need to start with our own use of language and reach out to legal and other professions to reinforce standard definitions and understanding.  I beleive that education of the  general public will require ongoing effort!


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