Expressing Conflict, Neutralizing Blame, and Making Concessions in Small-Claims Mediation



This research examines the link between the way small-claims mediation participants express their conflicts and their willingness to engage in concession-making. Observations of seventy-seven mediation participants suggest that a significant factor in this relationship is the way participants manage the issue of blame. The research identifies three categories of mediants: individuals named in a civil suit who represent themselves; agents, usually lawyers, who represent the interests of other parties in a civil suit; and business owners or managers who represent the interests of their establishments. The study depicts some of the differences in the way these participants describe their conflicts. In particular, the research suggests that the manner in which mediation participants handle the issue of blame – by either justifying, excusing, or denying it – constrains their willingness to engage in concession-making, a fundamental aspect of the mediation process. I discuss implications for future research and for developing strategies that might improve the effectiveness of mediation for some participants.