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Organising separate meetings with parties

Sometimes it can be difficult for parties to share information when the other party is present. Therefore, organising individual meetings can be helpful at the very beginning of the process.

What challenges does it focus on?

Organising separate meetings with parties

Short summary

Facilitators indicate that it can be difficult for parties to share information when the other party is present. Sometimes, organizing individual meetings can be helpful. At the very beginning of the process, this usually is a good way to develop a good picture of the dispute.

In this individual meetings you can ask questions to better understand the dispute. You can also explain:

  • What is your role
  • What does the process look like and what steps do you take
  • What information can you share with the other party
  • What do you need from the party
  • What is the next action you will take
view full explanation

 Individual meetings can also be useful during the process, when:

  • The situation seems too complex.
  • Emotions are not under control. 
  • The dispute threatens to escalate.
  • No progress is made.

Tips:

  • Make sure the meeting place is private.
  • Emphasize the confidentiality of the information shared. Ask for permission to share the information with the other party.
  • Ask open questions to:
  • Identify what parties think about the situation and want to achieve
  • Identify the obstacles/problems
  • Identify and talk about emotions
  • Discuss options for solutions
  • Discuss next steps
  • Take into account the cost of travel when picking a location.
  • Apply the ground rules.
  • Have these meetings with the party only (not relatives, friends, etc.).

Research evidence

Evidence from handbooks

Barron and Morrow state that during the caucus sessions, parties are able to speak more candidly with the mediator. The mediator can ask open-ended questions in order to identify possible obstacles to settlement or new information that might enhance settlement discussions. During private caucus sessions, parties often share confidential information about their case, the strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own needs and motivations. 

Rena Barron and Jennifer Morrow, ‘Caucus Mediation: The Zen of Peacemaking Mediation’, p. 1.

The advantages of the caucus should not only be sought in the jurisdiction, as well as in the psychologic and practical aspects.

A.H. Santing-Wubs, mediation in juridisch perspectief, Deventer Kluwer 2007 p. 28.

- Parties feel freer to express their view on the conflict. This leads to the opportunity of the mediator to investigate the mediator’s suspicions. Furthermore, also the party that is not capable of expressing his thoughts (in the presence of the other party) is helped. - The chance of finding leads to come to a solution of the dispute is larger due to the openness of both parties. This is a large advantage if the session is jammed. - Besides these advantages, due to the caucus the mediator can give more attention to the emotions of both parties. In the regular mediation process there is less room. Prein mentioned some situations when the mediator can consider to use the caucus or not:

  • If the situation seems too complex.
  • If the procedure falters.
  • If emotions are not under control.
  • If the mediation session is not making progress.

H.C.M. Prein, Beroepsvaardigheden en interventietecknieken van de mediator, Den Haag SDU Uitgevers 2004, p. 114.


Evidence from literature


Pre-caucusing affords stakeholders the opportunity to vent and be heard at a critical time in the mediation process, when it can reduce defensiveness and increase creativity. Once in the joint session, stakeholders communicate with each other with less mediator interference.
Encina G., B., Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal Number 4, Spring 2002, pp. 3-11
Kolb, in 1985 suggested that carrying out Caucus' helped establish a rapport with the disputants. I.e., it further develops the trust and communication between the mediator and the disputants.

Kolb, D.M. (1985). 'To be a Mediator: Expressive Tactics in Mediation' Journal of Social Issues. 41(2), p 11–26

Welton et al (1988) identified 4 characteristics of caucus sessions: i) Less hostility in these meetings ii) More information regarding the underlying issues is uncovered, due to the party feeling a freedom to speak as the other party is not present iii) Greater intimacy between mediator and party iv) There is no diffusion of responsibility, as only one party is present
Welton, G.L., Pruitt, D.G., & McGillicuddy, N.B. (1988) 'The Role of Caucusing in Community Mediation'. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 32(1), p181-202


Shapiro et al in 1985 also indicated that Caucus' can be useful where one party has to make a lot of concessions, as the more private setting allows them to grant these concessions without feeling as vulnerable to the other party.
Shapiro, D., Drieghe, R., & Brett, J. (1985). 'Mediator Behavior and the Outcome of Mediation'. Journal of Social Issues, 41(2), p101–114


Caucus' can also assist in the identification of individual's bargaining styles and positions, prior to the actual mediation itself. This can enable the facilitator to prepare for the approaches which will be taken, and ensure that the best possible environment is created during the session with both parties.

Funken, Katja, The Pros and Cons of Getting to Yes - Shortcomings and Limitations of Principled Bargaining in Negotiation and Mediation. Zeitschrift fur Konfliktmanagement. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=293381 or doi:10.2139/ssrn.293381

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