Dealing with Resistance in Initial Intake and Inquiry Calls to Mediation: The Power of “Willing”

Date01 March 2016
Published date01 March 2016
C R Q, vol. 33, no. 3, Spring 2016 235
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21157
Dealing with Resistance in Initial Intake and Inquiry
Calls to Mediation: The Power of “Willing”
Rein Sikveland
Elizabeth Stokoe
is article explores how to best deal with resistance during and beyond
initial encounters with prospective mediation clients.  e study is based
on a large data set of intake calls to community and family media-
tion services in the United Kingdom. Using conversation analytic tech-
niques, we studied instances where call takers invited prospective clients
to make a fi rst appointment. We found that questions or proposals
addressing whether the caller would be willing to mediate generated
stronger agreement from the caller than when other formats were used.
We discuss how to best establish eff ective practice in order to develop
better training for mediators.
Mediation services specialize in helping people in confl ict come to a
resolution. But mediators often meet resistance to engage their ser-
vices from their prospective clients. Clients may, for example, doubt the
usefulness of mediation compared to other services, such as going to the
police, a lawyer, or court—institutions that are more explicitly on the cli-
ent’s side in a confl ict. Many clients encounter mediation services only
once.  erefore, although their perception of mediation may change dur-
ing the process, it is all the more important to understand clients’ pref-
erences and motivations before the process starts (Shestowsky and Brett
2008). Relevant insights can then inform eff ective methods of commu-
nicating mediation to secure clients in the fi rst place and then during the
mediation process. Securing clients is necessary to ensure that mediation
services are available; without suffi cient clients, mediation services will nei-
ther generate (as a commercial endeavor) nor attract (as a third sector or
charitable organization) enough funding to survive.
236 sikveland, stokoe
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
is article focuses on one way of dealing eff ectively with resistance in
initial inquiry and intake telephone calls to mediation. One aim in these
calls is to convert callers into clients; the intake call in fact may be the only
chance a mediation service has to secure a particular client. To achieve this,
it is essential that call takers are prepared to deal with resistance from pro-
spective clients and anticipate how they might reject mediation initially.
In uencing Client Motivation to Mediate
For people in dispute, the court route can be time-consuming and expen-
sive, and they may stand a better chance of resolving the root of the con-
ict by meeting their challenges through mediation (Hodak 2003; Wall,
Dunne, and Chan-Serafi n 2011). Although mediation as a route to con-
ict resolution is favored by the courts in many cases (Lande 2002), this is
not in itself a selling point to prospective clients. In order to gain a better
understanding of what works (and not) in mediation, it is necessary to
study mediators’ strategies and their outcomes, which also involves identi-
fying what disputants want and how they interact with the other party and
the mediator (Wall and Chan-Serafi n 2014).
e mechanisms by which practitioners manage to persuade clients
has attracted the attention of both psychologists and businesspeople,
resulting in widely known publications on how to increase eff ectiveness
in the negotiation (Cialdini 1993; Fisher, Ury, and Patton 2011). Notions
of negotiation techniques seem to vary with context. For clinicians, shared
decision making has become an important concept, for example, when
they engage in diffi cult conversations with patients about prenatal diagno-
ses and pregnancy risks (Elwyn, Gray, and Clarke 2000). And within dis-
pute resolution, the literature recommends that entry to mediation should
be noncoercive, or free of explicit coercion (Hedeen 2005). Although these
diff erent concepts are based within diff erent types of services, what they
have in common is the focus on client autonomy, engagement, and control
in the negotiation process; we might also associate these concepts with cli-
ent commitment in the literature on business negotiation (Cialdini 1993).
Within behavioral science, “nudge” research provides an interesting
conceptual starting point for studying persuasion, where interventions
improve decision making while maintaining freedom of choice ( aler
and Sunstein 2008). Subtle changes in wording can infl uence people’s
subsequent behaviors without explicitly telling them what to do (Bryan,

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