Expectation Management and Mediation

“Expectation Management” is key for any party entering mediation. Lawyers representing litigants in mediation must help their clients with this valuable component, or they lose the client’s trust. Failure to adequately provide clients with realistic expectations of the process is another component of why mediation is dead.

Expectation management is as simple as it sounds. Clients entering mediation must understand the mediator is not going to massage their fragile egos, give them a tummy rub, and hand the case in full to them. As previously discussed, most mediators don’t follow their training and engage in “evaluative case analysis.” Lawyers love this, because they are used to the trenches and what jurists will rule. Mediators take the easy way out and appease the lawyers, because that’s how they get paid.

The client, or party entering mediation, doesn’t have the same view as the mediator or their counsel. Their view is that all will be resolved amicably during the mediation session, that the mediator is interested in hearing what they have to say, and will work to give them everything they want and desire outside of court.

The client’s expected scenario never happens, and they almost always end up dissatisfied with the outcome of mediation. Some lock into a “get it done” mindset, and then end up with “buyer’s remorse” after the reached agreement is a binding court order. Others will simply resent their lawyer for not getting them everything they wanted. Some might even take the unnecessary step of accusing the lawyer of malpractice.

Combat unrealistic expectations. 

If you are the litigant, know when you go to mediation you will not get everything you want. Understand you will be forced into a position where you will be told this is the best possible way to settle your case. Understand you will be under pressure from all sides to “settle” if necessary, including the so-called “mutual cheerleader,” your mediator. If you don’t like the deal, walk. Tell your lawyer you don’t like the deal, and that you want to walk. He or she might try to talk you out of it, but the final, signed mediation agreement is binding on all parties. You are only comfortable with a deal if you find it fair.

If you are a lawyer, prepare your clients for mediation. Let them know the results they want are not what they’re going to get. Start asking them about a Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) and its counterpart, the Worst (WATNA). Set a game plan for the mediation. Let the client know they might be there all day, so if there’s child care or other arrangements that must be considered those need to be dealt with before the mediation ever starts.

Unrealistic expectations and failure to manage client expectations lead to impasse. They are both reasons Mediation is Dead.

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