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Appendix B. What Is Humanistic Mediation?

"Creating a Safe, if not Sacred, Place for Dialogue"

Mark S. Umbreit, Ph.D.
Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking

Humanistic mediation represents a "dialogue-driven" rather than a "settlement-driven" form of conflict resolution. It focuses on the importance of meeting with the parties individually and in-person prior to the joint mediation session to listen to their story, build rapport, explain the process, and prepare them for engagement in a mediated dialogue. It is a nondirective style of mediation in which the parties are primarily speaking to each other with minimal intervention by the mediator. The mediator maintains an attitude of unconditional positive regard and concern for all parties while remaining impartial (i.e., not taking sides).

The mediator works to create a safe, if not sacred, place to foster direct dialogue among the parties about the emotional and material impacts of the conflict. Written settlement agreements often result from, but are not central to, the process. Humanistic mediation is a specific practice application of the broader theory of transformative mediation. Humanistic mediation emphasizes healing and peacemaking over problem solving and resolution. The telling and hearing of each other's stories about the conflict, the opportunity for maximum direct communication with each other, and the importance of honoring silence and the innate wisdom and strength of the participants are all central to humanistic mediation practice. Humanistic mediation has been applied in many settings including community mediation, victim-offender mediation, workplace mediation, family mediation, and peer mediation in schools.

Key Elements of Humanistic Mediation

  1. Continual centering of the mediator.
    Being fully present-separating biases from the mediation process.

  2. Deep compassionate listening-importance of storytelling.
    "Just listen."

  3. Separate, in-person, premediation meetings.

  4. Connecting with parties, but remaining impartial.

  5. Creation of safe, if not sacred, space.

  6. Dialogue-driven meeting.

  7. Nondirective style of mediation.

  8. Mediator "gets out of the way."

Key Elements of Creating a Safe, if not Sacred, Place for Dialogue

  1. Nonjudgmental attitude:
    -Demonstrating unconditional positive regard for all parties.

  2. Preparation of the parties:
    -Listening to their stories and needs.
    -Explaining the process so there are no surprises.
    -Preparing for the dialogue.
    -Acting as a guardian of the process.

  3. Presentation of choices:
    -Deciding when to meet.
    -Selecting where to meet.
    -Determining who should be present.

  4. Centering of mediator:
    -Deep belly breathing, meditation, or prayer.
    -Separating "our stuff" from "their stuff."
    -Caring deeply for all but remaining impartial.

  5. Setting the tone:
    -Eliminating distractions.
    -Playing soothing background music as people gather.
    -Beginning with a moment of silence or prayer (if meaningful to all parties).

Potential Blocks (for Some Victims and Offenders) to Creating a Safe Place for Dialogue

  1. Touch:
    -Holding hands.
    -Touch in any form.

  2. Religious ritual:
    -Using a specific religious ritual or prayer from a dominant religion.
    -Using a specific religious ritual or prayer from an indigenous or non-Western tradition.

  3. Language:
    -Reference to spirituality and religion.
    -"Spiritual" as synonymous with "religious."
    -Language that communicates judgment.

  4. Assumptions:
    -"My understanding of spirituality or religion is shared by those present."
    -"What makes me feel centered or safe works for others."

For More Information

School of Social Work, University of Minnesota
105 Peters Hall, 1404 Gortner Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108-6160


Umbreit, M.S. (1997) "Beyond Settlement-Driven Mediation: A Humanistic Model of Peace-Making." Canadian Mediation Interaction Network Journal (Spring): 16-17.

Umbreit, M.S. (1997) "Humanistic Mediation: A Transformative Journey of Peace-Making." Mediation Quarterly 14(3): 201-213.

Umbreit, M.S. (1995) Mediating Interpersonal Conflicts: A Pathway to Peace. West Concord, MN: CPI Publishing.

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Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim-Offender Mediation:
Restorative Justice Through Dialogue
April 2000
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