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The Mediator’s Proposal – Snatching Resolution Victory from the Jaws of Impasse

In the world of mediation, impasse is a dreaded word. It’s the moment when parties feel like they’ve hit a wall, and the chances of reaching a resolution seem to be slipping away. However, a skilled mediator has a powerful tool at their disposal to break through these deadlocks: the mediator’s proposal.

What is a Mediator’s Proposal?

A mediator’s proposal is a settlement recommendation made by the mediator to all parties in a dispute. It’s a carefully crafted suggestion that takes into account the unique circumstances of the case, the parties’ interests, and the mediator’s experience in similar situations. The proposal is designed to be a fair and reasonable compromise that both sides can accept, even if it doesn’t fully satisfy either party’s ideal outcome.

When making a mediator’s proposal, the mediator presents it to each party separately and confidentially. The parties then have the opportunity to accept or reject the proposal without knowing how the other side responded. If both parties accept, the case settles. If one or both parties reject the proposal, the mediation continues, and the rejecting party’s decision remains confidential.

Effectiveness of Mediator’s Proposals

In their study “Inside the Caucus: An Empirical Analysis of Mediation from Within,” Daniel Klerman and Lisa Klerman examined the use of mediator’s proposals in over 400 employment dispute mediations. The results were striking: when a mediator’s proposal was used, the settlement rate was over 99%.

This incredibly high success rate suggests that mediator’s proposals are a highly effective tool for breaking through impasses and facilitating settlements. The authors note that this effectiveness may be partially attributed to the mediator’s skill in crafting proposals that are likely to be accepted by both parties. Mediators often rely on their experience and judgment to gauge what each party might be willing to accept, and they use this insight to formulate a proposal that has the best chance of success.

The confidential nature of the mediator’s proposal also plays a crucial role in its effectiveness. By allowing each party to respond privately, the mediator creates a safe space for parties to consider the proposal without fear of appearing weak or losing face in front of the other side. This confidentiality can be particularly important in emotionally charged disputes or cases where the parties have a history of antagonism.

Timing and Considerations

Mediators typically use proposals as a last resort, after other techniques have been exhausted and the parties seem to be at a genuine impasse. Introducing a proposal too early in the process can be counterproductive, as parties may not have had sufficient time to express their interests and explore potential solutions on their own.

Additionally, mediators must be cautious about using proposals when the parties are too far apart. If the gap between the parties’ positions is too wide, a proposal may be seen as unrealistic or unfair, which can damage the mediator’s credibility and potentially derail the entire process.


The mediator’s proposal is a powerful tool that can transform a seemingly intractable dispute into a successful resolution. By offering a carefully considered, confidential recommendation, mediators can help parties overcome impasse and find a mutually acceptable compromise.

While not appropriate in every situation, the Klerman study demonstrates that mediator’s proposals can be remarkably effective when used judiciously. For parties and advocates engaged in mediation, understanding the role and potential impact of a mediator’s proposal can be crucial to achieving a satisfactory outcome.

As the old saying goes, “Sometimes the best way out is through.” When skillfully deployed, a mediator’s proposal can be the key to navigating through the toughest impasses and emerging with a resolution that works for everyone.