Screening is absolutely essential to the mediation process and I consider it a mandatory first step, a prelude to any further consideration of mediation as a possible method for addressing a dispute.
Many mediators do not screen. They either do not believe it is necessary to screen the parties in advance or they do not understand the importance of screening. In either case, they by pass a vital diagnostic tool, essential to a consideration of the following, vital questions:
-Is this dispute suitable for mediation?
-Are there any elements of power imbalance which would necessitate the implementation of special arrangements/steps to ensure the parties are bargaining in fairness and without fear?
-Is mediation at all appropriate for this dispute or should the parties be “screened out”?
Screening is, fundamentally, a process in which the mediator, prior to a decision to take on the matter, meets with each of the parties privately to ask him or her a series of detailed questions. Answers to these questions allow the mediator to learn more about the parties and their dispute, and to understand their relationship and the unique dynamic between them. The questions are designed to identify potential and actual power imbalances. It is a fundamental precept of mediation, any fair and balanced bargaining process in fact, that each of the parties comes to the negotiating table from positions of power which are as similar as possible.
It is only with the benefit of screening that the mediator can decide whether to take on the dispute and, importantly, how to design the process to make it a) most effective and b) least harmful to both parties.