Effective Communication Using a Strategic Mediator

Communicating through someone with an ulterior motive (strategic mediator) can be as effective as communicating through a neutral mediator if the strategic mediator is chosen properly.

McMaster Researcher


 Ivanov, M. (2010). Communication via a strategic mediator. Journal of Economic Theory, 145(2), 869-884. doi:10.1016/j.jet.2009.08.001

What is this research about?

Introducing a mediator in the communication between parties with conflicting interests can improve the efficiency of the interaction, such as by encouraging informed parties to reveal more information to the mediator. Traditionally, these benefits have been assumed to result from the use of neutral mediators, which are mediators with no interest in the outcome of these talks. However, in reality, mediators have their own agenda and could manipulate information to serve their goals. As a result, these manipulations of information by strategic mediators can decrease the efficiency of decision making. The purpose of this research is to determine the possibility of taking advantage of the benefits of mediation using strategic, or biased, mediators.

What did the researchers do?

The researcher from McMaster University constructed a game-theoretical model to describe the communication between a privately informed individual, the "expert," who passes information to a strategic mediator who finally passes that information to the "principal" (the receiver) who makes a decision which affects benefits of all parties. The principal has a choice over potential mediators who differ in their inherent biases, which are quantified. The researcher then characterized the optimal strategic mediator in this model. Lastly, the researcher explored the potential inefficiency of using a strategic mediator.

What did the researchers find?

The researcher found that:

  • Communicating through the right biased mediator can be as effective as communicating through the best neutral mediator.
  • For any value of the expert's bias, there is a strategic mediator who can offer the best payoff to the principal as if the expert and the principal have communicated via the best neutral mediator. The optimal mediator’s bias opposes that of the expert relative to the bias of the principal.
  • Inefficiencies in communication occur when the strategic mediator’s bias is between that of the expert and the principal.
  • The model used in this research can handle slight changes in the mediator's bias.

How can you use this research?

Politicians, company leaders, and others who rely on intermediaries to receive information may use this research as a guide to use mediators more effectively. The results also provide researchers more insight into the communication involving these groups. Information typically passes through several parties on the way from the source to the decision maker. For example, lobbyists send information to special committees who then pass that information to legislators. In such situations, the results of this work can helps us analyze the efficiency of mediation involving these special committees.

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