Before we deal with a challenge, we need to understand it. Here’s a simple premise to help with that: All conflict exists in our stories of the past about what happened to us and what we made it mean.
When we bring that story with all its pain, suffering and accusations of fault and blame into the present moment, we find ourselves trapped in conflict. The trap persists when we project these conflict stories into our future and live into them. Beliefs about right and wrong are closely tied to our identity and values. When we feel that those are threatened, we enroll allies and eventually lawyers to validate our position and weaken our opponents. Communications breakdown and become accusatory. Long standing relationships become toxic.
We become invested in our stories as the best and often the only way to get our interests and needs met. Hopelessness looms and “war” feels inevitable.
Escaping the Trap of Conflict
The 12th century Sufi mystic, Jalal al-din Muhammad Rumi, provided some wisdom about how to break free of this trap. He wrote:
“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
I often get asked by lawyers or their clients, “Why should we mediate when negotiations have stalled, and we already know what the other side is going to say?” – this is the trap of conflict and it is a runaway train with few ways off short of the courthouse steps. Unfortunately, courtesy of Covid the courthouse has been closed.
Simply stated mediation is Rumi’s field in action. A mediator is a neutral 3rd party empowered by an agreement among the parties to facilitate communication and intervene appropriately to assist the parties in their negotiations.
What makes a mediation work?
Mediations are not all the same. One size does not fit all. It is critically important to select a mediator who understands how to design and conduct a mediation that is right for your unique circumstances.
First, the mediator acts as a facilitator of conversations between parties that empowers them to share their stories of what happened and what they made it mean. The goal of these conversations is to reach a shared understanding about what really matters and not a debate about fault and blame.
Second, the mediator observes the play of emotions in the negotiations and steers the conversation away from fault and blame. Like a hockey referee they blow the offside and help the parties manage the emotions that so often accompany a conflict. They take breaks and help the parties to re-focus and return to effective negotiations.
Third, at the appropriate time and in the right circumstances a mediator acts as an evaluator of the positions that parties or their lawyers take in the negotiation. They provide a reality check about the legal and practical attachments to the past that are the roadblocks and barriers to a resolution.
Mediation is a voluntary process. The power to intervene effectively is granted by the party’s express agreement and commitment to their process. Careful consideration from the onset of the right balance between facilitation and evaluation coupled with a clear understanding of expectations and practical logistics will greatly enhance the chances of success for your mediation.
Mediation is something that is done with the parties not to them or even for them. When conflict goes from an insurmountable task to a mere hurdle to overcome, life simply works better.
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David Gould (LLB, QC, C Med) has helped hundreds of lawyers and their clients – business and government organizations, and individuals – in conflict situations to co-create solutions for the future. For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.davidgouldmediation.com