Unlocking deadlocks in mediation
Mediators have varied backgrounds. Some are teachers, some psychologists, some lawyers. All must undergo specialist training before accreditation, showing a particular level of knowledge as well as expertise. Yet the key to success can stem from the personal skills used both before and during mediations, albeit ones honed by professional experience in other areas.
Scepticism about mediation can focus on the polarisation of parties’ views and the apparent prospects of success. Disputes that have gone on for some time frequently become bitter, with people’s personalities seeming to provide insurmountable obstacles to resolution; perspective on a disagreement sometimes being the first casualty of involvement with outside agencies, such as solicitors and courts, local authorities and parents.
In commercial disputes the disagreements tend to have histories in happier times; SEN mediations sometimes reflecting the anger and despair of parents felt let down by the apparent level of care others provide for their child: frustration at the inability of one party to understand the other’s position is a common theme of those that come to a mediation table.
Overcoming these problems is crucial to resolving apparently intractable disputes. Perceptions of mediations can be skewed by the reluctance and even inability of the parties to see beyond their own positions and the initial stance taken by the other side. But these can be overcome by mediators using their personal and professional skills – by mediating.
So when a party explains his wife is a godparent to his ex-business partner’s child, but that he would rather die than give him any money, neither a demand for a settlement figure nor an early lunch are likely to help. In this case, I knew it was serious when even the barrister advising the individual concerned went quiet. Yet allowing the outburst meant the party felt he was being listened to, before he went on to tell his story, and lastly, led to his own acknowledgement that emotions might actually hinder the chances of ending of the bitter dispute.
Or when a head teacher has inadvertently terrified the mother of a child with special needs, explaining to him in robust terms it is time for someone else to speak can empower the parent, who, through her tears explained how she had become scared of speaking up because of minor arguments that had festered and grown out of all proportion to the real problem.
Or when the egos in a room leave space scarce enough to breathe, patiently allowing the parties present to explain their own value can allow the commercial realities to come to the fore, once pent-up emotions have been aired and, sometimes, self-importance set aside.
This all means mediators may have to stay still to avoid any (physical) fighting, stay calm to avoid any (more) crying, and stay patient whilst strong characters explain the centrality of their role (again). But it all helps trust to build, the true reasons for disputes and obstacles to agreement to be identified, and step by step resolutions emerge from what appeared intractable disputes, as they did in all of the above mediations. Or to put it another way – slowly, slowly, catchy monkey.
Accredited Mediator, Qualified Solicitor, Practising Barrister