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A Mediator’s Wish List

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Somehow, several years ago, I got on the mailing list for The Indian Arbitrator which is the “News Magazine of the Indian Institute of Arbitration and Mediation.” Its articles do not focus solely on developments in India but actually on things occurring throughout the world.

The January 2013 issue (Volume 5, Issue 1) containes an interesting letter to Santa Claus written by Professor Joel Lee, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and a mediator at the Singapore Mediation Center. (TIA-Vol5-Iss1 ) ( See, pages 2-3.)

He starts by admitting that yes, he is an adult and others may think him too old to be writing Santa with his wish list; but like children, adults, too, have dreams and wishes. But, unlike children, his wishes are not for gifts for himself but for intangible gifts for others.

He also admits that he is an attorney and as such, he has probably not been nice at times, but he claims he has been more nice than naughty and more importantly, he teaches conflict resolution and also works with people on resolving conflicts and this should provide extra points in the “nice” column.

Professor Lee then sets out his wish list:

In working with people in conflict, I can’t help but notice that there are a number of things that make conflict worse and make it harder for parties to resolve their problems and to move on.

The first thing I notice is that parties often have a[n] “I am right” attitude. Of course this must mean that the other person is wrong. One of the things that I have to do is to get them to realise that there are many truths, and that their truth is not the only one and not necessarily the “real” or “correct” one. It would really help if you could give the world the gift of perspective and understanding. Then, they will be better able to put themselves in the other party’s shoes and see it from their point of view. And at least, even if they do not agree with the other party’s point of view, they can understand and appreciate it.

The second thing I notice is that parties in conflict often feel isolated and separate from the other party. They only focus on the conflict and the bad feelings between them and the other party and cannot or will not see the commonalities that they share. I have to help them see that they are better off working with one another than to act separately. It would help if you could give them the gift of empathy and connection. Then they will be able to reconnect as human beings to solve their mutual problem.

The final thing I notice is that parties find it hard to accept solutions that are good for their future because they are constantly looking backwards. It is a bit like driving a car while only looking in the rearview mirror. I have to help them let go of the past so that they can move on with their lives. It would help if you could give them the gift of forgiveness and healing.

I know some of my friends will ask me why I don’t just ask for world peace. I guess I could have, but I figure that if more people had the gifts above, we’re one step closer to creating world peace for ourselves….(Id. at pages 2-3.)

This “wish list” resonates with me, because like Professor Lee, I often run into mediation participants who insist that they are “right” and the other side is “wrong”. I, then, explain about “perception” and that there is no one universal “truth” in the world; different people, including a judge and a jury, will just see the same thing differently. The judge and/or jury may well view it quite differently than the plaintiff or defendant.

One of my earliest trainers made a point that I will never forget; one can acknowledge without agreeing. So, it is, indeed, possible to understand and/or appreciate the other person’s “reality” without necessarily agreeing with it. I hope more parties bring this insight to their next mediation.

Like Professor Lee, I, too, see parties focusing on their differences and not their commonalities. While conducting mediations solely by means of separate sessions seems to be in vogue and what everyone wants, I find it oxymoronic in that typically, the conflict arose due to a lack of communication or miscommunication (“perception” problem?) Thus, it seems that the best way to resolve it is to talk to each other to clear up the misunderstanding, yet the parties want to resolve it without direct communication by using a third party such as me, the mediator. Getting rid of the feelings of isolation and working on connectivity will certainly provide a greater chance at a lasting resolution; yet, the disputing parties want to resolve things by maintaining the isolation and lack of connection. If a resolution is reached, it is simply a band aid; it is not truly resolving what lies underneath. Disputes are often about relationships and if one does not try to repair the relationship as part of resolving the dispute, then the “fix” is temporary at best.

Finally, I agree with the professor; it is difficult to get people to look forward; they tend to dwell on the past. But as the saying goes, “ There’s no use crying over spilt milk!” One will never get the milk back in the bottle. Rather, it is time to move on and find the best solution under the circumstances. And, as noted recently in the press,( study-in-science-shows-end-of-history-illusion.html?_r=0,) we all change. What is important to us now, will not be so in the future. Our core values, perceptions, likes and dislikes do evolve as we grow older. So, we should not take anything so seriously.

So, in the end, I, too, wish that disputing parties understand more about “perception”, empathy, connectivity to the world, forgiveness and healing. These intangibles will go a long way to resolving disputes quickly and with finality.

…. Just something to thing about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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