As someone new to the field, I was asked to give my perspective. Karen Haney-Owens (Courts Mediation Program Manager, East Bay Community Mediation) asked me how I had such a good success rate. I have had good success in the courts, but I know I’m unorthodox in my approach.
I have found that the parties are usually pretty charged up when asked to go to court mediation. They have undoubtedly been thinking, worrying and building the possibilities of what will happen in their minds. In my opening statement I try to project calm in spirit, words and mannerisms. I use this time to try to assess the emotions of each person and where they might stand in the coming argument. I’ve found that the person that is the most upset will provide the opening for transition, and that they are usually the most vulnerable. I try to support them in their right to be heard and recognized. I’ve found that everything that happens must be played on intuition. When to talk, when to quiet (myself or the table), when to “stir the pot” and when to put out the fire all seem predicated on what the parties are doing.
This is their process.
In the dozen cases I have done I’ve found the following to hold true. Both parties want release from the problem. Both parties are emotionally charged and need to dispel that energy, and both parties need to heal. It sounds so simple, but the road to get there….
I try to help them find the “truth” in that each one has a truth for the situation. Somehow being able to honor the other’s truth brings understanding, and also forgiveness and healing. I try to strengthen the weak so that they might bring their truth forward for all to look at. I try to bring compassion to the strong and that brings forgiveness.
In the mix-up of finding where each party stands on the external front, their inner defense and most of all the emotional energy feeling I get, I try to keep things level. One party comes out with strength and tries to dominate: I’ll let them run a bit before I diminish their position. That person can be calmed with a well placed question. A person that is weak or in pain might need to feel that I hear them: and I do so by opening my heart. The courage of these people demands respect.
There is usually a person “Driving” it, that is to say providing energy and willing their point of view over the top of other points of view. I’ve taken this sort for a walk in the hall, a look at something different, anything to shift them from their stance. Just that momentary change is an opening for other thoughts, feelings and hopefully understanding. Perhaps the physical change brings the mental one, perhaps the exercise brings different biology, in any case it has worked.
I feel that in order to honor the process I must be honorable. I leave my pride at the door. I feel that their process is the foremost thing to be accomplished, and if there is no agreement reached that is their decision. Perhaps what we have done will have effects in the future that I will never be aware of.
I believe that often times the issue being discussed is not all that might be going on. Frequently there are many more issues that need to be addressed. In the process of each person exposing their personal truth there is the opportunity for these other issues to surface. A gentle question will often bring them to the surface. Once again the vulnerable one is the best link for transmutation, they need it the most.
I have found that if I bring a certain amount of spirituality to the table it has dramatic results. By this I mean that if my spirit is calm, understanding and supportive of the parties, it seems to create an atmosphere of calm. I’m sure that I’ve gotten people that are hurt and in fear to be strengthened by projecting this feeling. I’m sure that people that are angry are calmed by this feeling that is being projected. It’s almost as though in projecting this a separate space is being created. I’m not sure of where it comes from; I can only say it is from within me. I can also say that it requires an open heart and a willingness to bond with the other persons in a spiritual way.
As the meeting progresses, I find myself somehow “traveling” with these people as they expose their feelings and emotions. Sometimes I am providing the energy to do that by an open heart and a willingness to listen, accept and understand.
This has profound effects at the table. It seems that once that level of honesty has been brought forth, others want it too and will participate in it. I have also come across people that don’t. It’s almost too much for them to handle and I guess that it threatens the belief system they have created. In any case “it’s” now on the table and must be dealt with. For the person that cannot deal with the other party’s truth I try to find some common ground where they can deal with it on a level not so personally involved. They also need to be strengthened so that they can come to an agreement. I can go back to the money, owed either way, or I might caucus to create a break. The caucus can be used so effectively in times of transition. People need to feel their feet under themselves to make a decision comfortably. It also provides a decompression period where new facts can be absorbed.
I hope all this is not too much “mediation 101” for the reader. I realize that I’m a beginner and can only continue to learn and grow. I can honestly say personally that for the first time in my life, I feel that everything I have learned and experienced is being brought to a point of focus that I can use to help others.
This article is dedicated to Mr. Ron Kelly and my fellow mediators at The Hayward Superior Court.
Copyrighted 6/9/07 all rights reserved.
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