NB: All names and situations altered to protect my own and my “opponents'” anonymity and to honor the confidential nature of the mediation.
This experience is going to take a while to digest. First let me tell you what was GREAT about my recent mediation experience.
- I hired an attorney who was a full-time, highly experienced mediator.
- Because the mediation concerned a long-term contractual relationship with an emotional breach and immediate cessation of business, I choose a community mediator because I wanted someone skilled not simply in pressing the parties for compromise, but in “transformative” (whole dispute) mediation (about which more later).
- With two talented community co-mediators, I experienced the freedom of expression in joint session that confidentiality provides.
- I learned how much courage it takes for all parties to face one another and talk about their own part in causing the dispute-creating series of events.
- I experienced the nearly invisible but critical support and encouragement provided by an “audience” (lawyers, mediators, insurance representatives) “schooled” “on the spot” in respectful listening.
- Though the unguarded nature of my conflict-narrative and the pain caused by listening to my former partners’ account initially felt like walking a tight rope without a net, as my story proceeded without interruption or apparent contempt from my “opponents” a great sense of comfort and freedom came over me. I’m an old hand myself at creating an atmosphere of hope and safety so I didn’t think that “trick” would work on me. I found, however, that the mediators’ ability to assure me of the confidential nature of the process and the benefits of frank discussion, enabled me to tell my truth, in as multi-dimensional, textured and admittedly fallible manner possible. It amazed me — as the client — that so subtle shift in the atmosphere of the room would permit me to say, in all sincerity, that “though our experiences of the same series of events diverge wildly, I don’t believe either of us is lying. We’ve simply strung the facts together in a different way from opposing points of view.”
- The opportunity the co-mediators gave me to apologize for “my part in the dispute” while still asserting the strength of my “position” that I would not be blackmailed, bullied or defeated, left me ready to settle or proceed without feelings of fear, shame, or anger.
To the extent I’ll be able to tell this story (and I’m not certain I’ll be able to until many years after its final resolution) the readers of this blog will be the first to know.
It’s not magic. It does, however, rest upon the mediators’ wholehearted belief that human beings desire reconciliation as much or more than they desire money or the “stuff” that money provides. It is premised on the elementary principle that the disputants would rather be happy than right.
Best advice to arise out of this session: when you’re mediating, hire an attorney-mediator to represent you just as you’d hire an insurance attorney if you had a dispute with your carrier. One of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made.
Good resources for transformative mediation practice:
Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation
The Promise of Mediation: Responding to Conflict Through Empowerment and Recognition by Bush and Folger
Conflict Revolution, Mediating Evil, War, Injustice and Terrorism by Ken Cloke
Restorative Justice Online
Beyond Conviction (documentary on restorative justice in prisons)