I attended an excellent Professional Conference this month in London, The International Academy of Mediators, “What Can we Learn from Each Other”. During the conference, a full day’s mock mediation was staged. It was the first I’d ever seen where professional actors were employed to demonstrate the raw emotionality that so often surfaces in civil mediation. So this week, I gave it a try. I facilitated two joint sessions in cases in which I would normally have kept the parties separate. In the first, the lawyer blew up and shouted in ways that were unexpected to me, her client and opposing counsel. Just as I had observed Avi Schneerson at the IAM do, I sat quietly and allowed that anger to boil over into the joint session. Within a very few minutes, there were huge concessions following that outburst and the case was settled within 30 minutes thereafter. In the other case, I spent over two hours preparing for the hearing by discussing the relative positions of the parties through their counsel. This one turned out to be more procedural than fact-based, but the lawyers weren’t communicating with one another, rather they were busy advocating for their clients. So I took the chance to conduct that one with all lawyers together in a joint session for almost all of the negotiation. Lo and behold, they were much more civil to one another when sitting together in a room without their clients then I would have anticipated and the case was also settled in 4 hours. Thanks to my fellow IAM members, and a couple of paid actors, the theater of my mediation hearings proved to be a great laboratory for new lessons learned, including bravely allowing conflict and emotionality to be demonstrated publicly in order to truly allow the parties to get to a resolution.
Michelle LeBaron discusses how she gets trainees to think about conflict in their own lives.By Michelle LeBaron
This is a version of an article edited for publication in the ACR Family Section’s Mediation News Newsletter, due to be published in Fall, 2004Fair warning: if you are among...By Robert Benjamin