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Mediation and the Four Agreements

Mediation and the Four Agreements by Rafeena Bacchus

The Four Agreements is based on ancient Toltec wisdom which is said to embody the essential unity of truth and described as a way of life.  I believe that if we adopt these Four Agreements they will create enough personal power to change the way we mediate and resolve conflict, leading to better and more satisfying settlements for everyone. 

The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best  
  • Be Impeccable with Your Word:  

Let’s look at how the First Agreement: “Be Impeccable with your Word” could be applied to write a good mediation brief as well as to make an impactful opening. 

We often interpret the word “impeccable” to mean polished or perfect.  The word originally comes from the Latin words “pecatus” (sin) and “im” (without) so it actually means “without sin”.  Religion talks about sins and sinners, but Don Miguel Ruiz uses a more common-sense explanation.  A sin, in this context, is anything you do which goes against yourself, your client and your case.  

Being impeccable with your word is to not use the word against yourself.   For example, if I see you in the street and I call you stupid, it appears that I’m using the word against you. But really I’m using my word against myself, because you’re going to hate me for this, and your hating me is not good for me. Therefore, if I get angry and with my word send all that emotional poison to you, I’m using the word against myself.  

The mediation brief and opening statement are powerful tools as they allow us to express ourselves in the mediation process.  These tools are like a two-edged sword.  They can be used to shift the other party’s perspective and create a settlement or to push the parties further apart. 

In your mediation brief and opening statement, consider instead of focusing on what the other party has done wrong and on the shortcomings of their case, think about the solution or outcome that you want to achieve.  

If in your opening you make personal attacks to on other side, this is unlikely to assist in resolving your case, as you are really using your word against yourself, because the other side is going to resent you for this, and them resenting you is not good for you.  This will do little to shift the other party’s perspective in the direction of settlement. 

Regardless of the situation, it is rarely ever necessary to trigger the other party’s emotions at mediation.  You are more likely to obtain the result you want at mediation by treating the other party with respect, and even compassion. This can take the form of empathy by making an apology or simply acknowledging what is important to the other party, even if you do not agree with it.

Next time you consider submitting an aggressive mediation brief or opening statement setting out your client’s position in the strongest terms, consider the impact of your word.  

  • Don’t Take Anything Personally

Don Miguel Ruiz explains that taking things personally is the ultimate expression of selfishness because we assume that everything is about us.  

Nothing other people do is because of you.  It is because of themselves.  All people live in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one you live in.  When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is going on in our world, and we try to impose our world in their world.  Even when the situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you.  What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.

When you take things personally in the mediation process then you feel offended, and your reaction is to defend your beliefs.  You cause chaos from something so little, because you have the need to be right and make everybody else wrong.  You then focus on being right by giving them your own opinions.  This does little to shift perspectives and instead leads to escalating conflict. 

By refraining from taking things personally, you are able to keep a level-head and stay true to the course, which will allows for the best possible outcome.

  • Make No Assumptions

We tend to make assumptions about everything.  The problem with making these assumptions is that we believe them to be true and real.  We make these assumptions; we believe we are right about the assumptions and then we defend our assumptions and make someone else wrong. This creates conflict.

Often parties become obsessed with being right based on their assumptions and getting the other party to see that they are right.  

An important skill during mediation to release the need to prove that you are “right”.  Don Miguel Ruiz states:

When you believe something, you assume you are right, and you may even destroy relationships in order to defend your position.  Let go of the need to defend your position.

During conflict, it takes a strong person to consciously decide to let go of the need to be right and to defend a position which they may have spent years proving.  Most may fear that it would show weakness.  It is not weak to acknowledge something that is important to the other party.  On the contrary, it shows strength and builds trust. 

  • Always Do Your Best 

In every mediation, always do your best.  Come well prepared, listen to the other party, ask clarifying questions, and be open to the process.  Try to think outside of the box and turn constraints into opportunities.


Rafeena Bacchus

Rafeena Bacchus has over 15 years of experience in civil litigation. She started her legal practice as being recognized as the first woman of colour called to the Bar in Prince Edward Island, after having clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island. She has… MORE >

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