The promises of Mediation are myriad – It is faster, cheaper, allows for creative solutions, it can mend relationships as well as settle the legal issues, it allows the parties to expand the pie to fashion Win – Win Solutions, it can deliver meaningful solutions that an imperfect Court system can only try to simulate with money, it can be transformative for the parties – for their lives and for the dispute at hand.
All of these claims are true. One would not be wrong in concluding that “if only we could do more mediation the world would be a better place so we should focus on promoting mediation as the better way”.
The dirty little secret about mediation is that in the majority of cases where it could work wonders – it never happens because one or more of the parties simply will not come to the mediation table.
As someone who has been practicing in the field of conflict resolution for 17 years as a lawyer and mediator and promoting the mediation option for over 14 of those years, I can tell you that getting people to the mediation table is harder than doing the mediations themselves.
In the conflict resolution world we talk about “ripeness” or readiness of the parties to engage in the mediation process. Essentially this boils down to the parties have to want to give it a try. This goes beyond the mere “voluntariness” that we often hear people talk about. The need for mediation to be voluntary is really only meaningful in the sense that the parties are free to leave after it starts. Sometimes this structural element is enough to get people in the door and then the Mediator has a chance to get them to “wanting to give it a try”.
There are many reasons why people don’t want to mediate. A short list includes:
- one of the parties does not believe they are part of a conflict (more common that you might think)
- one or both parties believes that mediation inevitably involves compromise and they believe their chances are better in Court or by some other “power over” process (maybe physical intimidation will work)
- one or both parties believe that they can wait the other side out
- one or both parties believes in their heart that the Judge will see it their way and so “there is no point to mediation because I am right”.
- one or both parties can not stand to be in the same room as the other
- One or both parties believes that this is a problem that should be solved by someone else – some authority figure - the parental surrogate for when your sibling is “bugging” you (eg. the boss/ supervisor , a Judge, a police officer, some government agency, etc.)
- One or both parties is actually having some primal need met by remaining in conflict with the other. (also more common that you think)
- It is just an additional cost and process hoop to jump through before going to Trial.
The fact is that any one of these reasons not to mediate could be valid.
Personally, I believe that most of the time when one of these reason’s is at play the party relying on it does not fully understand all the implications of their chosen strategy. How much of life is perfectly predictable? Not much. Escalating conflict has a way of making life even more unpredictable. That we all know from experience.
Now that you know the Dirty Little Secret about Mediation and you find yourself in the situation of being in a dispute and you are the only one willing to mediate - what can you do?
The short answer is CONFLICT COACHING.
Conflict Coaching is what you can do when you are the only one looking for an alternative way to resolve the conflict - an alternative to the deadlocked, unsatisfactory or destructive strategies currently being employed.
In short it is about working one-on-one with a conflict coach who will help you gain new perspectives on the conflict that will free your mind to see alternative course of action that are currently invisible to you. Most of the world of possibility is invisible. The coach will help adjust your vision. The coach does not tell you how to solve the problem in the same way that a mediator generally should avoid giving his or her take on the solution to a dispute.
Conflict Coaching is based on the notion that if we are in the right frame of mind we can in fact know what is good for us and find ways to get what we need most. Human beings are problem solvers. Most of our ways of dealing with the world are used because we have seen them work in the past. Even when our way of managing is not working its hard to avoid the trap of following the same old rigid thinking about how to solve the problem. A conflict coach helps create a new context to think about old problems.