Mediation can be an anxiety and fear producing experience. it is rarely something people look forward to. Many of the first conversations I have with people who are in the process of finding a mediator involve the following language, or something similar:
“Well, _________ says we have to try mediation. It will probably be a very short meeting because we can never agree on anything. I just don’t see him/her saying anything other than, “NO!”. That’s all it ever is.”
Still, they are willing to set up that appointment and come in to mediate, and they are usually very surprised at the outcome.
Rarely does anyone look forward to mediation. Usually, the parties have not spoken in quite some time, and if they have, the conversation quickly escalates into an argument. Nobody wants to embrace conflict. Conflict is unpleasant and something most people do their best to avoid. The thought of sitting down in a room with this person seems unthinkable because of the history of the relationship and because you know this person all too well. You can only think of all the mean and nasty things that other person has ever said to you, and every horrible experience you have been through with them or because of them. Those negative thoughts are why it is easier to ignore the problem, rather than deal with the problem. However, if you don’t deal with the problem, it will not go away. Sometimes when that problem is dropped into the legal process, it will only grow bigger. Legal proceedings are relationship problems on steroids.
If you can look at mediation not as a conflict, but as an opportunity to come to resolution, you can quickly see areas where you and the other person have some common ground. A good mediator will point out areas where the two of you are in agreement from early in the process. You need to remember that mediation is not only anxiety and fear producing for you, but also for the other person. They are not looking forward to the experience either.
Mediation can be a very positive experience and it can change relationships for the better. That doesn’t mean that you are going to repair the relationship. That will sometimes happen, but more often, you can bring closure or a new direction to the relationship. That may be a scary thought, but think of it this way, whatever the relationship is right now, if all it involves in not being on speaking terms, or escalating arguments, it is not working the way it is. Putting an end to the conflict and changing the relationship going forward, can put you on a more positive path, even if that means you walk your path, and they walk a different path.
You can make mediation a positive experience for you, by approaching it in a positive way. Don’t assume the worst. Go about it with no preconceived notions. If you come out without an agreement, you are no worse off than you were before, but remember, you may come out ahead.
Mediation is a confidential process so you can speak openly and not fear any ramifications in court later. As a matter of fact, if the issue is taken into court, and the other party tries to tell the judge that you said, “X, Y or Z” in mediation, the judge will stop any further discussion of what was said in mediation. Go into mediation and say what you need to say. That alone can be quite healing for people.
Some other ways to ensure that mediation is a positive experience for you are to:
1. Make sure you are well rested.
2. Make sure that you will not be hungry. If you schedule around lunch or dinner time, eat before the session if you can. If not, bring a snack. Feel free to take a break if you need to. Mediators will usually do their best to make sure their clients basic needs are met.
3. Come prepared with your idea for resolution. Do not think in terms of what you think the other party may or may not agree to. You may come out very surprised. It happens more often than not. Ask for what you need, but also be prepared to compromise.
4. Consider what the other party is asking for. If you need a moment to think about it, be sure to let the mediator know that. You do not have to agree to something that you do not want to do, but sometimes a knee jerk reaction is to say no, when the reality is, it may be a workable solution.
5. Think about your life going forward, not about the past. Even if the relationship was bad, it may improve when you can agree to move forward after coming to some resolution of the issues that have you entrenched in battle.
6. Don’t think of it in terms of all or nothing. Partial agreements can be very helpful, too. You may be able to resolve some of your issues and that is a step in the right direction. You would be surprised how often an agreement on a small issue starts the ball rolling on bigger issues. Sometimes, people return to mediation after coming out of a first session with a partial agreement. After having some time to reflect on a prior session, people realize that they can return to mediation and work out the rest of the agreement.
7. Keep your discussion positive and use I statements. Try not to place blame. How you got to where you are doesn’t have to interfere with a plan that moves you forward.
8. Consider mediation a new beginning. Even when you do not find resolution, the conversation can help you clarify where the relationship is at. You no longer have to wonder if you will or will not be able to have a productive conversation. Let the experience shape how you will go forward with or without the other party. Sometimes relationships do have to end, but it opens our lives up for new relationships going forward. We can take what we have learned to make better choices in the future.
Mediation offers the opportunity to redefine relationships. It also offers an opportunity to be creative when resolving conflict. When you stay positive and are open to the possibility of what may happen, your experience will serve you well, even if you are not able to come into an agreement.
If you enter into a mediation session with a positive attitude, it will often spill over to the other side of the table. You can have a positive, productive mediation, provided you go in with a positive attitude and are willing to sit down for an open discussion. You may not get everything that you hope to, but in most cases you can both come out winners.