Mediation: Not For The Faint Hearted

on Thursday, 08 January 2015.


It seemed to me that Christmas and the prospect of a new year brought with it a desire to end or change a lot of conflict, whether people were taken over by the Christmas spirit or just didn't want another year of the same old arguments I'm not sure. What became apparent was that we were busier than ever and there was a genuine desire to do something. However what also became obvious is that mediation is as much about conflict management as it is about conflict resolution. The Mediation Practice has  a tag line: Resolve Reassure Restore, and that line caused me some challenge lately.

In some of the mediation cases I have dealt with lately it was obvious that conflict management was the only possible outcome as there was very little commonality or desire for resolution from some of the parties.


Is Conflict Management Enough? 

 Certainly in a fairytale world the mediator would look to a magical ending to all conflicts, one that may be obvious to an outsider with a balcony view, often the clients look for the mediator to suggest solutions and outcomes rather than facilitate the participants in reaching an agreement. In recent experience it has been the case that the solution doesn't always lie in solving or ending the conflict but rather in learning to manage it and live with it, in essence to create the quiet we all desire in our lives.

It is by no means an easy process or for the faint hearted, the opening of many old sores and the sharing of hurts, feelings, interests and needs is not easily done. One of the main skills of the mediator is to create the environment where this sharing can be done in a safe and open manner, that in itself can be transformative, but it is also to recognise that a particular conflict may not be solvable. That doesn't mean the mediator should walk away or let the parties leave without trying to at least find a way the conflict can go on but without destroying lives.

I facilitated a mediation where there was no potential of agreement on the contentious issues, both parties had informed me at the outset that they wanted shuttle mediation and that they hoped to never see each other again. So deep was the hatred and mistrust of each other that it looked like mediation was impossible.

But fortune favours the brave and we managed to work in a way which allowed each party to de-escalate the conflict to manage how they were going to live with it. For one thing it meant dealing with exterior influences and recognising they contributed to the conflict rather than helped resolution. For another part it was as simple as managing noise in a family home.  

The point is both the mediator and the parties need to recognise the process is not simple, it's not easy and be prepared, The mediator needs to see past the conflict to the people involved and get them to a BATNA position. If they can't reach agreement, can they at least find a way to live with the conflict.


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