When I am mediating, I sometimes find myself taking a bird’s eye view, and I am amazed. Mediation works, and it often works almost like magic. I’ve asked myself, what is it about mediation that is so special? Is it some special trick that I do? Is it a formula? Is it convincing parties that they need to “settle” their case? None of the above!
Yes, there is technique and skill involved in being a good mediator. Yes, the personality of the mediator is important. The amazing thing, though, is that none of these is the “magic” factor. It is not “I” who resolves the issues. It’s as if I’m merely a channel for something else, something deeper. For, in actuality, the parties to mediation are the ones who help themselves. While I do provide specific tools, processes, and an avenue for parties to work through conflict that otherwise they could not have resolved on their own, the fact is that once these tools are in place, the conflict sometimes almost seems to resolve itself.
The magic of mediation is the fact that it works so well. Often, not only is agreement reached but both parties are happy, or at least feel that the conflict was addressed as well as it could be. This level of satisfaction with the process and the outcome, and the “magic” of reaching agreement after months or years of intractable conflict, is even more astounding when one considers that the mediator does not impose their own judgment. The parties come up with the solutions all by themselves. (Self determination is actually a necessary part of authentic mediation. The parties must have 100% “ownership” over the solution.) And yet, the process is so powerful! Something about mediation enables the parties to achieve a different level of consciousness, awareness, or cooperation. Solutions come up that no one ever would have thought of before.
It was Einstein who said something like, “A problem cannot be solved by applying the same level of consciousness that created it.” Sometimes I feel as if the parties are lifted up to a different level, as a result of the mediation process, to where they can have a different perspective, or a different kind of ability to see and understand their conflict.
Walking in the woods the other day, I came across a scene that reminded me of how I sometimes think about mediation.
Imagine you are walking through a swamp. Conflict is like that swamp.
Conflict is not fun! Conflict is not just cold and wet. Conflict is also muddy and mucky.
As you wade into conflict, you don’t know how deep it is. Even the shortest distance can become impassable.
You get bogged down in it. It can even be dangerous. You wonder, how to get out.
Often, parties to a conflict can’t see their way to a “win-win” solution. They lack confidence that things can be worked out peacefully. They are angry. They don’t trust the other side. They think they have to go to court and have a judge impose an outside solution, in order to resolve the conflict.
The good news is that if both parties will come to mediation, there’s a good chance that they can resolve the issues on their own. For even the most difficult conflict, mediation actually provides a path.
The mediator doesn’t come up with the answers. The mediator doesn’t do your work for you.
What the mediator provides is a process. That process is like a boardwalk to help you get through it yourselves.
The neutrality of the mediator, and the skill of the mediator in providing a process, provides a structure and a system that helps parties address their conflict in an understandable, even minded way.
It gets you out of the mud and onto a dry spot where you can think and move forward.
The point of mediation is that it helps you focus on where you need to be, where you want to go, what your long term goals are. And then it helps you – both parties – find a way to get there. Mediation provides parties with a neutral and fair mechanism to work through conflict. Once parties find the bridge to agreement, the rest is often like magic.
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