I have been a mediator for 25 years and in that time I have certainly heard amazing stories and I have also learned a few surprising things. Perhaps the most amazing thing I have learned is the magic of neutrality. Here’s what I mean…
People in conflict of any kind but certainly conflict that has risen to the point of legal intervention sometimes believe that they can’t agree on anything. Of course that’s not true. They can probably agree on many things, just not around the area of conflict. In fact, agreeing on anything around the area of conflict may feel like it creates vulnerability. Often times we hear statements like, “He’s a good dad, but he’s never home” in a divorce situation. If the wife can bring herself to say that her husband is a good dad, she simultaneously says that he’s completely unavailable, thus negating the thing that dad can agree with. This pattern happens in every conflict situation to a greater or lesser extent. As conflict resolution professionals (lawyers are, after all, in the conflict resolution business), it can be tempting to either point out where there is agreement or pick up on the criticism depending on circumstances. Neither approach is likely to work.
When people work with a neutral (typically a mediator), they at least implicitly agree on two things that are likely to help them reach agreement:
- They agree that they want to resolve the conflict. This may seem obvious but explicitly taking an action that demonstrates motivation to decide together can be a big step toward that resolutions; and
- They agree on the neutral as a person who can help them.
These two agreements on HOW the parties will work together to find a mutually acceptable solution create a covenant between them that is almost magical. The skillful mediator can use the power that is created by this covenant to build other agreements toward resolution.