“You know it was a good mediation if everyone leaves unhappy and you ended up settling somewhere in the middle.” I’ve heard that sentiment often. In fact, I know colleagues who use it as part of their opening remarks during mediation. Sound good to you? I hope not. I completely disagree with that sentiment. As a mediator, I would hate for people to leave my mediation feeling unhappy and, in my experience, it is highly unlikely for a sustainable agreement to result from simply “meeting in the middle”.
The mediation process can be uncomfortable, if it stretches you to consider things you hadn’t thought about before. Maybe that is what some people mean when they say “a good mediation leaves you feeling unhappy.” In fact, a “good” – “successful” might be a better word – mediation will take you through a period of feeling uncomfortable, as the mediator helps you move past your position, so you can think about what is in your best interest and options for getting there.
Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to get entrenched in our positions. We want others to concede we are right, and admit they are wrong. Positions are black/white, right/wrong, and win/lose. When we get stuck in them, our self-righteousness need will prevent true and amicable resolution.
On the other hand, considering our best interests – what we really want or need – opens us up to possibilities. So, as a mediator, I try to spend more time on your interests than your position. At first, that might feel uncomfortable for you, and I’m OK with that. I know, if you stick with me, we will move through uncomfortable to considering different ways to achieve your interests. Then, we’ll move on to beginning to understand what the other person wants or needs, and why.
Interestingly, more often than not, what we really want (big picture) ends up being more similar than we initially expect. The details and priorities may be different, but the over-arching interests are similar. Once we figure this out, we have a real shot at achieving sustainable conflict resolution! In fact, we now have an opportunity to shift perceptions and change behaviors in ways that will benefit you as individual parties, as well as your organizations.
This is important: Determining who is right or wrong doesn’t align with mutually agreeable conflict resolution. I actually do my best to steer clear of discussions about who is right and who is wrong. As a professional neutral, my priorities are gaining mutual understanding, increasing awareness, and reaching decisions that parties not only feel comfortable with, but believe are in their best interest – whatever that is.
The next time you find yourself in situational conflict, you might be entrenched in your position, and mediation isn’t a ready option, try these tips to help you move toward interests:
- Listen for understanding before seeking to be understood; and listen for opportunities for agreement.
- Focus on interests over positions. “What do I really want or need? What do you really want or need?”
- Collaborate to identify options to satisfy the interests.
Nope, I don’t want my clients leaving mediation unhappy, feeling like all they did was “split the baby”. I want you to leave knowing you pin-pointed what was most important to you, considered different options, and made decisions you will feel still feel good about in the morning. Happy ending beats regrettable result every time!
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