Love, Lies and Mudslinging: Welcome to Mediation!
Mediation can be a stressful and arduous process. Emotions often run high as positions are expressed and interests are explored. Sometimes participants are even surprised by the twists and turns the process takes, as motivating factors and priorities are brought to light.
Not long ago I mediated a multi-party case that had more layers than a Vidalia onion! This mediation brought out the relationship therapist, the “how to be friends with your ex” counselor, the medical terminology expert, the anger management coach, the accident “reconstructionist”, and the patience of Job, from deep inside me. It required straight talk, tough love, a little hand-holding, and more than a couple of slaps in the face with cold-hard facts.
It was actually a heavy impact auto accident, with “real” objective injuries. Please know my account of the afternoon is meant in no way to undermine the serious nature of the cases involved, but merely to illustrate how even the messiest circumstances, handled with care, can result in a successful mediation.
Without getting into the details, you should know the involved parties were a southern belle, her boyfriend, her ex-husband, and a hitchhiker (picked up just before the ax) – turned room-mate of the boyfriend.
The intimate relationships of these folks created a spicy mediation where, at times, I wasn’t sure if I was playing “who’s on first?” or part of some new whacky reality show! As the process unfolded, each party proceeded to lie to me, lie to each other, and lie to their attorneys. You may be able to imagine the fascinating tales that were told, as each supported their own agenda. More than one experienced attorney sat with his jaw dropped and eyes wide open as his clients pontificated. There was more mud-slinging and character assassination than there has ever been on The Batchelor!
This particular afternoon was peppered with lively language and every emotion known to man. However, each party had a story they needed to tell in order to reach a place where they could consider a settlement. In the last 4+ years as a mediator I have learned that patience is indeed a virtue. Also, parties must be honored with the opportunity to say what they need to say, in order to hear and receive any information or assistance from me.
I believe a mediator must do at least two things in order to produce a successful mediation:
- Create an environment that is safe and encourages candid and constructive communication
- Listen well and seek to identify, then remove, the true barriers to resolution
Mediation can be messy and fatiguing, and not every case will settle amicably. However, being intentional with the aforementioned items can ensure participants leave mediation feeling confident they have made an appropriate decision.
The referenced mediation did have a happy ending: each case was resolved, and the parties all left as “friends”. Oh boy, the confidentiality of mediation is such a good thing. In this case it certainly preserved relationships, and maybe even lives!