Monday, October 01, 2007

Heated Mediation

I had an observer in one of my mediations last week. Although the observer did not participate in the mediation, she has mediated cases previously and she was affected by what took place in this mediation.

This particular mediation, which was in its second session, involved a slightly heated exchange in the first hour. There was no yelling or screaming, but both the volume and tension in the room increased while this exchange took place over about 20 minutes. Because I felt this was a necessary step of the mediation process for these participants, I let the parties move through the heated exchange with only minor interruption from me until they had nothing left to say on the issue.

As a mediator who strongly believes she was born for this role, I intuitively know when - or if - to step in and refocus the parties or simply stop any harmful exchanges in mediation. And I did not feel this particular exchange was harmful. In fact, it was great to get the concerns that were expressed out on the table and it was informative for the parties and for me to see where the parties' emotions were concentrated.

After the heated exchange, I calmly and quietly discussed the concerns I had heard and guided the parties into a productive dialogue of their disputed issues. The volume and tension levels in the room decreased immediately, and I could feel the parties breathing more evenly. Once we moved into our productive discussions, the entire case quickly resolved well before any of us had expected it to.

Afterward, when I privately discussed the mediation with our observer, she confided that her heart had been racing during the heated exchange. Had she been the mediator in this case, she probably would not have had that reaction; she would have had the comfort of knowing she could - and would - guide the discussion and control the process even if she could not control the parties themselves.

I think it's the same thing that happens when my husband is not driving the car. He gets anxious because he's not able to control what is happening when he isn't in the driver's seat. He knows he can't control other drivers, but at least when he's driving he can steer the car where he wants it to go. While I'm ok letting others drive the car, I think I'm more like the observer and prefer the driver's seat when I'm at the mediation table, even if does get a little hot.

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