Saturday, October 27, 2007

Keeping an Open Mind in Mediation

(Beautiful Realistic Fantasy Art "brain" image used with permission for this Open Mind article, courtesy of Elizabeth Stafford)

In a recent civil mediation with unrepresented parties, one of the parties was looking forward to the mediation and the opportunity to be able to discuss the dispute face-to-face and hear from the other party. Meanwhile, the other party was a bit less excited about the whole thing and wondered why we were here.

Because such divergent (but not uncommon) perspectives can derail a mediation even before everyone sits down at the same table, I spent a few minutes alone with each of the parties to talk about the purpose of the mediation and the importance of keeping an open mind and really listening to what the other party has to say. I discussed the effect that the parties themselves have on the overall mediation based on their own level of participation and engagement with and interest in the process. And I explained that an open mind is necessary for a successful mediation and resolution to the dispute, which is what everyone wants.

While I like to think I am a skilled mediator and communicator, I cannot take all the credit for the 180 degree attitude shift of the previously not-so-excited participant following our chat. Suffice it to say, he immediately relaxed and softened his demeanor, agreeing that he would keep an open mind. It was clear that this was a rationale adult who was interested in doing the right thing, and was easily reminded of what the right thing was with a little gentle prodding from yours truly.

I find that the attitude of the parties is such a key element to the success of a mediation. And I know we are on the right track when the parties themselves are laughing together and there is a certain levity in the room that has replaced the tension that first filled the room. And when the previously disputing parties walk out of the room and share a genuine handshake, I feel so proud of the parties themselves for having come so far and for keeping an open mind to allow that growth to take place.

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