Sometimes, parties will seek mediation in search of clarity. The stated reason for scheduling a session may be very different from the desired result. In these cases, the mediator’s role should be one of gentle probing and guidance to help the parties reach a transformational moment of aligned purpose.
I recently met with a couple ostensibly seeking a divorce. They were ready to proceed, very organized, and, it seemed, motivated to move through the process as quickly as possible. However, when we met, it became clear quite quickly that neither of them wanted to end their marriage. One party simply wanted the other to commit to marriage counseling so that they could resolve some longstanding issues in their relationship.
The climate in our session had taken an interesting turn. As a mediator, my role had shifted. Rather than helping this couple move their divorce forward, my responsibility lay with ascertaining whether both parties wanted to stay in the relationship, and if they did, would they both agree to attend counseling? As we proceeded, both parties expressed a desire to stay in the relationship and a willingness to attend counseling.
When working with widely different personalities and perspectives, in an environment where the emotional climate can change as quickly as the natural one, a mediator has to be nimble. We have to sense emotional storm clouds gathering in the distance, keep the conversation moving forward, and dispel unproductive conflict with a carefully (and quickly) chosen word or joke.
With these clients, it became clear that their stated intention for mediation (divorce) was not their actual goal. My clear path forward was to support them in their chosen path. They needed me to facilitate an honest conversation that made it clear they still loved each other and wanted to try again to make their relationship work. In this instance, mediation served as a mirror for the parties to better understand their own goals.
About the author:
In her mediation practice, Nicole Gesher focuses on business/corporate disputes, neighborhood issues, family law, debt allocation, and intellectual property disputes, and is especially skilled at working with emotionally charged cases. She has been a panelist for BASF’s Mediation Services since 2010. More information about her, and about BASF’s mediation program, can be found at: www.sfbar.org/mediation.