go to the Bahamas this winter because my daughter is on the trampoline team and they’re competing there.” The conflict arises when her daughter asks for a bunch of other stuff. “Do you want that hundred-dollar backpack and we don’t do the Bahamas? Or do you want a cheaper backpack and we do the Bahamas? It’s up to you. You have two options, expensive backpack, no Bahamas. Cheap backpack, Bahamas.” Choice empowers people. I realized that as a judge. “I’ll allow that late-disclosed expert but then I’m going to give the other side additional time to name a rebuttal expert. It’s your choice.” Mediators do their best when they can help parties truly understand their available options and let them make the choice themselves.
Find the right moment. Heidi’s son was getting the bad habit of going to the office to call her to take him out of school because he felt bad. “I don’t always address stuff head on with him. The two or three times I’ve picked him up, I would go along with it. ‘Gosh, I’m sorry your tummy hurts. Let’s go home and read and see if it feels better.’ Every time, by the end of the night he would say something to me like, well, ‘Jimmy punched me at recess and I was scared to tell my teacher.’” Heidi knows he’s ready to have a useful discussion then. When a party goes off on a tangent, obsesses on a minor point or shuts down, sometimes the mediator just has to go along with them until they’re ready to move forward. Sometimes your tummy does just hurt. Sometimes it takes time before a party is ready to face reality.
Make the deal clear. Heidi had to be sure her daughter understood the commitment and sacrifice required to be on the trampoline team. She had her daughter sign a contract: “And I said, I’m gonna hang on to it so I can show it to you and remind you what you signed.” She never has had to. In encouraging parties to get to a level of trust necessary to make a deal, mediators try to develop their own relationships of trust with their litigants. Demands, offers, conditions, and understandings
have to be crystal clear and obviously not everything can or should be written out. You can’t videotape or record confidential proceedings. Anyone who relies on people to keep their word enough times is likely to get disappointed occasionally. Keeping everything very clear and keeping everyone prepared is the best you can do.
Celebrate resolution. After a fight, “I observe them coming around toward each other pretty quickly. Because I think they tend to both feel heard and they’ll hopefully not carry around a bunch of resentment toward the other one or resentment toward me.” A good mediator not only hopes to resolve the particular dispute but also improve the parties’ relationship with each other for future dealings.
Conclusion Creating a safe space. Practicing the Golden Rule. Clearly defining the choices, and the deal. Helping the parties repair their longterm relationship. These are some of the most important things effective parents do every day for and with their kids. And some of the most important things effective mediators do, too. I’m at the stage where I’m wearing my son’s hand-me-ups. Our kids learn from us. We learn from them.