I’m interested as to how people come to mediation and once involved how they engage in the process. Communication issues are the fuel of conflict in both commercial and community disputes. I find that many people want to resolve situations of conflict but find themselves at a loss as to how to do so. At this early stage pessimism sets in – “They’re not likely change their position” – “What’s the point in trying to talk to them – I’ve tried and got nowhere”.
A neutral facilitator puts a fresh complexion on conflict: how to understand it; how to communicate with each other about it; how to work towards as solution. However, who knows about this? Lawyers, accountants, architects, surveyors and many other professionals know but some are more enthusiastic about mediation than others. There is not much information in the public domain. For community related disputes, housing authorities and police are key players in referring conflict to mediation providers. To my mind there needs to be far more general awareness of the advantages of mediating conflict.
I want to focus on one aspect of the process once begun: how to achieve an effective meeting of the parties to a dispute. “Hell will freeze over before I go into the same room as X”; “They’ll only repeat the same old things – what’s the point”; or simply “I couldn’t be in the same room as X”. As mediators we have to understand the reluctance of people to meet where ordinary lines of communication have broken down. For this reason it is vital to reassure parties that the meeting will be in a safe space where there is no place for aggression where the mediator or mediators will be in control; and where the parties can break out at any stage on request. With the reassurance must also come the emphasis on experience showing that joint meetings really do help parties to understand their conflict better; to understand each other’s point of view; and to work towards a solution.
The key to this is the neutral venue where all parties can feel comfortable. If they are unwilling to meet, then much work can be done in separate rooms, so long as they appreciate that in order to resolve conflict it is vital to understand the other parties’ point of view. Once that is understood, then it can be addressed and progress made towards resolving the conflict. Who knows, once under the same roof, they might even decide to speak to each other after all.