- Chapter 20 -
USING A MEDIATOR
Frequently two people who are disagreeing go to a third person for help. If the two people agree in advance that the third person may issue a judgment which they must follow it is called arbitration. When the third person acts as an intermediary to help the individuals find a solution which they must both agree upon to go into effect it is called mediation. It may not be just individuals involved but organizations, or, especially in law, corporations.
More than 40 states now encourage or require people involved in civil lawsuits to try to settle their differences before going to trial. This has been particularly effective in family conflicts involving divorce and child custody. It is not surprising to learn that there are 2,500 members of the American Academy of Family Mediators. When each side is represented by an attorney, there is a tendency for antagonisms and emotions to be stimulated as each attorney, based on the training that lawyers get, is fighting to get his or her client the best deal possible, and quite frequently saying, "Don't accept that; we can beat them in court."
An effective mediation procedure is to get each side to agree that the past is past and that there is no value, in this process, of trying to allocate blame. The concentration is on reaching the best solutions possible for each of them, and in the case of child custody that they both should agree that their goal is to do what is best for the child. It is appropriate for the Mediator to ask, "Is that really what would be best for Susan?"
If the contestants agree, they can sign a legal document of commitment which substitutes for a court case, saving the expense and emotion of a trial. Of course, the Judges are eager to encourage such procedures because the courts are choked with overload. Amazingly enough, such agreements can usually be reached in six sessions, and some Mediators can boast of an 85% success ratio.
Sometimes it is difficult to prevent disputes from arising about the past and back-and-forth barbs from taking place, but a skilled Mediator can overcome these. I witnessed a mock mediation, conducted by one of the most successful practitioners in our city, which obviously drew on some realistic cases. At one point she jumped up and said, "Look, I used to teach kindergarten and I know how to stop childish behavior. Let's get back to discussing Susan."
Mediation can be used every bit as effectively in solving personal or group disputes. I helped mediate a dispute a number of years ago in our city. The United Way and the Salvation Army were locked in what it is no exaggeration to call a big fight. It does seem incredible that two such organizations, both devoted to the welfare of people, could be involved in such a heated disagreement. The amusing thing is that the people on the two boards were very much alike, and you could even have swapped the two and had equal representation. The trouble was, as is usually the case, the two sides were not talking to each other. Both boards met behind doors and indulged in emotional statements.
I invited the key person from the United Way to lunch to tell me about the problem. He was delighted to have someone listen to him, and he unloaded. I just listened. I didn't agree or disagree. I made proper responses to indicate that I was vitally interested, such as, "I can understand how you felt." or "That's surprising." I asked if I could take notes, and this pleased him.
My next move was to invite a couple of savvy men I knew on the Salvation Army Board to lunch. I listened to a similar litany of complaints. I asked them if they knew that their monthly budget which is required to be submitted to the United Way was always late and was the last to come in every month. "No, we didn't know that. Why weren't we told?" There followed the exchange of a few more items of information between the two organizations.
The effect was immediate. The next month the Salvation Army's budget was the first to arrive, and was on time from then on. After a few other adjustments, not major, and some changes in attitude, the problem disappeared. What amused me was that when it was all over, each organization felt I had been on its side. I was not on anybody's side. I just listened and exchanged information over the luncheon table. We nipped the problem just in time because a media blast on the subject was impending.
Then, there is wisdom, on occasion, of friends or family members agreeing on a mediator to help solve a dispute. As in all cases of mediation, it is helpful to emphasize that no one is bound by a decision. Each side must agree.
I have been called in on several occasions when business partners were having a dispute. The failure rate of business partnerships is very high. Sometimes it is because of poor planning, or lack of capital, but most often it is because the partners cannot get along. When there is a clear division of duties with skills to go along with the assignment, as would be the case if an engineer handles manufacturing and someone experienced in sales takes care of marketing, agreement is more likely. But when partners, even very good friends, of similar interest and talents try to make decisions on the same matters, problems frequently arise, especially in times of trouble when emotions enter the picture. This is when mediation help is needed.
Because of the problems of disagreements among children in the public schools, there has been a movement to teach "Conflict Resolution" which can turn into a valuable asset for life. Suggested solutions are: 1.) Sharing, 2.) Taking turns, 3.) Compromising, 4.) Flipping a coin or spinning the bottle, 5.) Getting outside help (like a mediator), 6.) Dealing with it later when tempers cool down, 7.) Apologizing and asking forgiveness, 8.) Introducing humor and 9.) Resorting to Prayer. Teaching these principles is being extended to other areas than public schools, although some prefer to call it "Peacemaking" rather than "Conflict Resolution".
These principles are not just for kids; we could all use them!